Don Hudson commentary on Henderick tragedy

First he lost his father; now his brother and son The thought of that, for a man so focused on family, is heartbreaking The Charlotte Observer, October 25, 2004 by Don Hudson Three weeks ago, Rick Hendrick invited me out to his racing...

First he lost his father; now his brother and son
The thought of that, for a man so focused on family, is heartbreaking

The Charlotte Observer, October 25, 2004
by Don Hudson

Three weeks ago, Rick Hendrick invited me out to his racing compound to drive sports cars, hang out and talk about life.

It was a break for him and a treat for me, an afternoon away from deadlines and bosses to goof off and wax philosophic in the warm sunlight of an Indian summer day.

We drove cars, but mostly we talked about what's really important -- family, life and love, and, yes, death.

To think that Hendrick, who lost his best friend and dad, Papa Joe Hendrick, on July 14, mourns the loss of his son, Ricky, his brother, John, and two nieces -- along with members of his racing team -- today, seems almost too much to comprehend.

On his first turn behind the wheel that day, I asked him what he had learned from the leukemia that attacked him in 1996.

"You never think it will happen to you," he said. "You think about every day is precious. . I'm just glad it wasn't one of my kids."

From his race shop, we drove out to his fleet of airplanes at Concord Regional Airport, where he put 150 crewmembers in the air every week. Ricky called his dad's cell phone while we were there, trying to talk his dad into buying a new helicopter.

Hendrick took the call with fatherly skepticism, laughing over his son's exuberant pitch.

"I talk to both of my children every day," he said as we drove along. "It's the best part of my life."

Hendrick has had a tough few years. When his cancer went into remission in 1999 after three years of chemotherapy, his father got sick. Then Ricky was hurt badly in a racing accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"I was petrified every time he drove," Hendrick said. He said he was thrilled when his son decided to give it up in October 2002. "He called ... and told me he didn't have it. That he had lost his edge."

Late in the afternoon, we settled into John Hendrick's RV and had Diet Pepsis. John is one of those who died Sunday.

Rick was wearing a "Life is Good" hat, talking about his brother's car dealerships and his mom teaching them how to borrow money. He was "blessed," he said, happy that his daughter was stopping her professional career to have a family.

"She said, `I want to be a soccer mom.' " That was fine by him.

Losing his father had brought him closer to his children than he had ever been, and he was happy. "I will tell you what changed me more than my cancer," he said of his father, "it was his cancer."

And, now, another tragedy in the life of Rick Hendrick.

Editor's Note: [Reprinted with permission of The Charlotte Observer]

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