Hendrick screens documentary of 25 years in NASCAR

Sep 30, 2009 - 4:23 PM By JENNA FRYER AP Auto Racing Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C.(AP) -- Rick Hendrick is owner of the most successful organization in NASCAR. He has 185 victories, 12 championships and three drivers in title contention this season.

Things have never been better.

And still, he's been an emotional wreck the past few weeks.

In honor of his 25th anniversary in NASCAR, Hendrick opened up his life - warts and all - for a feature-length documentary about his climb to the top. He screened it Tuesday night for 1,300 family, friends and employees, and the anxiety leading into the evening was overwhelming.

"I sweated going up there tonight more than anything I've done in a long, long time," he admitted after sitting through "Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story."

It was an emotional evening for Hendrick and his family, who allowed the NASCAR Media Group to tell their story. Through interviews, archival footage, racing sequences and family photographs, it covers his humble beginnings as the son of a tobacco farmer in Virginia. The only thing he knew was that he didn't want to follow his father into that business.

"Pop knew (Hendrick) wasn't going to be a farmer," longtime friend Frank Edwards says early in the film. "He left him something to do on the farm one day, and when he got home, (Hendrick) had paid somebody to do it."

Hendrick's early love was cars, and he figured out quickly that selling them was a lot more lucrative than fixing them. The film details his growth into one of the nation's largest car dealers who then branched out into NASCAR with very limited beginnings.

His first team, All-Star Racing, barely made it to the 1984 season-opener and then struggled to stay afloat. Facing a win-or-fold situation in the sixth race of the season, Geoff Bodine gave Hendrick the victory that allowed him to continue racing.

Yes, the film covers his 1997 guilty plea to mail fraud for his role in the American Honda Motor Company bribery scandal.

Yes, his near-fatal fight with leukemia is included.

And the 2004 crash that killed 10, including Hendrick's son, brother, twin nieces and several key employees is heavily documented through emotional interviews and footage of those lost that October day when their plane slammed into a mountain en route to a race in Martinsville, Va.

It was rough for Hendrick to watch, but spokesman Jesse Essex, who is credited as a producer on the film, convinced him that it all needed to be included.

"Do you pretend like the crash never happened? Do you pretend like I never got sick? Pretend like I didn't go through the legal problems?" Hendrick asked. "Yeah, all that happened. If we didn't tell it all like it happened, then we were phony. And I would be ashamed of it."

In the end, Hendrick was thrilled with the final product. It's narrated by actor Tom Cruise, a friend since 1984 who donated his time to the movie and has been a recent Hendrick guest at several Sprint Cup races.

ABC will show a shortened version of the film, which runs almost two hours, before the Oct. 11 race at California. The full-length version goes on sale Oct. 31, and a portion of the proceeds from DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales will go to the Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte.

Among those attending Tuesday night were current Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., as well as former drivers Darrell Waltrip, Ken Schrader and Bodine.

They got to relive the early days, as the late Tim Richmond and crew chief Harry Hyde were brought back to life through old video clips. There was Richmond participating in an all-female aerobics class, stopping an interview to check out a pretty blonde passing by, and drinking the victory-spray beer after a win.

Hyde was his cantankerous self, shown arguing in the pits and forming his unusual alliance with Richmond.

Also brought back to life in the movie was Hendrick's father, "Papa" Joe, son, Ricky, and brother John. There's also a portion for engine builder Randy Dorton, an original Hendrick employee who was killed in the plane crash.

It was almost too much for Hendrick, who had seen only a few clips of the film before he screened it privately last Friday.

"I saw two partial clips about two, three weeks ago, and it put me in a funk for about three days," he said. "I don't know if I ever would have watched a video of Ricky anytime soon, or John, or my dad - that's the first time I've seen any tape of my dad, or heard his voice, since he died. If I hadn't seen it one time before, I wouldn't have been able to sit through it (at the premiere), I don't think."

But Hendrick pressed forward with the film as a tribute to his 500-plus employees, who he believes are actually the ones honored in the film. Affection for the boss pours out in interviews from tough racers who genuinely care for Hendrick. During the outtakes - one of which shows Hendrick clumsily climbing the pit wall at Homestead after Johnson's third title last November - a list of every employee rolls up the right side of the screen.

"I am real proud of the organization, real proud of the fact that we can go through these kinds of things and we get stronger," he said after. "Those guys feel it and they don't mind saying how they feel about the company, and I don't mind saying how I feel about them, and I just think that's special."

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!