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RALEIGH, N.C. – Monday morning in Raleigh, North Carolina, Rick Hendrick was in attendance as construction kicked off on the newly christened Hendrick Center for Automotive Excellence.

The name of Wake Tech’s new automotive training facility and the accompanying $1 million pledge from Hendrick Automotive Group received a standing ovation when it was announced at a special groundbreaking ceremony on the college’s campus.

“Hearing the stories about Wake Tech and how you just absolutely want to be the best – you want to train people and you want to grow this college," Hendrick, Hendrick Motorsports owner and Hendrick Automotive Group chairman, said on stage. "I’m amazed sitting there at how many new programs you’ve gotten started. But I’m going to tell you what, there’s not going to be a program you start that’s going to equal this one, because I’m going to make sure of that.

“Our teammates out there know we don’t like to lose. We’ve challenged each other to make this one of the greatest facilities that anybody in the automobile business has seen.”

In attendance at the ceremony were North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and U.S. Representative David Price in addition to other elected officials. Cooper praised Hendrick as a "sports legend across this nation," sharing that the only thing bigger than his importance to NASCAR is his heart.

"I know that Wake Tech is grateful to have a partnership with Rick Hendrick," the governor said. "I can tell this will be a huge boost to our economy in North Carolina, but also to a lot of everyday families who are getting the opportunity now to get a skill that is going to help them put food on the table and to buy them an affordable place to live. It’s just a great feeling to have so many people here who are contributing to this and to have Rick Hendrick and his name on it is very fitting."

And with Hendrick involved, it was also fitting that the groundbreaking was highlighted not by shovels, but by a special show car designed just for the occasion.

The engine was fired to cap the ceremony.

Wake Tech will be able to more than double its number of students in the automotive systems technology program thanks to the $41.8 million, 100,000-square-foot facility, and the college will add a new degree program in collision repair.

“There is a major demand for auto service technicians throughout our industry,” Hendrick said. “At our company alone, we currently have 500 openings for techs, and that need will only grow in the coming years. With so many opportunities out there, it’s important that we find partners like Wake Tech. They care about their students and teaching advanced skills. As our manufacturer partners look to the future, Wake Tech will give people the training they need to build rewarding careers. When they graduate, our company and others in the auto industry will line up to hire them.”

The $1 million gift from Hendrick Automotive Group will provide funds for new technology and equipment, scholarships for students, and to help recruit and retain expert faculty.

“We cannot tell you how much we appreciate your commitment," Wake Tech President Dr. Scott Ralls told Hendrick from the stage. "It is our commitment that this building and its excellence will only be exceeded by the excellence of the program that is provided at this facility."

He noted that the building itself will provide a "wow factor" for students similar to the one a brand-new locker room or stadium provides for athletes, and having the Hendrick name attached only adds to the aura of excellence as the school looks to "change the face of technical education."

“We call it the Center for Automotive Excellence, and in some ways I think it’s redundant to have the Hendrick name, because Hendrick by itself means automotive excellence,” Ralls said. “We’re so indebted to the Hendrick team for helping make this happen. It’s a big thing for us, beyond the donation, just the connection and the partnership.”

The Hendrick Center for Automotive Excellence is scheduled to open for classes in the fall of 2021. Hendrick joked that he's a little impatient and wants to speed up that timeline so he can help cut the ribbon on the building even sooner.

“It’s unlimited what we can do today," Hendrick said, "so I’m excited to get the show started.”

Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Hendrick Automotive Group is the largest privately held automotive retail organization in the United States with 95 dealership locations and 130 franchises. It employs more than 10,000 total team members across 14 states, including 3,700 in North Carolina. Career opportunities can be found at www.HendrickCareers.com.