Rick Hendrick Reveals the Untold Story of How Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Grandfather Helped Him Start His Cup Series Legacy

Published 12/14/2023, 1:31 PM EST

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In the world of motorsport, teams are often overshadowed by the drivers when the history books are considered. Whether it’s Lewis Hamilton or Dale Earnhardt, the crews behind the success that has made such drivers legends fail to gain the same kind of traction among the glory. While teams like Mercedes boast worldwide fan presence, it’s a tougher climb for the homegrown teams of NASCAR which started as nothing but a dream. Just take Hendrick Motorsports, for example.

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When Rick Hendrick was closing down the doors to All-Star Racing despite beating all odds to make it to NASCAR, the win at Martinsville Speedway came as a savior in disguise. But do you know which encounter laid the foundation of the record-breaking team?

Robert Gee kick-started Rick Hendrick’s thirst for NASCAR glory

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When Rick Hendrick was speaking to EPARTRADE, the host reflected on just how iconic and lengthy Hendrick’s legacy in NASCAR was. Whether it was drag racing or his boats, Hendrick had a connection with machines written in his destiny.

This very connection led him to a run-in with Robert Gee, who was Dale Earnhardt Jr‘s grandfather-in-law. Gee would run a body shop on Hudspeth Road near the Charlotte Motor Speedway. When Hendrick’s life crossed paths with Gee, the legend which would come to be known as Hendrick Motorsports began to take shape.

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Hendrick shared, “Yeah, you know, if you think about my beginning in Cup Racing when I go back, Robert Gee was from the same little town I’m from, and when I got to Charlotte, he had a dirt car and Robert, Dale Jr’s grandfather, so he got me to get involved with him in his dirt car and then one day he said, hey, you know, let’s do a Busch car, and I said okay. And the first race I was partners with him we won at Charlotte, and I thought this is pretty easy you know. You make a deal on one day and you win a race the next.”

Not only did Robert Gee help Hendrick Motorsport understand the thrills of NASCAR, but he would go on to become the team’s main man when it comes to fabrication. Gee was equally responsible for building the No.5 car in 1984 which gave the team their fated Martinsville win, which came at the best possible time. Had the team not achieved glory that day, the doors were due to be shut rather soon.

Even though the team would go on to win a record-breaking 301 Cup Series wins and 14 drivers and owners championships, the start to the ultimate American Dream was nothing like a fairytale.

From rags to riches – How HMS triumphed against all odds

It all began for Rick Hendrick when Jimmy Wright got killed in a boating accident while Hendrick was into boat racing. Whilst Hendrick decided to call it quits on the waters, the tarmac began to intrigue him when Max Mullman approached him with a proposition. The offer was an enticing Cup Series team with the likes of Kenny Rogers and music legend CK Spurlock as owners with Richard Petty as their driver.

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Reflecting on the dream team, Hendrick added, “I thought, well is that a trick question? Because I felt like, we were going to have the king of country music and then Richard Petty, King of NASCAR and they had a sponsor so I said well I’m over here at Harry’s and Harry said he could do it. And that’s the way we were gonna start and then the deal kind of unravelled with Richard and CK and those guys and I was left with five people.”

Although what seemed too good to be true ultimately unfolded that way, Hendrick was not one to give up on such an opportunity so easily. All-Star Racing would go on to make its debut in 1984 with a huge involvement from crew chief and car builder Harry Hyde. With only four employees other than Hyde, the team was barely functional. The highest-paid employee was Hyde who made a mere $500 a week!

Despite their struggles, Hendrick had gotten the deal of a lifetime once the team found its footing with Geoff Bodine at the wheel in Martinsville. The boss shared, “If you think about how it started, I rented a shop. I was renting equipment, I was renting the gear. We were running Chrysler transmissions and rear ends in that Monte Carlo, and you couldn’t show up today. We built a couple of cars and I decided well we got to go on from now on and we got to all start racing, hired Geoff Bodine, and man! You know the story, we came so close to shutting the doors but I dont think you could get into NASCAR any cheaper than I did because I had Harry sitting there wanting to do it so bad.”

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What could’ve ended in tragedy after a few races turned out to be one of NASCAR’s greatest success stories. With Hendrick Motorsports announcing its collaboration with Castore, fans wanting to flaunt Rick Hendrick’s journey can pre-order replica kits now!

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Written by:

Kabir Bajaj Ahmed

459Articles

One take at a time

My journey into the world of motorsports began when I watched the Top Gear Ayrton Senna tribute as a child. I later materialized my passion for motorsport through karting on the side. By the time I completed my undergrad in Journalism, I had extensive karting experience, with a few podium finishes to my name.
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Edited by:

Abhishek Ramesh

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