CONCORD, N.C. – No. 24 team crew chief Alan Gustafson knew there was something about Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick before he even began working for the organization.
Gustafson looked up to the team owner as an influence on the sport and also because he is a genuinely “good person.”
“When I first met him, there was this kind of glow around him,” Gustafson said. “You see him and you’re just in awe of him.”
That feeling continued for Gustafson after being hired to work in the Hendrick Motorsports chassis shop. From there, he was promoted to a shock specialist, a lead engineer, and ultimately a crew chief.
Through the years, Gustafson has worked with drivers such as Kyle Busch, Casey Mears, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and now Chase Elliott.
The main constant has been the leadership of Hendrick, and Gustafson said it has meant everything to his professional career.
“He’s a huge influence on me not only in my professional life, but my personal life,” Gustafson said. “I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been here a long time. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve worked my way up through in the premier series. This is where I’ve been and have called home for a long time, so that means a lot to me.”
The crew chief remembered his first interaction with Hendrick while as a new hire.
After working on the campus for just around two months, Gustafson was approached by Hendrick one day at work.
“He knew my name -- which floored me at the time -- and had a conversation with me,” Gustafson recalled. “It was great. You realized that he’s just a really down-to-earth, humble guy.”
And it’s Hendrick’s dedication to those relationships he cultivates with those around him that sets him apart.
Whether things are going smoothly or it’s a time of struggle, the team owner always maintains a positive attitude and rallies behind his teams when they need it the most.
“The good times, when you’re winning and things are great, I think anybody could have a good relationship in those times,” Gustafson said. “The ones that really stand out to me are when things aren’t great. That’s really when your people need you, when you are struggling in the tough times. He’s just an amazing person and through those tough times he’s always supported me, which means the world to me.”
And in Gustafson’s mind, there is no doubt that Hendrick has earned his place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“I think he’s the top of the top,” the crew chief said, “for what he’s done for the sport and what he’s accomplished and the type of person he is, not only on the track but off the track and the millions of people he’s influenced. I don’t think there’s anybody in the sport who’s more deserving or has accomplished more than he has and done it with such class.”