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Why Martinsville Holds Special Place in Hendrick Motorsports History

Gowtham Ramalingam
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Why NASCAR’s Martinsville Race Requires the Perfect Long Game From the Drivers

The upcoming weekend will see Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) travel to Martinsville, a venue that is the most important one in its 40-year NASCAR journey. The Rick Hendrick-owned outfit has raced in 36 different tracks over these years and won in 31. But what makes the Martinsville Speedway a special one?

Back in 1984, HMS was at risk of being shut down as quickly as it was inaugurated due to financial concerns. The team hadn’t won a race in the season’s initial 7 races and sponsors weren’t yet ready to lighten the burden on Mr. Hendrick’s pocket. In such a corner, he had almost decided to end the team’s life at 7 and cancel the trip to Martinsville – for the 8th race. Thankfully, intervention came from crew chief Harry Hyde.

Mr. Hendrick explains to Fox Sports, “We were going to close before that, and Harry said let’s just run one more race, Geoff [Bodine] is really good there. And [my wife] Linda and I were in church, so I wasn’t there that day, and we won the race.” The victory held an insurmountable value to the team owner. It encouraged him to keep things going and kicked off a tale for the ages.

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The same Martinsville that reminds the world of a peak point of HMS also reminds it of its lowest moment. In 2004, a plane carrying key figures of the Hendrick family crashed on its way to Martinsville and killed all 10 people on board. Among those who were lost on the fateful day were Mr. Hendrick’s brother, son, nieces, and four of his employees.

In the days that followed, the team owner became the strength that kept the team moving and climbed back from the tragedy that shook the motorsports world. “It covers both ends of the spectrum,” says crew chief Alan Gustafson. “It’s super polarizing when you go from the success on the track, the key to the company’s existence, and then the attachment with the airplane crash and tragedy and the pain and suffering that came with that.”

Hendrick Motorsports prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary at Martinsville

Beyond being a track where his team first found success, the Martinsville Speedway played a big part in Mr. Hendrick’s childhood. He recalls watching racing legends on the track as a kid and getting an autograph signed by Richard “King” Petty. All these memories make the venue the perfect one to be celebrating the team’s 40th anniversary.

All four HMS cars will be painted in a ruby red scheme for the upcoming race, signifying unity and legacy. Geoff Bodine and Jeff Gordon will give the command to start the engines and Mr. Hendrick will drive the pace car. Almost 40 years ago, HMS almost stopped breathing. And then there was the race at Martinsville. Perhaps, one from the current roster will win in the upcoming race and create another positive memory.

Post Edited By:Srijan Mandal

About the author

Gowtham Ramalingam

Gowtham Ramalingam

Gowtham is a NASCAR journalist at The Sports Rush. Though his affinity for racing stems from Formula 1, he found himself drawn to NASCAR's unparalleled excitement over the years. As a result he has shared his insights and observations by authoring over 350 articles on the sport. An avid fiction writer, you can find him lost in imaginary worlds when he is not immersed in racing. He hopes to continue savoring the thrill of every lap and race together with his readers for as long as he can.

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