A Team Effort: One of Nascar's Greatest Champions Finds Strength in Numbers
Yaeger, Don, Success
* ONCE A wide-eyed kid trying to sell his first car after hooking on at a dealership after college, Rick Hendrick has grown to become a legend in auto sales and racing. He's also a testament to the human will for his ability to persevere through an unthinkable tragedy.
It's been three decades since Hendrick, 64, sped into NASCAR to become the most successful team owner in the sport's history, compiling a deep stable of racers that now includes legends Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne. His drivers have celebrated II Sprint Cup Championships since 1995--the next closest team in that period has three.
The four drivers and their respective crews work well together, Hendrick explains, because of their shared goal to take the checkered flag and win championships. "If our people share information until the race begins, all four cars will be more competitive and have a better chance of going to victory lane," Hendrick says. "Once the race starts, we're competing against each other. But win or lose, we're going to do it together."
Hendrick insists that to have such success when managing people in any path of life, you can't force communication and teamwork. "They have to trust it's the best road to success, both as individuals and as a company, and we have to give them the right tools," Hendrick says. "We just finished our 30th season, and culture is something we've fostered over all of that time. It didn't just happen from Day One."
Hendrick works diligently to spread credit around the garage, but anyone who is part of his team knows the success wouldn't be possible if not for the man who assembled the winning parts.
His accomplishments in business are comparable to the trophies he has won in competition. He has amassed a fortune selling cars. After attending North Carolina State University, he joined forces with Mike Leith, an established car dealer. Once Hendrick learned the business, Leith named the 23-year-old general sales manager (ibis new car import operation. Three years later, Hendrick gathered up his money to buy a struggling dealership in Bennettsville, S.C., and in doing so, became the youngest Chevrolet dealer in the United States.
Hendrick made that stressed dealership the most profitable in the region. From those small beginnings, Hendrick Automotive Group has grown to more than 100 retail franchises across 13 states; it employs close to 8,000 people, making it the nation's second-largest privately held dealership group.
Success for Hendrick has come with great struggle and loss, however.
On a foggy Sunday in October 2004, Hendrick was at home in North Carolina and not at the track in Martinsville, Va., getting ready for the Subway 500. As he attempted to keep tabs on his team from afar, a plane Hendrick owned was preparing to land at Blue Ridge Airport near the race track with 10 people on board. But the Beechcraft Super King Air 200 never made it, first going missing from air traffic control, only to be discovered crashed into Bull Mountain, seven miles from the airport. All 10 aboard the plane were killed, including four members of the Hendrick family: John Hendrick, Rick's brother and the president of Hendrick Motorsports; Kimberly and Jennifer Hendrick, John Hendrick's 22-year-old twin daughters; and Rick's son, Ricky, a former NASCAR Busch Series driver. …