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Hendrick Motorsports celebrates 25th anniversary of first win at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (March 27, 2009)—Team owner Rick Hendrick stood on the stage at Hendrick Motorsports during the team’s Jan. 21 media day and glanced out into the crowd; a smile building on his face.

“I never dreamed we’d make it 25 years,” Hendrick told the group of more than 200 media members. “I feel honored and blessed that I can do anything in life that I enjoy as much as racing and stay with it this long and be surrounded by a lot of great folks.”

This season, Hendrick Motorsports celebrates its 25th anniversary. The organization has grown from its humble beginnings in 1984 with five employees and 5,000 square feet of rented work space to more than 500 employees on a campus that stretches 100-plus acres. Along the way, success ensued as Hendrick has scored 12 NASCAR titles (eight in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) and 175 Cup wins.

And the first one happened right here at Martinsville Speedway, NASCAR’s shortest racetrack.

It was 1984, and Geoff Bodine was driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick. Bodine opened the season earning three top-10 finishes in his first three outings, including an eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500. But Harry Hyde, a hard-nosed crew chief who preferred to log his thoughts on 3-by-5 index cards to notebooks, couldn’t resist giving his driver a hard time—even the day before the race.

Bodine turned 35 on April 18, and his family and friends were celebrating with a small party in the infield when Hyde offered up his thoughts on the upcoming 500-lap event at Martinsville.

“I just don’t think we’re good enough this weekend,” Bodine recalled Hyde telling the crowd. “I don’t think Bodine’s going to have a chance of winning. This is a nice party you’re having for him, but maybe next time when we come here, we’ll be a little more ready to go.”

Bodine wasn’t sure if Hyde was joking, and he was taken aback by his comments so he protested right there. He believed the combination of his short-track experience in modifieds, plus the team’s excellent performance in practice earlier that day meant they were ready. So Hyde’s comments were an afterthought when Bodine lined up sixth for the event on April 29.

Bodine led seven laps during the course of the event and eventually recaptured the top spot for the final time with 48 laps remaining. Driving the No. 5 Northwestern Security Life Chevrolet, he passed defending Cup champion Bobby Allison before pulling ahead by several seconds on his way to Victory Lane.

“The race just unfolded,” Bodine said. “We were running good. I knew you had to pace yourself at this track; brakes were really important. I was doing that throughout the race. At the end, it was just perfect. The neat thing about the race was it was Rick’s first win, my first win; but no one fell out of this race. None of the good cars were out.”

Hendrick happened to be at church with his wife during the race, but he made up for missing the Victory Lane celebration by holding one of his own. After receiving a phone call, Hendrick and several of his friends took a trip to Pleasant Garden, N.C., to celebrate.

When Bodine got home, he found toilet paper wrapped around the trees in his front yard.

“They could have done anything that night—painted my house pink—it wouldn’t have bothered me,” Bodine said. “We were so happy.”

The win for the fledgling Hendrick team—then known as All-Star Racing—helped ensure that Bodine would run a full-time season rather than a partial one as initially anticipated. Bodine finished the year with three wins, seven top-five finishes and 14 top-10s. He earned three pole positions, including one at Martinsville on Sept. 23, 1984.

“It was a pivotal race for us,” Hendrick later told The Sporting News in a 2004 interview. “I know exactly what some of these guys feel like who have an unsponsored car—we did not have a sponsor. We had a small associate on the car, All-Star Racing and City Chevrolet, my store in Charlotte. We were running the deal out of our pocket and needed some success to sell a sponsor. I told Jeff Gordon the other day, ‘I don’t know who you’d be driving for, but it probably wouldn’t be me if Geoff Bodine hadn’t won that race in Martinsville.’”

From that April day, Martinsville has become the winningest track for Hendrick. In 25 seasons of competition—that’s 50 races—his drivers have combined to earn 17 wins, 51 top-five finishes, 82 top-10s and 14 pole positions. His drivers have combined to lead 6,134 laps—the most for Hendrick at any one track.

“We probably have six of those grandfather clocks on display in our museum,” Hendrick says proudly.

The organization also has historically qualified well at the short track. Since 1984, Hendrick’s drivers have recorded 14 pole positions, including a sweep in 1985. Tim Richmond scored the top spot in April, while Bodine earned the one in September. Bodine and Richmond went on that season to score 16 poles in 29 events—a team record that still stands.

“Wow, we had some horsepower,” Bodine said. “Unfortunately we broke a lot of engines, but in qualifying we’d put it all together. We were awesome. They called us the front-row gang.”

Frank Edwards was one of those initial employees who helped Hendrick field the No. 5 Chevy in 1984. He remembered watching Bodine tear up the short tracks as a youngster, so he wasn’t surprised by his early success. But Edwards did attribute Hendrick’s record today to what happened during that first season.

“Winning the first race at Martinsville was the first step to say, ‘Hey, this is a viable race team, and this will work,’” said Edwards, 72, who still works at Hendrick Motorsports. “When he got the second win and then the third one that same year, wham, it was go from then. There weren’t no stopping it then.”

“We had no idea where Hendrick Motorsports was going to go after that,” Bodine said. “A one-car team in its eighth race. We had no idea that Rick was going to continue and build such a dynasty in NASCAR.”

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