In 36 years of competition, Hendrick Motorsports has established itself as one of the premier teams in the American motorsports landscape. Under owner and founder Rick Hendrick, the team has hoovered up 256 points-paying NASCAR Cup Series wins, and an all-time record of 12 Cup Series championships.
Of course, Hendrick is more than just a team owner. His racing roots can be traced back to his father Papa Joe’s exploits in modifieds and later to his own driving career in road racing, stock cars and even boats, while his business acumen has steered the Hendrick Automotive Group from its beginnings as a single Chevrolet franchise in South Carolina to an empire with billions of dollars in revenue and 129 franchises across 14 states.
It’s a privilege to welcome Mr. Hendrick as this week’s Mailbag guest, and we’re appreciative of his taking the time to answer questions from our readers.
We’re now also taking submissions for Michael Andretti, who will close out this first series of Guest Mailbags: please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For those waiting to hear from Tony Kanaan… watch this space. And you can catch up on previous installments of the Guest Mailbag here:
And now, Rick Hendrick:
Q: I remember reading back when you signed Alex Bowman that he is a fan of the late Tim Richmond. Any chance that we could ever see Alex driving a No. 25 Hendrick Chevrolet instead of the No. 88? I think it would be so cool – No. 25 has such history for your team, and the fact that Alex is a fan of Tim, it might be a neat combination to honor Tim’s past with Alex’s future?
Foothill Ranch, CA
RICK HENDRICK: I was pretty excited when Alex told me he was a fan of Tim’s. That was something we bonded over early on in our relationship. We ran a tribute to the Folgers car last year at Darlington, and Alex had a lot of fun with it. He recreated some of Tim’s old pictures. I think he even wore a wig. I have a soft spot in my heart for the No. 25. That was always my dad’s car. He was listed as the owner and had a close relationship with all the drivers and crew members. If you drove the 25, you knew that you had to answer to Papa Joe. We don’t have any plans to bring it back, but I can’t rule it out for the future. Same with the No. 5 car. Never say never.
Q: I’ve been the biggest J.J. fan since his rookie year when I was 10 years old. I know he has always wanted to race at Indy, and the fans are dying to see it. Will you let it happen at the double in July?
Ryan Wells (The biggest J.J. fan and Hendrick loyalist since 1993).
RH: You really need to ask Chani (Jimmie’s wife)! Jimmie has talked about an IndyCar road race being on his bucket list. I’m not sure you’ll see it in 2020, but I’ll be watching whenever he decides to try. I’m willing to bet that he’ll open some eyes. I’ve never seen him more committed to NASCAR than he is right now. When we’re able to go back to the racetrack, it’s going to be a very, very hectic schedule. The No. 48 car winning races and Jimmie having a great final season is the priority for him and for me.
Q: Of the modern drivers we lost too soon, who do you think would have had the greatest NASCAR career if they had lived: Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Adam Petty, or Tim Richmond? Or is there another driver who was taken too soon? And why?
Which is the biggest differentiator for success in today’s NASCAR racing – equipment/technology, shop crew and operations, or race weekend crew and operations?
Finally, since NASCAR has tried to develop a “standard” optimum car, starting with the Car Of Tomorrow (COT), they haven’t been very successful making cars that can pass on the smaller tracks and slingshot on the superspeedways. Why didn’t NASCAR just take a 1972 NASCAR-outfitted Dodge Charger, capture the drag, downforce, track clearance, and grip of that car, and then create a new “standard” NASCAR configuration based on those criteria? It seems like a car designed with these characteristics would be a great baseline to produce great racing, and you could get rid of restrictor plates as well.
Brad from Powder Springs
RICK HENDRICK: The fact that it’s such a long list [of lost drivers] is tragic. Every driver you mentioned had the potential to win a lot of races and championships. One thing’s for sure: the record books would look a lot different today if they hadn’t left us too soon. Incredible talents, all of them. It would’ve been fun to watch those guys battle each other.
Tim probably possessed the most raw talent of any driver I’ve ever seen. If he had a full career, I know he would’ve won championships. And the sport would’ve been better off, too, because he had such a unique personality and presence. I would’ve loved to see Tim compete against Jeff (Gordon) and have more battles with Earnhardt. He was one of a kind.
As to your second question, no matter what business you’re in, I believe people are your number one asset. And it has to be the right combination. You need people who share your vision and who want to work together, support each other, communicate – all of those things. Investing in the right equipment and technology is very important. But if you don’t have the right people with the knowledge and expertise to get the most out of that technology, you might as well throw your money away. Great people win championships. Always.
And the third question… Finding that combination you described is a challenge in every form of racing. I think NASCAR has done a great job balancing the need for manufacturer relevance, safety, competition, parity – the list goes on. Have we been perfect? No one is. But I remember the old days when a driver could lap the field and stink up the show. We’ve come a long way since then. It’s something every sport has to deal with on some level. If you watched every football game on a Sunday, you’d get some great games, some OK games and some bad games. It happens in racing, too. It happens in every sport. Our good racing far outweighs the bad.