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#Hendrick30th spotlight: Mechanic Brad Pickens recalls 2003 Darlington win

The date was Aug. 31, 2003, and the South Carolina sun was beating down on everybody at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. I was a gas man going over the wall for then-Hendrick Motorsports driver Terry Labonte. And let me tell you, it was scorching hot. It was so hot that some of the drivers were starting to feel fatigued. But not Terry – he just told crew chief Jim Long that those drivers needed to come spend a summer with him in south Texas.  

That remark was a testament to Terry Labtone and the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization – we don’t ever give up, even when circumstances are not ideal. Terry battled through desert-like conditions that day and ended up taking the checkered flag. I remember him climbing out of his No. 5 Chevy in Victory Lane, sporting a beet-red face and a worn-out expression – he was absolutely gassed.  It was a tough race, but we pulled it out in true Hendrick Motorsports fashion. 

As a South Carolina native, that win at Darlington was pretty special to me. After all, I raced short tracks all along the state during my high school years until I started working at Hendrick Motorsports in 2000. Upon my arrival, I quickly learned that winning was the expectation – an expectation that we met at Darlington in 2003. 

Prior to that sweltering Southern 500, the No. 5 team had been right at the edge of winning a couple of races. To come out and win at a racetrack like Darlington was just awesome. That track was and still is my favorite – it’s rough, exhausting and one of a kind. No matter how many times they repave it, it is worn out again in just a couple of years. The drivers who race there really have to earn their money. 

And I expect this weekend won’t be much different. Everybody is in for a show when our drivers fire up their engines on Saturday night at the track Too Tough to Tame.

Brad Pickens

Mechanic, Nos. 5/24 shop

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