Alright, so that was a bit more like it. The Martinsville weekend provided entertainment on all levels. There were neon pink hot dogs, a bit of impatience in practice, a grandfather clock to be won, a late-race bump-n-run and even a moment of history.
History—usually the kind that fills the books at school is nothing but a long list of who died, or who shot whom. Not very inspiring, to say the least. Which is why it’s a relief to see something positive happen from time to time.
As Jimmie Johnson climbed from his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy Sunday afternoon, the win not only heralded the first time this season that Hendrick Motorsports visited Victory Lane, it was the 25th Anniversary of the company’s first win in Cup racing.
In 1984, Geoffrey Bodine piloted his No. 5 Northwestern Security Life Chevy around the paperclip track for 500 laps and beat out the field of 31 cars. He took home a tidy $29,800 and Rick Hendrick thought that this might be the start of something great. He was right.
Of course, it wasn’t a perfectly simple climb to the top. This sport doesn’t engender wild success based on simple luck and the persistence to wait out the competition. Many other teams have thrown more money and people at the problem only to give up in a year or two (remember Bobby Ginn?). Still, when you review the Hendrick stats, it does appear an angel has always sat on Rick’s shoulder when the checkered flag dropped. Combined with perseverance and the ability to hire the right people at the right time, success did come.
25 years, 176 wins, and eight championships later, the roster of drivers that helped to bring the Hendrick dream true reads like a who’s who of NASCAR: Bodine, Waltrip, Rudd, Richmond, Gordon, Johnson, Schrader, Labonte… it goes on!
So, maybe in the grand scheme of things, 25 years isn’t all that big. After all, NASCAR is now over 60 years old and Indianapolis has been hosting auto races for almost 100 years. But still, it’s worthwhile celebrating such hallmark moments in our sport. Fame behind the wheel of a stock car can be such a fleeting thing, so to garner this level of achievement over such a long period is an entirely different kettle of fish.
Perhaps it is a bit soon to place Hendrick Motorsports on the same shelf with Petty Enterprises and the Wood Brothers, but they are still in healthy company with other such middle-aged notables as Richard Childress, Joe Gibbs and Roger Penske.
And who will follow in Hendrick’s footprints? Will the younger enterprise of Stewart-Haas grow into the next superteam, full of top talent and cars that don’t know how to lose? Or Michael Waltrip Racing? Or perhaps it will all come full circle and the upstart team headed by Larry Gunselman and the Bodine Brothers will be the next group of owners to find victory lane over years and years.
This silver anniversary may have given Rick Hendrick and his stable a moment to think back on all the good times. It also allows you and me to look forward to the next 25 years. Just imagine what could happen!
The thoughts of flags flying in green, white, yellow and checked for competitors from near and far will keep me coming back. What about you?