MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Rick Hendrick says without Martinsville Speedway, he might not even be in racing.
Hendrick, the owner of wildly successful Hendrick Motorsports, was a new owner in 1984 and already considering closing his doors after seven races when the series arrived at Martinsville Speedway.
A business partner talked him into giving it one more shot because his driver, Geoff Bodine, had a history of success at Martinsville, and when Bodine won the race, it allowed Hendrick to keep going.
“We owe Martinsville so much,” Hendrick said, noting that the victory also allowed him to get sponsorship. “If we hadn’t won the race, literally, the next Monday, we were going to shut it down.”
Since then, Hendrick Motorsports has grown from five employees working in 5,000 square feet to a massive multicar enterprise with 500 employees working in a 430,000 square feet, with great success. Hendrick’s drivers have won 218 more races, and 11 championships, in NASCAR’s premier series.
Unlike many of the subsequent victories, Hendrick wasn’t even at the track for the first one.
“I’d promised my wife I’d go to a church service in Greensboro and I thought it was on Saturday but it was on Sunday, so I went,” he recalled. “I was in church. That was before cellphones, so I stopped at a pay phone and called my mother and just asked her how the race turned out.
“And she said, ‘You didn’t hear?’ and I said, ‘No,’ and she said, ‘He blew up.’
While Hendrick was processing what that meant for his team, she interrupted him.
“‘Kidding,'” she said. “‘You won.'”
Hendrick’s next stop, he said, was Bodine’s house, and wrapping the driver’s yard in toilet paper.
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