Autocourse CART Yearbook 1999-2000
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RICK HENDRICK (Car owner Hendrick Motorsports Monte Carlos) NOTE: Hendrick, the 51-year-old founder and CEO of Hendrick Motorsports, talks about his three-car operation, plans for a fourth Winston Cup team in 2002 and his 20-year-old son Ricky Hendrick. ďTony Furr (crew chief No. 25 Michael Holigan.com Monte Carlo with driver Jerry Nadeau) is good. Heís got a good team, theyíre hungry and theyíre working together. Heís using all the resources, Jerry Nadeau can drive a race car. You talk to somebody and you watch Ďem and you can just see it in his eyes. I met him when he was doing roofing. He wasnít even driving a car. Ken Howes was real high on him and Ray Evernham was high on him. As Tony says, he wants a gaser. He got him a gaser. Heís been smart. Heís been fast, but heís been smart. Itís our fault weíve had some mechanical problems with him, but heís a neat guy and heís a racer. I enjoy being around them.
ďI canít tell the difference between Jerry and Jeff Gordon on the telephone. I can talk to both of them and I canít tell them apart. They wear about the same size clothes, but Jerry has to ride on the airplane with me.
He hasnít got his own airplane yet, but it wonít be long.
ďThat team has been snakebitten for a long time. When Ken Schrader was driving the car weíd have a half a lap lead over here with 50 laps to go and the drive shaft came out of the car. We were down in Darlington leading the race and it broke the back out of the block, stuff that never happens. You begin to think youíre just jinxed. We had engine failure a couple of times this year here and Atlanta. He was flying at Watkins Glen and we lost a transmission. Itís fun when youíve got a guy and every track you go to youíre looking forward to it. As Tony says, he ainít got any bad tracks. Heís fun to be around, and I think heís going to be awful tough here in every race. I look for him to win a lot of races. Heís qualifying every lap. I looked at the monitor up there at Watkins Glen, and he was a second faster than anybody else. You didnít see anybody drive from the back to the front like that. When he lost third gear, he ran a lap about even with the leaders with third gear out of the car. Heís a good little road racer, and heís got all the confidence in the world that he can do it. Heís a real competitive little guy. I didnít know how competitive he was, but heís fiery, and I like that.
ďJerry and Jeff like the same feel. They like exactly what the other likes. When youíve got two guys whose driving styles are pretty close and they like each other and communicate... Nadeau says heís not going to help Jeff Sunday. He said he did his duty last night.
ďJeff has always been pretty confident, and I donít think he thinks heís got anything to prove. Jerry respects Jeff a lot. I think Jerry was impressed in the beginning that Jeff would come over and ask him what he was doing and how it was working, but they seem to get along real good. If they start having to race each other for a win, youíll probably see me have another kind of problem, but weíll deal with that when the time comes.
ďRobbie (24 crew chief Loomis) and Jeff are really coming. It started back before Indy. You could just see it getting there. Then we had those wrecks. We were running third at Michigan and wrecked. August was not a good month. You could just see it. Itís the same with Jerry. Someone spins him with eight laps to go at Loudon, but as long as you can see the guys up front challenging, youíre OK. When youíre back there struggling and you canít get to the front, you canít be a factor and youíve got to wait for somebody else to have a problem to finish up there or whatever, thatís not fun.
ďI can almost handle the problems when weíre running strong because we can go to work and fix that. I feel so good. Weíve had some down time. Iíve never been as low as I was at Vegas. Iíve never carried that many cars anywhere and looked like that. We were terrible in the Busch race. We were terrible in the Cup race. We came home and I got all the crew chiefs with me on the plane and told them we had to do something. I knew we were better than that, and we just had to start working together. I look back at some of the real tough times when youíre struggling. You think thatís just going to build character. Weíve been 15 races between Jeff and Terry and Jeff win 13 on his own or seven or 10 or whatever and four championships in a row. You feel like itís supposed to happen. Then somebody saws your legs off at just about the kneecaps and youíre thinking whatís going to happen next. Iím having to apologize for how bad we are. People start saying youíre mediocre at best or youíre in a slump. You know youíre better than that, but that chemistry deal is so critical. You can have all the stuff there, but if the chemistry ainít clicking, youíre not going to do it. I was here yesterday and I looked in Jeff Gordonís eyes and I knew there was going to be a lap laid down here last night. He was on a mission. He was feeling good about it, but when those two cars unloaded, they were good and they were fast. Weíre real excited about the future.
ďAt a time in Jeffís life when he was real young and Ray (Evernham) had
the experience and Ray was a good coach and they had a bond and it was real
good. Would it always remain that good? I donít know. Will there ever be a relationship like that again between Jeff and a crew chief? I donít think so.
Jeff has matured. Heís different now. He wants to play a different role. Jeff and Robbie get along real good. Tony and Jerry get along real good, but Tony and Jerry have had to go out behind the truck a couple of times. Tony is a junkyard dog. I call him Smiley because every time you look at him he just busts out grinning. Heís a neat guy. Heís a racer. Heís a down home, get down to it, race whatever it takes kind of guy. Heís a racer. Thatís all he cares about. When heís got one weekend off a year, he wants to take Ricky to Las Vegas to race Winston West or whatever. Iím very thankful weíve got Tony.
Heís a good man.
ďIf we intentionally did something and we were caught cheating, then it would have bothered Jeff Gordon. He donít want to do that to win, and neither do I. We felt like we were dead 100 percent in the right. Jeff thought weíd get it reversed. When you look at the facts, you canít see where you did anything. I donít know what I would have done different had it happened again. I think the fact that we felt so positive about we were right and dead right that it kind of rolled off Jeff. It bothers you. You canít wake up Sunday morning after going through the high of winning a race and see something that we had an unapproved manifold. That takes all the fun out of it. We had meetings with our people and talked about what we were going to do.
ďMomentum is a great thing. Jeff Gordon is a scrapper. He just kind of bows up at adversity and takes it on his shoulder and takes it to the next level. Iím real proud of the guys, especially Jeff, of saying Ďweíve got a job to do, letís go show Ďem.í I think thatís what was so good about last night. Heís just got his act together. I donít know how to say it any other way.Ē
ďTerry Labonte got hurt. We lost some momentum because Gary (crew chief DeHart) came back this year and is building all new cars. Heís tweaking them.
I think maybe theyíre 60 or 90 days behind the other two teams just because they havenít had a chance to test. Theyíve gone to two or three tests and it rained them out. Weíve had freak things happen like when Terry would qualify the motor would blow up. We donít usually do that. Itís just been strange. Terry had two concussions and a broken leg. Him getting back in the car and feeling 100 percent meant a lot, and I think heís there now. We get in the race and weíre OK, but weíre starting too far back, so weíve got to work on qualifying, but itís coming. Heís going through some of the same stuff the other two went through earlier in the year, but Iím confident weíre going to get it. Weíre working hard. Thatís all we can do, just keep on digging.
ďRicky has really done well. Iíve been scared to death to run him at a mile and a half track. Heís been after me all year to let him do it. I didnít think Iíd let him run the ARCA race, but he did that and finished fifth. Heís had four top 10s in the truck and a top five in the Busch Series at Nashville. We didnít even have a team Christmas. Bringing it all under Dennis Conner has helped us a lot. Ricky has matured a lot. I look back at the first of this year, and I just canít believe some of the things he has accomplished. That qualifying run today in the Busch Series was real good.
Iím the worst owner-father in this garage area. Thereís nobody as bad as I am.
ďI canít be anything. I have to get back and let the rest of them do it.
Itís like, ĎOK, youíve run enough, donít run anymore. That trackís too fast, we donít want to go there. If youíve got a vibration, stop.í Iím just nervous about it and I canít help it. I treat him like a son sometimes. I donít treat him like a driver. You need to do this or you need to do that, and you wouldnít treat a driver that way. Heíd tell you to go to hell, but Ricky canít tell me that. Ricky is 20, so Iím going to be traveling and racing for a long time to come. I thought maybe Iíd retire one day before long. Heís having a great time and the guys really like him. Heís having fun with the team. I thought it was pretty neat. Jeff and Jerry were over in the truck talking to him before he went out to qualify today. Jeff comes out on pit road. He gets more excited when he qualifies third than he did when he won the pole. Itís real neat. I want him to be careful. I told them these guys would respect him if he showed them respect, and he hasnít leaned on anybody.
Nobody has complained about him in any series. If heís a lap down, heís not going to race the leaders. We tried to teach him that you kind of get a reputation when you start. If you make a mistake youíll never overcome it. It could take you years and years. It feels good when drivers come over and say heís using his head and ran a smart race. He didnít race me when he was a lap down. Heís a good boy, but I ainít doing too good with it.
ďWeíll have a fourth Cup team with Jimmie Johnson in 2002. Iím crazy, I know it. We were building a new building for the 24. We were going to try to run a young guy and an older guy together, kind of a one team, two-car concept. We felt like that would be good for the young guy. I knew Jimmie Johnson from years ago with Chevrolet. I put him in a Late Model car way back and I rode in one of the off road trucks with his team way back. He and my son have been friends. He flies home with us after Busch races. Jeff like him a lot. The chemistry between him and Jeff was good. Heís got a lot of talent.
Iíve know him for a long time. I think heís going to be a superstar. Heís got the whole package. Heís smart, handles himself well with the media. Heís a racer. Heís worked hard. He knows the cars. Iím looking forward to it.
Hopefully we can get some good races in with him next year and then we can roll him out 2002 and be ready to go.
ďI worry about running our guys in the ground because of their family life. We try to work around that and give them time off. Weíre going to have to recruit and find young guys who can keep up with the schedule and blend them in and train them as we go. Weíll have to use our truck teams and Busch teams to grow folks. This schedule is almost impossible. I donít know how a man could keep up with it year after year. I know itís hard on me just flying in.
ďIím doing good. I feel better than Iíve felt in four years. Iím about eight months off the treatments now. Iíve got to remember Iím three years older, too. Iím trying to get back in shape. Iím feeling better every day, and my checkups are great. I hope by the end of the year Iíll be back to full speed. You donít put your body to sleep for three years and on chemo and all that stuff and just bounce right back as soon as you get off. Itís been a struggle. It really has because my mind will take me places my body wonít go.
I get up and Iíve got all these things I want to do. I give out, and Iíve just got to stop. I try to limit myself, but Iím not doing a good job of that. Then Iíll just have to sleep for a day. I pay for it. For every day I over do it, it takes two days to pay for it. You think Iíd be smarter than that, but Iím trying.
ďI hope they turn the odometer back and Iíve got a ways to go yet. Iíll tell you what. One thing I have learned, you get up every day and thank the Good Lord youíre here and youíve got a chance to do it again.Ē
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