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Hendrick Motorsports MIGHT NOT EXIST Without Martinsville Speedway

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Hendrick Motorsports is selling their 40th anniversary in earnest this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. Martinsville is one of HMS’ most successful race tracks, but, what if I told you that Hendrick Motorsports might not exist at all without Martinsville Speedway? Let’s take a trip in our time machine back to 1984, the first year of HMS.

  • Hendrick Motorsports is the most successful NASCAR Cup Series team of all time. With 300+ victories and 14 Championships, HMS has built a motorsports empire.
  • It all started with humble beginnings in 1984. Including a fateful decision to head to race at Rick Hendrick was not sure the team could afford.
  • Fans highly respect the success that HMS has garnered throughout history. It all started with this story at Martinsville Speedway.

The Shaky Start of HMS

In 1984, Charlotte-area car magnate and owner of the Hendrick Automotive Group, Rick Hendrick, decided to join the rising NASCAR Cup Series. The 1980s were a big decade for NASCAR, as the sport expanded its television presence, therefore working its’ way from a regional to a national sport. Hendrick wanted to be a part of it, so, he formed All-Star Racing alongside crew chief Harry Hyde.

Now, the team needed a driver, and there was one massively successful NASCAR free agent available, Richard Petty. Petty was forced to search for a ride after the 1983 season. A hefty fine from the infamous penalty following his 198th win at Charlotte Motor Speedway forced Petty Enterprises to downsize from two cars to one. More information on this can be found below.

This would have been perfect for Hendrick Motorsports. Petty brought loyal sponsorship from STP, and he brought instant credibility to the race team. According to David Poole’s book, Tim Richmond: The Fast Life and Remarkable Times of NASCAR’s Top Gun, HMS was looking to hire Petty to drive with sponsor help from country music star Kenny Rogers alongside business partner C.K. Spurlock, but, it never materialized. Ironically enough, Petty signed with country music record label executive, Mike Curb.

All-Star Racing had to settle for hiring former Rookie of the Year Geoff Bodine, an up-and-coming and respectable driver. However, the fallout from the Petty situation meant they did not have a sponsor, which was the bigger issue. With little funding, very few cars, and no sponsorship, the team headed to the track.

All things considered, things started well. Bodine qualified in the top-10 for the Daytona 500, and he enjoyed a quiet day to finish an impressive 9th. Bodine rattled off two more top-10 finishes to start the season…Then things went south.

Four finishes of 13th or worse followed, with Bodine failing to finish on the lead lap in any of the first 7 races of the season. A crash at Darlington totaled one of the team’s cars, and with little sponsorship lined up, the team was on thin ice.

That Fateful Day at Martinsville Speedway

There was an off-week between Darlington and the next race at Martinsville. Hendrick broke the news to Hyde and Geoff Bodine that the team would shut down, but, the pair convinced Hendrick to let them head to Martinsville Speedway for the 8th race of the season.

It was a critical weekend for the fledgling race team, as they knew that a poor result likely meant the end of the race team as they knew it. Bodine said in a recent sitdown with Rick Hendrick, “Knowing it might be the last race, that added some pressure to it.”

Bodine qualified a respectable 6th. While he did lead a few laps towards the midway point of the race, he mainly hung around, doing something he couldn’t do early in the season, stay on the lead lap. As long as he was on the lead lap, he had a chance to win.

Defending Cup Series Champion, Bobby Allison, was the class of the field all day. A late caution set up a restart with 54 laps to go, and Bodine made his move, taking the lead 5 laps after the restart with 49 laps to go. Bodine pulled away as Allison faded, and the All-Star Racing No. 5 car won the race by 6 seconds over Ron Bouchard.

Soon afterward, Northwestern Security Life hopped on to sponsor the team for the majority of the remaining races. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Epilogue

Bodine went on to win two more races that season, winning that summer at Nashville and in the season finale at Riverside. Two years later, in 1986, he won the team’s first Daytona 500 on a fuel mileage strategy.

All-Star Racing eventually rebranded to Hendrick Motorsports and continued to be a race-win threat. Drivers like Tim Richmond, Darrell Waltrip, Kenny Schrader, and Ricky Rudd all won races for the team, but the team was never a true Championship threat.

That changed in 1992, when Hendrick signed an open-wheel hotshot from Indiana, Jeff Gordon. Gordon went on to win 4 Championships and 93 races, and the signing of Championship drivers like Terry Labonte and Jimmie Johnson took HMS to new heights. The team became arguably the top team in all of motorsports.

Whenever you see a Hendrick car roll into victory lane, remember the team’s humble beginnings. Also remember that without that win at Martinsville in 1984, this team may not exist as we know it today.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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