Commentary

Hendrick: "That 48 team has plenty of championships left in it"

The owner looks back at his storied career and sees no reason to stop anytime soon

Updated: December 5, 2011, 2:00 PM ET
By Ryan McGee | ESPN The Magazine

Rick HendrickStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesHendrick's mind is on one thing: Getting ready for next year.

This story appears in the Dec. 12, 2011, "Interview Issue" of ESPN The Magazine.

McGee: We're sitting here in North Carolina on the massive 140-acre Hendrick Motorsports complex, but what stands out is that little two-door garage that still sits on the hill.

Hendrick: It's amazing to think about five guys in that little shop when we started in 1984. We thought we'd have Richard Petty as a driver, a big sponsor and a bunch of cars, but the deals fell through. So instead we had no sponsor, rented equipment and a washed-up crew chief in Harry Hyde, and our driver was Geoff Bodine -- an unproven guy from upstate New York, of all places.

Rented equipment? Oh yeah, we were race to race. We were broke. I was putting my own money into it, putting my car dealership business in a potentially very tough spot. I didn't sleep at all. I told those guys we could go six races. We did, and then they talked me into running a couple more. Thank god we finally won at Martinsville.

Why put yourself through all that? Because I love racing. It goes back to when I was a kid and went to races with my dad. I remember peeking through the fence at Martinsville and standing in line to get Richard Petty's autograph. I worked on my own cars, and my dad would help -- just because we loved it.

Ten championships and 199 wins. Did you ever think you'd reach those numbers? [Laughs] Not a chance. There was a time when I said that once I hit 10 Cups and 200 wins I would retire. But I won't be doing that.

So now people see the campus, hundreds of trophies, jets and movie-star drivers, and they say things like Hendrick Motorsports is the big bully of NASCAR, that they just throw money at everything. I resent that. I really do. All of this didn't just appear. But I don't ever take it as disrespect toward me. I take it as a slight to the people who did the actual work in the shop on the cars -- the people who literally built this place with their hands. You look at a guy like Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, who started here a decade and a half ago on the shop floor. If you came up here tonight at 3 a.m., I guarantee you he'd be up there in his office working his tail off. That has nothing to do with money.

Speaking of Chad and Jimmie, the title streak has ended. It was always going to end at some point, but a streak isn't what makes a dynasty. That 48 team has plenty of championships left in it. So does Jeff Gordon. Dale Jr. has gotten it turned around, and I'm beyond excited to finally get Kasey Kahne in here next year.

So we can go on and put you down for 11 championships and 250 wins? At least.

Ryan McGee is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He conducted this interview on Oct. 31, 2011. Follow ESPN The Magazine on Twitter, @ESPNmag, and like us on Facebook.

Ryan McGee | email

ESPN The Magazine, NASCAR