Rick Hendrick Eyes the Future, Now 40 Years on from His First NASCAR Win

At 74, Rick Hendrick, who runs a successful automotive dealership group and a premiere, four-car NASCAR Cup team, shows no signs of slowing down. Courtesy Hendrick Motorsports

Editor’s Note: The 29th annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, held last March on Amelia Island, Florida, named Rick Hendrick its 2024 honoree. As you likely know, Hendrick is the owner of the Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR team, chairman and CEO of Hendrick Automotive Group, and a major classic car collector. Hendrick brought a sample of his collection to the Hagerty-owned Amelia celebration, including the Garage 56 Chevrolet Camaro that ran at the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans and was built by Hendrick Motorsports.

Last weekend was the 40th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports’ first NASCAR Cup win, at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. That race was to be the last for the team, because supporting it was draining Hendrick, putting his car dealership business in jeopardy. They put driver Geoff Bodine in the car, planning to shutter the team after the race. All that could save them was a win.

Against all odds, the team did just that. A major sponsor signed on as a result, and Hendrick’s NASCAR team, as well as his dealerships, flourished. Hagerty’s media team prepared a story for the Amelia’s program, in which Hendrick pinned most everything good that has happened to him and wife Linda on that first victory.

Last weekend, Hendrick’s initial victory was celebrated at Martinsville with over 1500 of Hendrick’s employees in attendance. (Rick and Linda stayed home in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he was having knee surgery.)

NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out 400 Hendrick Motorsports team
James Gilbert/Getty Images

What did they miss? A remarkable 1-2-3 finish for Hendrick Motorsports, with drivers William Byron, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott, in that order, claiming the podium. Jeff Gordon, presently the vice-chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, where he earned four championships as a driver, stood in for his boss. “Sunday was awesome,” Gordon posted on X. “Thank you to our friends, family, teammates and all of the fans for celebrating with us.”

NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out 400 William Byron checkered flag
James Gilbert/Getty Images

For the first time, we’re publishing the Amelia Concours cover story here. If you’re not a fan of Rick Hendrick now, we think you will be after reading it.


Rick Hendrick, the 2024 Amelia Concours d’Elegance honoree, has a car collection that now numbers more than 300 vehicles. But it had an unassuming start 60 years ago when Hendrick, now 74, was barely 14.

“I was going to a drag race in Virginia with my dad, and we pulled over into a service station to get gas. Sitting on the side of the building, painted in primer, was a ’31 Chevrolet.”

Hendrick, the Charlotte auto megadealer and NASCAR team owner, had never seen one. “So we approached the guy at the station about selling it, and he finally said he would for $250.” But Hendrick didn’t have $250.

Hendrick’s father, “Papa Joe” Hendrick, had a small tobacco farm in Palmer Springs, Virginia, where Rick grew up. “My dad gave my brother and me a quarter-acre of tobacco for working during the summer, and that would always bring us $250 or $300, so I asked him if he would buy the car and let me pay him back. So we bought it and brought the car home.

Courtesy Hendrick Motorsports

“My grandad had a general store that was a converted schoolhouse, so it had a girls’ bathroom and a boys’ bathroom, and he wasn’t using the girls.’ So we cut a hole in the wall, took the stools out and put a 55-gallon drum in there for heat, and that’s where my dad and I built that car. I ended up drag racing it.” That was Hendrick’s first experience with motorsports, and he was pretty good at it.

“The car stayed in the family all those years, but I hadn’t seen it since I left home. On my 40th birthday, my dad drove it into City Chevrolet,” Hendrick’s first major Chevrolet dealership, located in Bennettsville, South Carolina, “with my wife and two kids in the rumble seat. He’d converted it back to a street car and surprised me with it. So that’s the most important car in my collection.”

The second most important car is a Corvette, which Hendrick lost, and then found again. “I had this love affair with Corvettes, but I never thought I’d be able to own one. I was going to school and I was working in a gas station and a friend of mine said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a buddy who’s going to college and he’s got this 1963 Corvette that won’t crank.’ I went over to diagnose it and when I opened the hood, I saw water standing on top of the air cleaner.

“I took the top off the air cleaner and I saw a little bit of water in the carburetor’s butterfly. We put a battery in it and I couldn’t get it to turn over, so I said, ‘I think it’s locked up.’ The guy asked me how much it would cost to fix it, and I told him I don’t know—you’d have to rebuild the motor or put one in it.

“He said, ‘Well, do you know anybody who might buy it?’ I asked him how much he wanted for it, and he said $1000. I got my mother to get me a 90-day note from the bank where she worked and I bought it.”

Hendrick Collection 1963 Corvette
Courtesy Hendrick Motorsports

They overhauled the carb, “but we still thought it was locked up. I pulled down on the crankshaft and it turned over. We put some gas in it and cranked it, but it had a knock. This was at night—when I turned the light off, I could see a spark down around the harmonic balancer. I shut the engine off, and I could see where the water-pump pulley was hitting the harmonic balancer.

“In true redneck fashion, I took a belt off it, cranked it again and held a file against it while it was running. And the motor ran pretty good. That was my first Corvette.” Both the Corvette and the ’31 Chevy will be on display at Amelia.

Hendrick had to sell the Corvette to buy his first dealership—more about that in a moment—“but I started looking for it and I found it about 25 years ago. Pulled it apart, put a new chassis under it—it was a pretty amazing deal, to be able to find it.”

Hendrick’s all-time favorite car is the Corvette, and his favorite Corvette is the 1967 model. “It’s the side pipes and the 427 motor, and the stinger hood. That was the model I remember seeing on a Chevrolet showroom floor, and I thought it was the prettiest car I’d ever seen.

“I started collecting them in 1977. I have every color they made in a big-block ’67 Corvette. Right now, if you include the newer ones, I have somewhere around 130, 135 Corvettes.” (It’s actually 147, nearly half of his collection.) “It represents a 40-year love affair with cars.”

He became especially interested in Corvettes with a “1” in the vehicle information number (VIN) years ago. “Jim Perkins, then the head of Chevrolet, got me the first serial number of a 1990 Corvette back when the first ZR1 came out.” Having the first car of specific models resonated with Hendrick, and he started seeking them out.

Hendrick Heritage Center
Courtesy Hendrick Motorsports

“I’ve got the very first 1955, the first ’56, the first ’57, and we just found the first ’58. It’s in bad shape but we’re working on it now.” Later-model “1” Corvettes are sometimes featured at major car auctions with the proceeds going to charity, and Hendrick has bought several of them. “I also found the only Corvette ever raced in NASCAR. We found it in a basement—a guy was pulling cable for a cable company, and he called and said, ‘There’s a car under all these boxes.’ It was a 1954 model, and it raced at Bowman Gray Stadium, and we’ve got it almost back together. I have 8-mm video of it racing, plus a story in the local paper about it, and I’ve got a picture of the lady we bought it from, when she was 17—the car had the number 17X on it—and I’ve also got a picture of her sitting in it a year or two ago. She’s about 90 years old now.”

Hendrick’s collection started with the Corvettes, “and then it was Camaros—I went through a period when I was trying to get different Z/28 Camaros, and then would come the COPOs and then the ZL1 aluminum-motor cars, then it jumped over to the first 2010 Camaro that came out, serial number one, then the first convertible, then the first new Z/28, then the ZL1 and the 1LE.”

Back to the story about Hendrick having to sell that 1963 Corvette, and almost everything else he and wife Linda owned, to afford his first dealership. Before that, things were actually going quite well for Hendrick. At 23, he convinced Raleigh, North Carolina, super dealer Mike Leith to give him a job running Leith’s import division. “Then I got recruited by General Motors and Chevrolet.” Hendrick wanted to own a dealership, and in true be-careful-what-you-wish-for fashion, Chevy said “Okay.”

The dealership GM had in mind was a failing store in Bennettsville, South Carolina, a tiny burg southeast of Charlotte. In the mid-1970s, Bennettsville’s population was around 7900. “My wife and I had just built a new house. I was driving a BMW, she was driving a Mercedes. This store in Bennettsville was a nothing deal, but GM said if you want a bigger store, you got to start there.

“So we sold our new house, bought a $28,000 house in Bennettsville, and sold everything else we had. That included our ’63 Corvette. Went down there—they were only selling 200 cars a year. There was no showroom.” Rent was a whopping $1700 a month. “They had two mechanics, who didn’t have tools. It was open, but it was out of business. That’s where I had to start.” He became the youngest Chevrolet dealer in the country. Hendrick dove in headfirst, working day and night to turn Bennettsville around. Turn it around, he did—soon it was the most profitable Chevy store in the region.

“GM lived up to what they had told me. They said if you can turn this one around, we’ll see you get a bigger opportunity. Eighteen months, three days, four hours and 46 seconds later, I got the call that City Chevrolet was available. Other opportunities started coming our way, and it just grew from there.”

He parlayed that little store in Bennettsville into Hendrick Automotive Group, the largest privately held dealer network in America, and the seventh-largest in the country. “We have about 11,000 employees, and we’re selling about 200,000 cars a year. We’re servicing about 2.5 million. From nothing, really. It’s been good.”

Hendrick has had opportunities to sell out, and he could have taken his company public. “But that’s not me. I want to take care of my people. You have to put people before profit. And I believe if you do that, you’ll make plenty of money. I don’t want to have to deal with analysts, I don’t want to have to attend board meetings. I like the private way, and I’ve grown to where I am today and I don’t need to be any bigger. The car business and the racing deal both started the same way, just a handful of people. I don’t really know how it happened. Good people, in the right place at the right time.”

Deremer Studios Amelia Concours drone
Deremer Studios

Ah, the racing deal. He owns Hendrick Motorsports, a four-car NASCAR Cup team with drivers Kyle Larson, William Byron, Alex Bowman, and Chase Elliott. Previous drivers include Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jeff Gordon, who now works for Hendrick as vice-chairman of the racing group. They’ve won 14 championships, including seven for Johnson and four for Gordon, and more total races than any other team.

But Hendrick Motorsports had a beginning that was every bit as modest and unlikely as Hendrick Automotive Group’s was. It was 1982, and Hendrick was racing drag boats. Hendrick drove one, his brother drove another one, and world-record holder Jimmy Wright drove a third one, named Nitro Fever. That September, the team was racing at Lake Lou Yaeger, a 5.5-mile-long reservoir in Illinois.

Wright was clocked at 213 mph when something went wrong, and Nitro Fever crashed into the embankment. Wright was killed. He was 47. It put an end to Hendrick’s drag boat racing. “After that, I went back one time and I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

Hendrick was always involved with auto racing, working on the crew for the legendary Flying 11 dirt modified driven by Ray Hendrick (no relation) when he was a teenager. In 1983, Hendrick had been helping out his friend Robert Gee, a dirt car racer who also owned a NASCAR Grand National series (now Xfinity series) race car, and who also happened to be Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s grandfather. “I became partners with Robert, and in our first time out, Dale Earnhardt, Sr., won a 300-mile race in Charlotte in our car. I thought, ‘Well, this is easy!’”

He’d learn soon enough that it wasn’t.

Hendrick had been keeping his drag boats at the shop of Harry Hyde, a NASCAR crew chief. The next step of the journey was a genuine twist-of-fate moment. Max Muhleman, a journalist who went on to be a noted sports promoter, “had been working to find a sponsor for one of the boats. For some reason, NASCAR called him.” C.K. Spurlock, who was singer Kenny Rogers’ manager, was looking to get into NASCAR, and had cut a deal with Richard Petty to drive for them. They were looking for a partner.

“Max called me one day and asked, ‘Hey, would you like to be partners with C.K. Spurlock and Kenny Rogers, and be part of a team that has Richard Petty driving?’ I thought it was a trick question. Who wouldn’t want to do that?” Hendrick had already been talking to Hyde about NASCAR, so it seemed like a logical step to have him involved with the team, which would be called All-Star Racing, recognizing the star status of Rogers and Petty.

Rick Hendrick Honoree Cars The Amelia
Marty V Photography

On October 9, 1983, Hendrick and Hyde were in the garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway after the running of the Miller High Life 400 race. “Harry and I were waiting for Richard Petty. He was going to sign the contract to drive for us.” Petty won the race, but was caught in tech with a 382-cubic-inch engine (358 was the legal maximum). Still, he was allowed to keep the win, because that’s how NASCAR rolled back then.

But when it came time to sign the contract, Petty backed out. “He wanted to keep the STP sponsorship with him in Level Cross,” the North Carolina shop where Petty was based. “And when he did that, Spurlock said they didn’t think they could go forward.” That left All-Star Racing with no stars, and Hendrick and Hyde holding the bag. “There I was—no sponsor and no driver,” Hendrick said, “but we had built a couple of cars and had five people working for us, so Harry and I hired Geoff Bodine to drive. We started a few races, wrecked a couple of times. We were going to quit.” Hendrick couldn’t continue to fund the team out of his pocket.

grandstands during the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out 400 at Martinsville Speedway
James Gilbert/Getty Images

“Harry said, ‘Well, let’s go one more time, to Martinsville, because Bodine is good there.’” Hendrick didn’t even make the trip to the half-mile Virginia track for the Sovran Bank 500. “I had promised my wife we’d go to a church service in Greensboro.”

After the services, Hendrick found a pay phone to find out how All-Star Racing had done. “I called my mother and she said, ‘You didn’t hear? He blew up.’ And I said, ‘Well that’s that.’ I told Harry we were going to shut the doors after that race.”

Then his mother laughed. “Naw, he won!” Recalls Hendrick, “So we went to Bodine’s house and wrapped his yard in toilet paper!

1984 NASCAR Martinsville Geoff Bodine
April 29, 1984: Geoff Bodine leads Bobby Allison and Richard Petty during the Sovran Bank 500 NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.ISC Archives/Getty Images

“You know, thinking back, what it took to get into racing then, compared to now—we were working out of Harry’s shop, we were renting the equipment from Harry, I was renting the Chrysler transmissions and rear ends, running them in a Chevrolet. It was a shoestring operation, but we made it, and actually won three races that year, which is unheard of for a new team.”

They made a movie in 1990 based on the story: Days of Thunder, starring Hendrick’s friend Tom Cruise as fictional driver Cole Trickle. Randy Quaid played Hendrick (the character’s name was Tim Daland), and Robert Duvall played Hyde (Harry Hogge). It was no coincidence that Cole Trickle drove a car with City Chevrolet on the side. That movie car is part of Hendrick’s Amelia display.

After Martinsville, the sponsor problem was solved when Northwestern Security Life Insurance stepped up. “It was a $400,000 sponsor, which was like $4 million today,” Hendrick said. “And before the end of the year, we got Levi Garrett. We won the last race of the season.” It was a trying time, obviously, but it was fun. Is it still as much fun as it was then? “No way. It’s too big, too much pressure, too much money… you have to have big sponsors. Back in that day, I would decide I’m going to drive a race, or Paul Newman, or Jim Fitzgerald, and we’d just pull another car out of the garage and go race. No, it was a lot more fun back then. It’s big business today.” Hendrick, as a driver, is credited with two NASCAR Cup starts, and one start each in the Xfinity and Craftsman Truck series. He’s also driven in the Mille Miglia in Italy.

Le Mans 24 Hour Race camaro garage 56 zl1 results 2023
As an experiment for the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans, Hendrick Motorsports, in conjunction with NASCAR, built a Cup-based car that turned out to be faster than many of the sports cars.Getty Images

“Big” and “less fun” sound like it could apply to selling cars, too. Is Hendrick ready for the future in retail, which everyone tells us is electric? “I’m a dinosaur, man, no! But we’ll sell what the people want. The customers will decide what cars are built. You can only force so much on them.”

He’ll revel in hydrocarbons this weekend at the Amelia Concours d’Elegance. Has he been here before? “I’m embarrassed to say I have not. Ray Evernham,” Jeff Gordon’s longtime crew chief, “has been after me to go year after year, but between racing and everything else, I’ve just never been. This’ll be my first trip.

“I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been a car junkie my entire life.”


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