HENDRICK'S FORMER COMPETITORS REMEMBER HIM by Jeremy Troiano
Ricky Hendrick, Jeff Turner, Randy Dorton All Touched Short Trackers
The loss of 10 people in an airplane accident is tough news for anyone to hear. When that loss hits so close to home for so many people, it makes the news even more excruciating. And when it hits a group of people that have already been so decimated by tragedy, the news is nearly unbearable.
Such was the case for the motorsports world when it learned of the crash of an airplane owned by NASCAR powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports. Onboard the airplane and among the victims were John Hendrick, his twin daughters, Ricky Hendrick, Jeff Turner, Randy Dorton, Scott Lathram, Joe Jackson and the two pilots, Dick Tracy and Liz Morrison.
While the loss hits home hard to everyone, three victims had significant ties to the Short Track racing world.
Turner, along with Ricky Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsport's founder Rick Hendrick, had been instrumental in helping launch several Short Track racer's careers, starting with Kyle Busch, over the last couple of years as part of the Hendrick Motorsports Driver Development Program.
The Hendrick Driver Development Program has taken a major role in 2004 in helping launch the careers of Blake Feese, Boston Reid and Kyle Krisiloff into the “big time.” All three have run ARCA races with Bobby Gerhart Racing as part of their Hendrick deal (with Feese
winning twice and Krisiloff once) and Krisiloff has been a regular with SS Racing in ASA for much of the later half of the season as part of his Hendrick plan. Just recently, it was announced the youngster Chase Austin had been signed by Hendrick and would run at full season of ASA Late Models for SS Racing.
Dorton, Hendrick's head engine builder, has a brother, Keith, who owns one of the biggest engine suppliers in all of short track racing, Automotive Specialists Race Engines. The company is one of the main suppliers of race engines to many teams in the ProCup and NASCAR Touring Series. Keith's son and Randy's nephew Jeff also works to Automotive Specialists.
However, it was 24-year-old Ricky who probably had the biggest impact due to the fact he was a racer himself. While Ricky was still a competitor and before he moved onto the NASCAR Truck and Busch Series, he was a regular at one of the hardest Short Tracks in all of the land, Concord Motorsport Park (NC).
Ricky Hendrick was one of 10 lost in the tragic plane crash last weekend. (VPS Motorsports Images)
Ricky was a regular at the track in the Late Model Stock class in 1998 and 1999.
“I called that time frame the 'hey day' of Late Model Stock car racing at Concord,” said former track champion and part-time ProCup competitor Mike Herman Jr., who spent plenty of time racing against Ricky back in the late 90s. “Around that time, there were so many drivers that were capable of winning in the Late Model Stocks out there and Ricky was one of them.
“I remember that Ricky was ultra competitive but a very
good and clean racer. Everyone on his team was great. They were very professional and just fun to be around every week. They wanted to learn and wanted to race.”
Kevin Love, also a former Concord Motorsport Park Track Champion, was another one of the “big guns” to race out at Concord at this same time, along with current ProCup star Clay Rogers and part-time ProCup racer Chad Mullis
“He was a good person. He was just a really good person,” said Love. "We raced hard. He and I battled quite a few times for the wins and for poles. It was a friendly little rivalry I'd say. We took turns getting the pole and the win. He won a couple of races, I won a coupe of races.
“He was a good racer though. He was a clean racer and he was a friendly person. He'll be missed greatly by all of us.”
Rogers viewed he and Ricky as rivals on the track at Concord, especially since they were both rookies during the 1998 season. However, despite the rivalry status, he and Ricky were still friends.
Ricky was a regular in the Late Model Stocks. (GEORGE MARSH / gordononline.com)
“He was a popular guy and a hard racer,” said Rogers. “His dad and him put a lot of effort into running good and it showed because he always ran well. They went after it hard.
“We didn't always get along the best and we had a few run ins over the years, but that was because we raced each other hard and wanted to beat each other every week because we were both rookies. We were young rookies and all we wanted to do was win.
“We talked a good bit and developed quite a rivalry. The cool thing is that we both really matured a lot from that same season on. We weren't close friends, but we were friends. We raced each other harder than anyone else.
That was our main goal every week was to beat him if we didn't win the race.
“The one thing is that he always told me, whether I saw him at the track or away from it, that he would always help me out and anything he could do in the future, he always assured me he would help.”
However, it isn't just the racer that most people you talk to remember about Ricky. It was the type of person he was and for who he was.
Most racers know that having a famous last name and a good amount of money and resources there to help push a racing career along is something that a few people in this world get to experience, as did Ricky Hendrick.
However, most racers also know that many times those famous names and deep pockets also result in some ill-feelings from other racers, ill-feelings from fans and even some cockiness and over-confidence from the driver involved.
But this wasn't the case with Ricky. He was, despite his famous last name, a genuine good guy that helped out whenever he could.
“He was a great guy all the way around. He had a personality of one of those people that you wanted to be around because it even made you feel better,” added Herman Jr.
Ricky learned stock car racing through plenty of seat time and schools like Finish Line Racing School. (finishlineracing.com)
“I remember this one time back in the late 90s when I was running my first career ProCup race at Concord,” tells Herman Jr. “We showed up and didn't have the right gear for the car. I found that another team had the gear we needed and offered to buy it from them, but they didn't budge. I went to Ricky and asked if maybe he could talk to them since he knew them. He said 'forget it.' He told me he'd call over to the Hendrick shop and get me the gear I needed. Before you knew it, here came the gear.
“That was the type of person he was. He didn't care. He just used his name and his status to help many people. He
knew he could help me out and that is exactly what he did. He helped me out and I'll never forget it.”
ASA driver Davin Scites, despite living in West Virginia, was a regular at Concord in the same time frame and was also considered one of the track's “heavy hitters.” When asked about Ricky and his driving, Scites didn't talk about what Ricky was like on the track, but rather what he was like off the track.
“I remember the first time we met was during some Legends car races at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Summer Shootout,” said Scites. “He pulled up in a black Hummer and everyone took notice. We were going out to practice and I saw him standing out there all by himself. I don't know if people were just intimidated by him and the money they knew he had or what. He unloaded and his car had GMAC or something like that all over it. I didn't care though. I just walked over and started talking to him. We just talked about everything from racing to his Hummer and just got along great.
“I think a lot of people were intimidated by the money and the name. I didn't care and I didn't have anything against him. Hell, if I was in his position I'd have done the same thing and there aren't many racers out there that could say any different."
Ricky later became a successful Truck and Busch Series driver. (NASCAR.com)
Scites said he had a solid friendship with Hendrick that eventually moved over to the Concord track in the Late Model Stock class.
He remembers countless stories of Ricky and his team helping other racers out.
“I remembered they destroyed a car in practice one time. I mean it was destroyed. They knew it was mostly junk, but there were some salvageable parts on it. As the car came back through the pits on the wrecker, I remember Ricky offering off some of the parts that could still be used to guys that needed them. At the end of the night I remember the car was practically being stripped apart out back and Ricky was more than happy to see some of that stuff go to good use to guys that needed it.
“I can't even remember all the things he loaned or gave to me over the couple years.”
Scites said Hendrick was a good kid, but people never seemed to give him a chance to be their favorite.
“I'll never forget this time we went to Martinsville for the Taco Bell 300. I qualified 14th and he started 15th. When we were getting ready for driver intros he turned to me and said 'watch this' and when his name was announced, he was booed big time, mostly because of just who he was. But he didn't care. He just used it to his advantage.”
The one thing everyone can agree on, and the one thing every driver that Speed51.com talked to today made perfectly clear, is that Ricky's loss, along with the loss of Turner, Dorton and the rest of those that perished on the plane, is a complete and total tragedy.
“I feel sorry for everyone. This impacts so many people everywhere, from the Cup world all the way down to some of the people who still go to Concord and on down the line,” said Rogers. “I feel for everyone, from the Dortons to the Hendricks and everyone, because this is terrible. This is something that will have ramifications for some time to come.”