Rick Hendrick interview

RICK HENDRICK (Car owner Hendrick Motorsports Monte Carlos) NOTE: Hendrick, the 51-year-old founder and CEO of Hendrick Motorsports, talks about his three-car operation, plans for a fourth Winston Cup team in 2002 and his 20-year-old son...

RICK HENDRICK (Car owner Hendrick Motorsports Monte Carlos) NOTE: Hendrick, the 51-year-old founder and CEO of Hendrick Motorsports, talks about his three-car operation, plans for a fourth Winston Cup team in 2002 and his 20-year-old son Ricky Hendrick. "Tony Furr (crew chief No. 25 Michael Holigan.com Monte Carlo with driver Jerry Nadeau) is good. He's got a good team, they're hungry and they're working together. He's using all the resources, Jerry Nadeau can drive a race car. You talk to somebody and you watch 'em and you can just see it in his eyes. I met him when he was doing roofing. He wasn't even driving a car. Ken Howes was real high on him and Ray Evernham was high on him. As Tony says, he wants a gaser. He got him a gaser. He's been smart. He's been fast, but he's been smart. It's our fault we've had some mechanical problems with him, but he's a neat guy and he's a racer. I enjoy being around them. "I can't tell the difference between Jerry and Jeff Gordon on the telephone. I can talk to both of them and I can't tell them apart. They wear about the same size clothes, but Jerry has to ride on the airplane with me. He hasn't got his own airplane yet, but it won't be long. "That team has been snakebitten for a long time. When Ken Schrader was driving the car we'd have a half a lap lead over here with 50 laps to go and the drive shaft came out of the car. We were down in Darlington leading the race and it broke the back out of the block, stuff that never happens. You begin to think you're just jinxed. We had engine failure a couple of times this year here and Atlanta. He was flying at Watkins Glen and we lost a transmission. It's fun when you've got a guy and every track you go to you're looking forward to it. As Tony says, he ain't got any bad tracks. He's fun to be around, and I think he's going to be awful tough here in every race. I look for him to win a lot of races. He's qualifying every lap. I looked at the monitor up there at Watkins Glen, and he was a second faster than anybody else. You didn't see anybody drive from the back to the front like that. When he lost third gear, he ran a lap about even with the leaders with third gear out of the car. He's a good little road racer, and he's got all the confidence in the world that he can do it. He's a real competitive little guy. I didn't know how competitive he was, but he's fiery, and I like that. "Jerry and Jeff like the same feel. They like exactly what the other likes. When you've got two guys whose driving styles are pretty close and they like each other and communicate... Nadeau says he's not going to help Jeff Sunday. He said he did his duty last night. "Jeff has always been pretty confident, and I don't think he thinks he's got anything to prove. Jerry respects Jeff a lot. I think Jerry was impressed in the beginning that Jeff would come over and ask him what he was doing and how it was working, but they seem to get along real good. If they start having to race each other for a win, you'll probably see me have another kind of problem, but we'll deal with that when the time comes. "Robbie (24 crew chief Loomis) and Jeff are really coming. It started back before Indy. You could just see it getting there. Then we had those wrecks. We were running third at Michigan and wrecked. August was not a good month. You could just see it. It's the same with Jerry. Someone spins him with eight laps to go at Loudon, but as long as you can see the guys up front challenging, you're OK. When you're back there struggling and you can't get to the front, you can't be a factor and you've got to wait for somebody else to have a problem to finish up there or whatever, that's not fun. "I can almost handle the problems when we're running strong because we can go to work and fix that. I feel so good. We've had some down time. I've never been as low as I was at Vegas. I've never carried that many cars anywhere and looked like that. We were terrible in the Busch race. We were terrible in the Cup race. We came home and I got all the crew chiefs with me on the plane and told them we had to do something. I knew we were better than that, and we just had to start working together. I look back at some of the real tough times when you're struggling. You think that's just going to build character. We've been 15 races between Jeff and Terry and Jeff win 13 on his own or seven or 10 or whatever and four championships in a row. You feel like it's supposed to happen. Then somebody saws your legs off at just about the kneecaps and you're thinking what's going to happen next. I'm having to apologize for how bad we are. People start saying you're mediocre at best or you're in a slump. You know you're better than that, but that chemistry deal is so critical. You can have all the stuff there, but if the chemistry ain't clicking, you're not going to do it. I was here yesterday and I looked in Jeff Gordon's eyes and I knew there was going to be a lap laid down here last night. He was on a mission. He was feeling good about it, but when those two cars unloaded, they were good and they were fast. We're real excited about the future. "At a time in Jeff's life when he was real young and Ray (Evernham) had the experience and Ray was a good coach and they had a bond and it was real good. Would it always remain that good? I don't know. Will there ever be a relationship like that again between Jeff and a crew chief? I don't think so. Jeff has matured. He's different now. He wants to play a different role. Jeff and Robbie get along real good. Tony and Jerry get along real good, but Tony and Jerry have had to go out behind the truck a couple of times. Tony is a junkyard dog. I call him Smiley because every time you look at him he just busts out grinning. He's a neat guy. He's a racer. He's a down home, get down to it, race whatever it takes kind of guy. He's a racer. That's all he cares about. When he's got one weekend off a year, he wants to take Ricky to Las Vegas to race Winston West or whatever. I'm very thankful we've got Tony. He's a good man. "If we intentionally did something and we were caught cheating, then it would have bothered Jeff Gordon. He don't want to do that to win, and neither do I. We felt like we were dead 100 percent in the right. Jeff thought we'd get it reversed. When you look at the facts, you can't see where you did anything. I don't know what I would have done different had it happened again. I think the fact that we felt so positive about we were right and dead right that it kind of rolled off Jeff. It bothers you. You can't wake up Sunday morning after going through the high of winning a race and see something that we had an unapproved manifold. That takes all the fun out of it. We had meetings with our people and talked about what we were going to do. "Momentum is a great thing. Jeff Gordon is a scrapper. He just kind of bows up at adversity and takes it on his shoulder and takes it to the next level. I'm real proud of the guys, especially Jeff, of saying 'we've got a job to do, let's go show 'em.' I think that's what was so good about last night. He's just got his act together. I don't know how to say it any other way." "Terry Labonte got hurt. We lost some momentum because Gary (crew chief DeHart) came back this year and is building all new cars. He's tweaking them. I think maybe they're 60 or 90 days behind the other two teams just because they haven't had a chance to test. They've gone to two or three tests and it rained them out. We've had freak things happen like when Terry would qualify the motor would blow up. We don't usually do that. It's just been strange. Terry had two concussions and a broken leg. Him getting back in the car and feeling 100 percent meant a lot, and I think he's there now. We get in the race and we're OK, but we're starting too far back, so we've got to work on qualifying, but it's coming. He's going through some of the same stuff the other two went through earlier in the year, but I'm confident we're going to get it. We're working hard. That's all we can do, just keep on digging. "Ricky has really done well. I've been scared to death to run him at a mile and a half track. He's been after me all year to let him do it. I didn't think I'd let him run the ARCA race, but he did that and finished fifth. He's had four top 10s in the truck and a top five in the Busch Series at Nashville. We didn't even have a team Christmas. Bringing it all under Dennis Conner has helped us a lot. Ricky has matured a lot. I look back at the first of this year, and I just can't believe some of the things he has accomplished. That qualifying run today in the Busch Series was real good. I'm the worst owner-father in this garage area. There's nobody as bad as I am. "I can't be anything. I have to get back and let the rest of them do it. It's like, 'OK, you've run enough, don't run anymore. That track's too fast, we don't want to go there. If you've got a vibration, stop.' I'm just nervous about it and I can't help it. I treat him like a son sometimes. I don't treat him like a driver. You need to do this or you need to do that, and you wouldn't treat a driver that way. He'd tell you to go to hell, but Ricky can't tell me that. Ricky is 20, so I'm going to be traveling and racing for a long time to come. I thought maybe I'd retire one day before long. He's having a great time and the guys really like him. He's having fun with the team. I thought it was pretty neat. Jeff and Jerry were over in the truck talking to him before he went out to qualify today. Jeff comes out on pit road. He gets more excited when he qualifies third than he did when he won the pole. It's real neat. I want him to be careful. I told them these guys would respect him if he showed them respect, and he hasn't leaned on anybody. Nobody has complained about him in any series. If he's a lap down, he's not going to race the leaders. We tried to teach him that you kind of get a reputation when you start. If you make a mistake you'll never overcome it. It could take you years and years. It feels good when drivers come over and say he's using his head and ran a smart race. He didn't race me when he was a lap down. He's a good boy, but I ain't doing too good with it. "We'll have a fourth Cup team with Jimmie Johnson in 2002. I'm crazy, I know it. We were building a new building for the 24. We were going to try to run a young guy and an older guy together, kind of a one team, two-car concept. We felt like that would be good for the young guy. I knew Jimmie Johnson from years ago with Chevrolet. I put him in a Late Model car way back and I rode in one of the off road trucks with his team way back. He and my son have been friends. He flies home with us after Busch races. Jeff like him a lot. The chemistry between him and Jeff was good. He's got a lot of talent. I've know him for a long time. I think he's going to be a superstar. He's got the whole package. He's smart, handles himself well with the media. He's a racer. He's worked hard. He knows the cars. I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully we can get some good races in with him next year and then we can roll him out 2002 and be ready to go. "I worry about running our guys in the ground because of their family life. We try to work around that and give them time off. We're going to have to recruit and find young guys who can keep up with the schedule and blend them in and train them as we go. We'll have to use our truck teams and Busch teams to grow folks. This schedule is almost impossible. I don't know how a man could keep up with it year after year. I know it's hard on me just flying in. "I'm doing good. I feel better than I've felt in four years. I'm about eight months off the treatments now. I've got to remember I'm three years older, too. I'm trying to get back in shape. I'm feeling better every day, and my checkups are great. I hope by the end of the year I'll be back to full speed. You don't put your body to sleep for three years and on chemo and all that stuff and just bounce right back as soon as you get off. It's been a struggle. It really has because my mind will take me places my body won't go. I get up and I've got all these things I want to do. I give out, and I've just got to stop. I try to limit myself, but I'm not doing a good job of that. Then I'll just have to sleep for a day. I pay for it. For every day I over do it, it takes two days to pay for it. You think I'd be smarter than that, but I'm trying. "I hope they turn the odometer back and I've got a ways to go yet. I'll tell you what. One thing I have learned, you get up every day and thank the Good Lord you're here and you've got a chance to do it again."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Terry Labonte , Ken Schrader , Jerry Nadeau , Ricky Hendrick , Jimmie Johnson , Ray Evernham , Michael Ho
Teams Hendrick Motorsports