Editor's Note: This story was first published when the Hendrick Motorsports engine department earned its 500th NASCAR national series win. Through the 2023 season, the engine department has 506 national series wins. The 2023 Randy Dorton Hendrick Engine Builder Showdown will take place on Nov. 8-9 and can be watched here.
CONCORD, N.C. – Throughout the halls of Hendrick Motorsports there are reminders of Randy Dorton. Photos of the visionary engine builder hang on the walls, the hum of the CNC machines and dynamometers that he pioneered are ever-present, and the very people he hired, trained and trusted continue to carry his legacy forward.
Dorton, who died in a 2004 aircraft accident, is the man universally credited with shaping an engine program that has reached over an astounding 500 NASCAR national series wins. All these years later, the milestone 500th victory, which came at Darlington Raceway with driver Kyle Larson on Sept. 3, 2023, had Dorton’s fingerprints on it.
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"I was just on the phone with Mr. Hendrick a few minutes ago," team president and general manager Jeff Andrews said following the win at Darlington. "I asked 'did you ever think all those years ago when you went to see Randy Dorton that we would be sitting here at 500 wins?' It is really incredible. So many amazing people along the way that have fostered that program. Of course, Randy Dorton started that from the ground up and hired so many of us, including Scott (Maxim) and myself. It is obviously a testament to Mr. Hendrick and Randy’s vision of the partnership that they started together all those years ago."
After acquiring Dorton’s company, Competition Engines, in 1984, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick invited him to join the team then known as All-Star Racing.
Two years later, Dorton was named NASCAR’s Engine Builder of the Year and helped guide the organization for nine championships across NASCAR’s national series. The Concord, North Carolina, native served as the director of engine operations until his passing.
With his approachable leadership style and astute management of the engine program, Dorton influenced Hendrick Motorsports’ rise to prominence and established a culture of innovation that endures.
"Randy directed the engine shop, but he did more than just the engines," Hendrick said. "He was involved in building the organization."
Scott Maxim, who today oversees the Hendrick Motorsports engine department as the director of powertrain, is someone whose life was touched by Dorton. A picture of his mentor sits above Maxim’s desk as he continues the work Dorton started.
"I did an interview with him in October 1996 and I just immediately connected," Maxim explained. "We spent 45 minutes talking about technical-related items and the other hour-and-a-half was just like friend-to-friend."
The vibe within the Hendrick Motorsports engine shop is one of precision and patience, which can be a stark contrast to the fast-paced nature of motorsports. This culture encourages innovation and the exploration of unique ideas, something Dorton passionately fostered. It’s an approach Maxim embraces.
"You had to have patience with Randy, which is probably one reason we connected," Maxim said. "He was not a direct or succinct person. When he had a point to make, he would take you on this story line path to it and it would come around at the end. If you didn’t have the patience to hang with this story, then you weren’t there for the lesson at the end."
In 1992, Dorton hired Andrews. They quickly developed a bond.
"I started in the engine shop and learned a tremendous amount from Randy. He mentored me up that program through the years," said Andrews, who eventually became director of engine operations. "He pushed me along into some management positions. Certainly, having him as a mentor – not just on the mechanical things of engine processes and assembling processes and practices, but also in how to treat people and how important the people are to an organization – was quite an influence on me."
That impact wasn’t just reserved for engine shop employees. Dorton was also a resource for drivers who came through Hendrick Motorsports, including seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
"Randy was a great friend," Johnson said. "Instead of just being the figurehead of the engine department, he helped me in so many ways, personally and professionally. I know he did that for many others.
"His attention to detail, his passion for winning, his intelligence – all of that was very apparent when you met him. He had this ability to create a high level of accountability around him in a way that you wanted to step up and deliver at a higher level. He was so instrumental in helping me, personally, build my foundation."
In 1997, Dorton served as the substitute crew chief for two-time champion Terry Labonte at Talladega Superspeedway, where outcomes are especially dependent on horsepower. His sole appearance atop the pit box left an impression on the driver – and in the record book.
"We won the race and in victory lane I put my arm around him and said 'Randy, you don’t know the difference between caster from camber, but we had the best engine,'" Labonte joked.
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Over the years, Dorton developed a reputation for the way he related to people and built a healthy culture within his team. According to Andrews, he believed there was much more to winning that just technical knowledge.
"Whether you were in the back washing parts, assembling an engine, working in the dyno, or at the racetrack, he always made you very important," Andrews said. "He made you feel like a critical member of that department. That is key. It carried on through a lot of our careers, and a lot of us who were mentored by him try to emulate that."
Teamwork and integrity were hallmarks of Dorton’s engine operation.
"He was obviously a brilliant mind when it comes to engines and being able to foresee technology, advances, tools and equipment that the shop needed," Andrews said. "Yet, it was the environment he created up there that stands out. The collaboration and unity that we had as kind of a family."
Dorton’s legacy includes the sustained excellence of the Hendrick Motorsports engine department – and the manner in which that excellence is achieved. The annual Randy Dorton Hendrick Engine Builder Showdown is one way that his impact is celebrated.
"He had the vision to build a strong foundation that would be long lasting," Maxim said. "His biggest impact is on other people. Those people are now helping drive our company. He gave everyone a template on how to do it."
The result of that template is 500 wins – and counting.
Contributing: RJ Kraft