First Win Fueled Hendrick Legacy
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on March 28, 2014 | 9:00 A.M. EST
Geoff Bodine delivered Hendrick Motorsports' very first Cup Series victory in April 1984, at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo: ISC Archives)
Hendrick Motorsports returns to Martinsville Speedway this weekend, the site of the team’s first Sprint Cup Series victory in 1984.
Thirty years ago, Geoff Bodine drove the No. 5 Rick Hendrick-owned Chevrolet to victory at Martinsville ... the first of what has grown to 219 race wins and led to 11 series championships.
Bodine led 55 laps on his way to the checkered flag, including the final 48, and remembers how much the day meant to both his and Hendrick’s careers.
"The race just unfolded," Bodine said. "I knew you had to pace yourself at that track and brakes were really important. At the end, it was just perfect. The neat thing about the race was that it was Rick’s first win, my first win; but no one fell out of this race. None of the good cars were out."
Bodine’s victory in the then-All-Star Racing entry was the start of one of NASCAR’s legendary organizations and a sports dynasty. But Hendrick, who at the time was struggling to make ends meet for his fledgling race team, readily admits that without the Martinsville victory, there might not have even been a future for the organization.
"I’d have to say without the Geoff Bodine win in Martinsville, we wouldn’t be here," Hendrick said. "We had decided that we couldn’t go any further and once you close the doors, very few organizations come back."
Since 1984, Hendrick has captured more professional sports championships than any other American teams including the NBA (Lakers 8, Bulls 6); Major League Baseball (Yankees 5) and the NHL (Oilers 5).
Six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who is shooting for his ninth career Martinsville win in Sunday’s STP 500, says the organization’s incredible success is a testament to both the business savvy and determination of Hendrick.
"I know a lot of other successful businessmen, but Mr. Hendrick is a car guy," said Johnson. "People want to work for him. They show up and do the best they can. They treat our company like it’s theirs. That’s due to his personality and who he is as a man. That’s something to be proud of."
The Hendrick team's Martinsville record is also something the organization can take pride in. Overall, Hendrick teams have won 21 times at the .526-mile track with Johnson and teammate Jeff Gordon combining for 16 of those victories.
"Martinsville is one of those races on the schedule I always want to win," said Johnson, who watched Gordon go to Victory Lane there last October. "Last year, we had great runs at Martinsville and it would be an honor to win there once again for Hendrick Motorsports."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is hoping to get in on some of the Hendrick Martinsville fun on Sunday and add to his impressive start to the season. Although Earnhardt didn’t fare well at Martinsville early in his Sprint Cup career, he’s rebounded nicely with 10 top fives and 15 top-10 finishes there. He placed second in 2011 and third in 2012.
"Every seat at Martinsville is the best seat in the house," said Earnhardt. "It’s a great place to watch a race. I used to go up there and watch when I was a kid. It was only an hour and a half up the road, so we never missed that race. I’ve been going there forever and I love racing there.
"I’ve just wanted to win a race there for so long and try to get the grandfather clock for my house. Any win there is special for Rick. It's a track he’s had a lot of success on and I’d love to add to that legacy."
Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - will have live coverage of Sunday's STP 500 starting at 12 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.