A True Hero: Ricky Hendrick

Words cannot express how many people felt when they heard the tragic news that a Hendrick Motorsports plane carrying several key members of the successful NASCAR organization had crashed just eight miles from Martinsville Speedway, shortly after 12:30pm Sunday.

En route from North Carolina to Martinsville Speedway to watch the Subway 500, which would later be triumphed by Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson, the plane apparently trickled into dense fog, before slamming into the Bull Mountain area tragically killing all ten passengers aboard.

One of the passengers included Ricky Hendrick, the son of NASCAR car owner Rick Hendrick.

The younger Hendrick, much like his father was well respected, mannered, and competitive. Ricky, a former driver himself became the youngest NASCAR Busch Series car owner in history to claim the coveted championship, with young-gun Brian Vickers at the helm.

Hendrick stepped out of his GMAC Financial Chevrolet following an accident in 2002. While losing the groove to drive, his love for the sport continued to blossom.

Despite retiring from driving, he will always be remembered as a fighter in the cockpit. In 2001, while competing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Hendrick beat the odds and maneuvered his No. 17 GMAC Chevrolet Silverado into victory lane at Kansas Speedway, becoming, at that time, the youngest winner in NASCAR NCTS history.

This season had been a busy one for the only son of Rick Hendrick. Owning both the No. 25 Nextel Cup Series machine with Vickers, and the No. 5 piloted by Kyle Busch, he also became a successful entrepreneur founding a motorcycle dealership, Ricky Hendrick’s Performance Honda. It is now part of the Hendrick Automotive Group family.

Aiding his father, the 23-year began learning the Hendrick Motorsports company aspect with thoughts of the likeable youngster to take the control in the coming years.

On Sunday, that all changed.

Throughout my years of covering Motorsports, I had the opportunity to talk with Hendrick, both inside and out of the car. His attitude never changed. He always a bright smile, and was always willing to make time for the ones that counted the most, the fans.

Now, I will never forget those conversations, laughs, and jokes.

A hero to many is lost, but not forgotten. His smiles will still be adorned by many of the Hendrick Motorsports organization, and he will definitely be shining down on all of us from up above.

Many knew that Ricky Hendrick was a huge part of the future for Hendrick Motorsports, and there’s no doubt it would be any less than what anyone expected, the best.

Also, thoughts and prayers to the nine other victims families and friends, including three other Hendrick family members. John Hendrick, the brother of Rick Hendrick, and uncle to Ricky along with his two twin 22-year old daughters were lost in the disaster. John Hendrick was well known in the NASCAR circles, as he stepped up to the helm when his brother Rick was battling leukemia.

Also lost in this devastating tragedy were Jeff Turner, general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, a role he took on in March, 2002, Randy Dorton, Engine Director of Hendrick Motorsports, Scott Lathram, helicopter pilot for Tony Stewart, Dick Tracey and Liz Morrison, Hendrick Motorsports pilots and Joe Jackson, director of the DuPont Motorsports Program.

Each one of these men and women aboard the plane leaves behind a grieving family and friends struggling to cope with the loss of their loved ones, and the loss to Hendrick Motorsports as a whole.

No matter which direction you face, this is a tragedy no one could have ever predicted or wanted. The magnitude of this tragedy and Its impact will be long felt througout the sport.

Author: Marty Tyler

Asst. Editor/Senior Staff Writer