CONCORD, N.C. – Chad Knaus’ Hendrick Motorsports career began in 1993. And from the very start, he knew it would be unlike any other place he had ever worked.
“Immediately you feel like you’re a part of the team after you meet him,” he recalled of Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick.
That’s why it meant that much more to Knaus – then in charge of the body development for the No. 24 car and a tire changer for the team – to help Jeff Gordon win a championship in 1995 and bring the organization’s first Cup title back to Hendrick.
“To be around for that first championship was just spectacular,” Knaus said. “Obviously, a lot of time, a lot of effort by a lot of individuals went into Hendrick Motorsports before we ever got to that position, a lot of race wins, a lot of different drivers. To think that we finally got the big trophy in honor of all those guys was just awesome.”
Knaus’ Hendrick Motorsports career took a brief hiatus following Gordon’s second championship, as he elected to leave the organization to pursue his dream of becoming a crew chief.
“I had to step out of the nest and show that I could actually do it,” Knaus explained, recalling the moment he bid Hendrick farewell. “He basically said, ‘If you go out there and you prove you can do it, one day we’ll have you back.’ It wasn’t just a handful of years later he was asking me to come be the crew chief for the No. 48 car.”
Seven championships later, it’s clear what an effect Hendrick has had on Knaus’ career. But the crew chief said his relationship with the owner goes far beyond that.
"He’s led me, he’s coached me, he’s reprimanded me -- he’s done everything he’s needed to do to get me to where I am today.”Chad Knaus on Rick Hendrick
“He’s made such a huge impact on me as an individual,” he said. “He’s helped me understand what it is to be a leader, what it is to be somebody who’s got compassion and empathy. He’s taught me that racing is more than just the nuts and the bolts and the race car going around the track, it’s actually the people involved in what it is that you do.
“He is an amazing man. He’s taught me an awful lot and he’s been a huge mentor of mine. He’s led me, he’s coached me, he’s reprimanded me -- he’s done everything he’s needed to do to get me to where I am today.”
That even includes the roof over his head.
“I wouldn’t have gotten my first house if it hadn’t been for Mr. Hendrick giving me a loan,” the seven-time champion crew chief said. “He has helped me along the way so much.”
Knaus believes Hendrick is “one of the most deserving people in recent history” to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which the owner will be this Friday. He noted that the sport of NASCAR – and certainly Hendrick Motorsports – wouldn’t be the same without him.
“He’s definitely the foundation of this company,” he said. “We tell him time and time again we like having him around because his influence pays huge dividends.
“He is Hendrick Motorsports. He really is.”