Q: What do you think your biggest missed opportunity was when it came to a driver in NASCAR? Who did you have the opportunity to sign, but didn’t, and saw them succeed on another team?
RH: Great question. I’ve been so fortunate to work with some of the best drivers – and best people – ever to do it. You know, Richard Petty was supposed to drive for us when I started the team in 1984. I spoke with Dale Sr. about driving a few times. I joke that he would call me whenever he wanted a raise from Richard (Childress).
Tony (Stewart) and I have become close friends. I had a conversation with him very early on, before he signed with Coach Gibbs. At the time, he told me that he knew he wasn’t ready (for Cup) yet. I was always impressed by that. Tony eventually did run one race for me, an Xfinity race at Daytona. He won it, and I finally got to say that Tony Stewart drove for Hendrick Motorsports. That victory lane was a lot of fun.
I always wanted to work with Bill Elliott. He was an unbelievable driver and one of the best I’ve ever seen at breaking down a chassis. And he’s a great person to boot, and was so good with fans and sponsors. I’ve enjoyed being around him a lot more often with Chase driving for us. The timing just never worked out.
Q: Do you ever plan to return to sports car racing? Penske, Roush, Ganassi field or have fielded teams in recent years.
RH: We had a lot of fun with the Corvette GTP program back in the ’80s and won some races. I’m a big fan of sports car racing, but I don’t see us jumping back into it. My focus is NASCAR.
Q: Will you ever do a video of your extensive car collection in the Heritage Center and elsewhere?
RH: Absolutely. Collecting cars is a big, big passion for me. I caught the bug many years ago. My wife jokes that I’m an addict. I’m also a huge music fan and collect a lot of memorabilia. I’m a bit of a pack rat and wanted one place where I could put everything. I built the Heritage Center as a tribute to my family and a home for my cars and guitars. It’s very personal for me and holds a lot of meaning. In many ways, I owe everything to the automobile. The car business and racing have given me so many opportunities. I say this a lot, but I’m the luckiest guy in the world because I get to make a living doing the two things I love most outside of my family. It hasn’t always been a smooth road, but I consider myself very fortunate.
Q: How much do you think NASCAR benefited from the open-wheel split? And what do you think about the fact that the NASCAR/IndyCar relationship seems to be moving away from mutual hostility and more towards collaboration?
RH: I’m a racer. Before I got into NASCAR, I was a drag racer. I raced boats. In the ’80s, we raced the Corvette GTP cars. I don’t believe that IndyCar has to do poorly for NASCAR to do well. Roger Penske is a great friend of mine, and he’s going to be a tremendous leader for that series. We can find ways to work together that are mutually beneficial and that get people excited about motorsports. When I see 200,000 people at the Indy 500, I think that’s terrific for racing. When the Daytona 500 sells out, that’s great for NASCAR, but it’s also great for racing. Let’s find ways for our individual series to be successful and for motor sports as a whole to be successful. That’s the win-win.
Q: Please tell your best Geoff Bodine story!
Refugee John, Glens Falls, NY
RH: When I think about Geoff, I always go back to when I hired him to drive our first car in 1984. I met with him in my office at City Chevrolet in Charlotte. I told him that I already had an offer out to Tim Richmond but if Tim didn’t accept, the job was his. Tim owed me an answer that day. Geoff looked at me and asked if he could wait. I said, ‘Geoff, it could be hours. I don’t know when Tim’s going to call.’ Bodine said it was OK and just sat down in the waiting room. That’s how bad he wanted it. I was so impressed that I called Tim and told him we were going in another direction. I hired Geoff on the spot. He won three races that first year, and the rest is history.
Q: I’d like to know if you are compensated for cars that are deliberately wrecked by the drivers of competing teams? Is there some kind of leveling that happens behind the scenes?
Thanks so much!
RH: I’d be a lot better off financially if that were the case. There’s almost nothing worse than going down to Daytona and watching a million dollars worth of cars get destroyed at one time. I know how hard our teams work and how much time and effort goes into each car. It’s painful, but that’s part of racing.
Q: Jimmie Johnson has said he would like to try IndyCar. Any thoughts of becoming an IndyCar team owner, and asking Jimmie Johnson to be your driver?
RH: I keep an eye on IndyCar and have a huge amount of admiration for the team owners and drivers. As I mentioned, Roger (Penske) is a great friend. I know Chip (Ganassi) very well and have a ton of respect for what he’s accomplished. There are a lot of talented people. Jeff Andrews, our vice president of competition, came from that world. NASCAR is where my passion is, but I’m a fan of open-wheel. It won’t be as a car owner, but I’ll help Jimmie however I can if he decides to pursue something over there. He’s done so much for me. I’m always going to support him in whatever he wants to do.
Q: What’s the single most memorable race in all of your years as a team owner? The 1997 Daytona 500 is mine. That one had to be very special given the circumstances?
Steve Tune, Birmingham, UK
RH: Oh, yes, the 1-2-3 Daytona finish in ’97 was very special. I was at home battling leukemia at the time. That win was the best medicine. Even though I wasn’t there, the pictures from that race are some of my favorites. The shots of all three cars crossing the line and our three drivers holding up the sign together – it’s hard not to smile when I look at them.
But the most meaningful one for me was when my son Ricky won the inaugural truck race at Kansas in 2001. I’ve never been so nervous at a race than during those closing laps. Then celebrating with him in victory lane. Linda and I were both there – it was just so emotional, and we were so proud of him. That’s a special memory that we will always have. Nothing could ever top it.