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Hendrick pays anniversary tribute at Martinsville

March 30, 2014, Zack Albert,

Team owner feels right at home at site of first NASCAR victory

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Martinsville Speedway will always be a part of the life fabric of Rick Hendrick. But the Hendrick Motorsports empire may have never taken shape, had it not been for its breakthrough victory here, 30 years and one day ago. 

The one-time scrappy underdog team has since graduated into a powerhouse racing organization that holds 11 championships and 219 wins in NASCAR's top series in its 30th anniversary year. Twenty-one of those victories -- second-most all-time in NASCAR history -- have come at the historic .526-mile track.

Sunday morning at Martinsville, Hendrick paid tribute to his history of racing at the venerable Southern Virginia track with a framed collage of images from all 21 wins -- bookended by Geoff Bodine's 1984 triumph here and Jeff Gordon's Martinsville victory last fall. Thirty years ago, his All Star Racing team consisted of five employees working out of a 5,000 square foot shop. Now his sprawling Concord, N.C., complex is approximately 500 employees strong with 430,000 square feet of space on 140 acres. 

"We owe Martinsville so much," said Hendrick, a native of nearby South Hill, Va. "If we hadn't won that (first) race, literally that next Monday, we were going to shut it down. ... Martinsville has been been special for me all my life." 

Hendrick, who brought inaugural NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson with him on race-day morning at the STP 500, spun yarns about the earliest days from his transformation as a Charlotte auto dealer into a motorsports mogul.

Ironically, Hendrick wasn't even at the track on the fateful March afternoon when Bodine surprised the field in the No. 5 Chevrolet to win the Sovran Bank 500; instead, he was at a church function in Greensboro, N.C., he'd promised his family he'd attend. 

After the service, he rushed to a pay phone to call his mother to find out the results.

"She said, 'You didn't hear?' and I said, 'No.' She said, 'He blew up,' " Hendrick recalled. "I said, 'Aw, man.' She said, 'Kidding. You won.' ... Then we went to Geoff Bodine's house -- he lived in that area -- and wrapped his house in toilet paper. So straight from church to wrapping his house in toilet paper."

Almost fittingly, two of his current drivers have been masters at the paper-clip-shaped oval. Gordon and Jimmie Johnson each notched a win here last season to bring their impressive career win totals to eight. For Johnson, it's a palpable feeling to share Victory Lane with his car owner at NASCAR's oldest track.

"It's a very deep emotion and something you take deep pride in representing the company," Johnson said Friday. To see Rick and his face and the expression that he has and you can sense in his voice and in his eyes -- you can see how much it means to him to win here. It is a cool, amazing experience to go through. Rick is a very competitive guy and he likes to win races. But with all the emotion that you have here I think we are in a good place here."


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