CONCORD, N.C. - Eight current and past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers with a total of 14 championships and 307 wins between them recently convened for one purpose: To reflect on the road to and their role in a milestone 200 Cup Series victories for Hendrick Motorsports.
Team owner Rick Hendrick moderates the group’s discussions and personal reflections in an exclusive one-hour special premiering Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. ET on SPEED. Beyond 200: The Hendrick Motorsports Story captures behind-the-scenes anecdotes and revelations among current Hendrick Motorsports drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, and past drivers Geoff Bodine, Terry Labonte, Ken Schrader and Darrell Waltrip.
“When SPEED approached us with this idea, I wasn’t sure we could pull it off,” Hendrick said. “But everyone was enthusiastic about being involved, and we had a lot of fun telling stories, including a few I’d never heard. Throughout the years, so many people have made their mark on Hendrick Motorsports. It was a real privilege to spend this time with eight of them, and we’re thankful to SPEED for helping make it happen. I hope fans enjoy watching the show as much as we did filming it.”
Produced by Emmy Award-winning NASCAR Productions, the special is a story of family, both at home and within the race team, as revealed by Hendrick and some of the drivers who captured those 200 checkered flags.
Waltrip, who drove for Hendrick Motorsports from 1987 to 1990 and currently serves as a NASCAR on SPEED and FOX analyst, says the men had a great time sharing tales, some of which grew taller through the years.
“After all these years, all our stories usually are embellished and much better than they were the first time around,” he joked. “Because of guys like Ken (Schrader), Geoff (Bodine), Terry (Labonte) and me, who seem to add a little detail along the way, the stories always are more outrageous and funnier than the first time. Schrader’s story about taking Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. to the bar when we were in Topeka still cracks me up. Bodine takes credit for everything (laughing). He thinks if it weren’t for him, Hendrick Motorsports wouldn’t even be here. We all had our moment. Most of them are funny and some of them are sad, but our experiences driving for Hendrick Motorsports and while taping this special were all unforgettable.”
Waltrip says the time together likely was enlightening for the younger crop of Hendrick Motorsports drivers.
“Grasping the meaning of the 200th win probably is a little hard for the younger guys -- Jimmie (Johnson) or Dale Jr. and Kasey (Kahne) -- because they might not realize to what extent Rick (Hendrick) struggled when he first started the company,” Waltrip stated. “Rick’s perseverance and success shows the absolute commitment, fortitude and resolve he had to form the successful racing operation he has today. He started out very meagerly and has grown his team into an empire. I don’t know if everyone really appreciates what went into making that organization what it is today.”
Waltrip says when he joined Hendrick Motorsports for the 1987 season, he had aspirations of the union producing the most formidable force NASCAR had ever seen. That expectation, however, proved lofty.
“We talk a lot about the ‘Dream Team,’” explained Waltrip, who scored nine wins, 35 top-five finishes and 60 top-10s in 110 starts with Hendrick Motorsports. “When I was driving for Junior Johnson, Rick called me up to come drive for him. I said I would but it had to be under certain circumstances. Waddell Wilson was one of those things I felt strongly about, and when I got Waddell, I thought we really could put together a team that could be as dominant as anything anyone had ever seen. But we laugh about it all the time because the ‘Dream Team’ turned out to be a nightmare.”
Stats and record books aside, the NASCAR Hall of Fame driver says he wouldn’t trade his time at Hendrick Motorsports because he found a lifelong friend and mentor in Hendrick.
“To this day, Rick is my best friend in racing and in life,” Waltrip explained. “We’ve done so much together. We’re even in the car business together. I can’t count the ways he has helped me. That’s the thing we all take away from Hendrick Motorsports. It doesn’t end when you stop driving there – it continues forever. You’re a part of the Hendrick family for the rest of your life. Through all the triumphs and tragedies, Rick’s grace and style and the way he handles the highs and lows cuts right through everything. There are very few people like Rick Hendrick and those of us who drove for him and helped him get to those 200 wins couldn’t be more blessed.”