CONCORD, N.C. – When Steve Letarte first began his journey at Hendrick Motorsports, he had no idea what the future of his career would hold.
It didn’t take the teenager long, however, to realize that the chance the organization’s owner, Rick Hendrick, had given him was a special one.
“Without a doubt, at 16 I had no idea what the opportunity was,” Letarte said. “But very quickly it became clear to me what kind of opportunity he and the company had given me. When you look back on it now at 37, who knew 21 years ago, that opportunity to be the cleanup kid for the No. 24 car basically shaped the entire future of my career.”
And now, 21 years later – after moving up from a cleanup kid to a crew chief and now an analyst for NBC Sports – what still stands out to Letarte from his time at Hendrick Motorsports is Hendrick’s leadership.
One memory in particular has remained at the forefront of Letarte’s mind all these years.
Following Jeff Gordon’s 1995 championship, Hendrick went around the shop, thanking everybody by name.
“Even though my dad worked in the chassis shop,” Letarte recalled, “I thought he [Hendrick] had no idea who I was, but that’s not how the boss is. Mr. Hendrick knows everyone. There’s something unique about his presence where you feel like you have known each other a long time. He has that way of captivating the moment.”
Although the list of things Letarte has learned from Hendrick over the years “would need an index,” the NBC analyst said it all circles back to one fundamental concept.
“Probably the number one thing is that any company, any sports team, any race team, it’s all about the people,” Letarte said. “And how you get good people is you treat them as you want to be treated.”
The mantra is one that Hendrick has upheld his entire career, across all aspects of the organization, which Letarte said is just one reason he belongs in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“I think there was zero question in the community if Rick Hendrick would be inducted in to the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” he said. “The question was always when.”
Now this Friday, Hendrick will join the class of 2017 as they don their Hall of Fame jackets and join the ranks of the Hall.
In Letarte’s mind, Hendrick is more than deserving of the honor.
“What stands out most to me is you have someone who is far from finishing his resume in racing, yet what has been written is more than enough to be in the Hall of Fame,” he explained. “The fact that the committee saw past the fact that he was continuing to compete and thought it was time to put him in, really is just the exclamation point on how deserving he is of the honor.”