ROAD TO RECOVERY THE OWNER WON'T TALK PUBLICLY ABOUT IT. SOME DRIVERS HAVE A HARD TIME TALKING ABOUT IT. BUT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS IS FINDING A WAY TO MOVE PAST THE TRAGEDY THAT TOOK FAMILY AND TEAM MEMBERS LAST OCTOBER.
Byline: Tim Haddock Staff Writer
FONTANA - It has been five months since a plane crash in Virginia devastated dev·as·tate
tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates
1. To lay waste; destroy.
2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark. the Hendrick Motorsports Hendrick Motorsports is a group of NASCAR racing teams started by Rick Hendrick in 1984 under the name "All Star Racing", racing only Chevrolets, racing in both the Nextel Cup and Busch Series circuits. team.
The crash killed 10 people on board a company plane traveling to the NASCAR NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), organization that sanctions American stock-car races, est. 1948. It held its first race in Daytona Beach, Fla. Nextel Cup The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series is NASCAR's top racing series. It was formerly known as the Strictly Stock Series (1949), Grand National Series (1950-1971), and the Winston Cup Series (1972-2003). Series race at Martinsville Speedway. Rick Hendrick Joseph Riddick Hendrick III (born July 12, 1949 in Warrenton, North Carolina), better known as Rick Hendrick is an owner of several NASCAR stock cars and teams, as well as Hendrick Automotive Group, one of the largest automotive chains in the United States. , owner of Hendrick Motorsports, lost several family members, including his brother, John, son, Ricky, and two nieces.
Key members of the Hendrick Motorsports team were also killed in the plane crash. In the time between the race at Martinsville Speedway in October and last Sunday's season opener at Daytona International Speedway Daytona International Speedway is a superspeedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is a 2.5 mile (4 km) tri-oval race track facility with a seating capacity of 168,000 spectators. , Hendrick Motorsports had the daunting daunt
tr.v. daunt·ed, daunt·ing, daunts
To abate the courage of; discourage. See Synonyms at dismay.
[Middle English daunten, from Old French danter, from Latin task of filling the void left by those lost in the crash.
Jimmie Johnson This article is about NASCAR driver. For the football player, see Jimmie Johnson (American football). For people named Jimmy Johnson, see Jimmy Johnson (disambiguation). , driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, says time heals some things. But not all. In many ways, the people at Hendrick Motorsports have recovered from the tragic plane crash. In other ways, the painful memories linger.
``I know I personally wake up and think about everyone all the time,'' Johnson said. ``When you catch Rick away from the race track or away from his work place, when he sees me, I think he thinks of Ricky. Ricky was really the reason I ended up driving for Hendrick Motorsports.''
Ricky Hendrick Joseph Riddick Hendrick IV, (April 2, 1980 - October 24, 2004), born in Charlotte, North Carolina, was a NASCAR driver and owner affiliated with his father Rick Hendrick's Hendrick Motorsports team. was at one time an aspiring stock car driver, working his way through the NASCAR Busch Series The NASCAR Busch Series is a stock car racing series owned and operated by NASCAR. It is NASCAR's "minor league" circuit (often compared to Triple-A baseball), and is a proving ground for drivers who wish to step up to the organization's "big league" circuit, the Nextel Cup. when he injured himself in a race wreck and retired from racing.
Johnson was also racing on the Busch Series then with Ricky Hendrick. They were rivals, but friendly ones.
``He introduced me to his dad,'' Johnson said. ``So when he makes that realization, you can see the hurt in his eyes. I don't think that's ever going to go away.''
Rick Hendrick doesn't talk about the plane crash much publicly. He talked to the media briefly about it last month during a tour of the Hendrick Motorsports facility in North Carolina North Carolina, state in the SE United States. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean (E), South Carolina and Georgia (S), Tennessee (W), and Virginia (N). Facts and Figures
Area, 52,586 sq mi (136,198 sq km). Pop. and again after his driver, Jeff Gordon Jeffery Michael Gordon (born August 4, 1971) is a professional American race car driver. He was born in Vallejo, California, raised in Pittsboro, Indiana, and currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. , won the Daytona 500.
``On top of that, all his close friends that were on the plane, just feeling that responsibility and burden like he does because it was his aircraft,'' Johnson said. ``All that being said, things are moving forward. Our entire organization has stepped up and it's tried to fill in the voids and keep us moving forward.''
The other drivers on the team also have a hard time talking about the crash. They try to focus on the progress the team has made, how returning to a normal routine has helped in some ways.
``Rick's type of leadership is through example and allowing the people that are the experts in that field or that area to do their jobs,'' said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and the winner of the 2005 Daytona 500. ``I'm just fortunate I've been with Rick for a long time.''
John Hendrick was the team president. Ricky Hendrick was working as the owner of the No. 5 Busch Series team driven by Kyle Busch Kyle Thomas Busch (born May 2, 1985 in Las Vegas, Nevada) is an American race car driver. Currently, he drives the #5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series as well as the #5 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series. .
General Manager Jeff Turner Jeffrey Steven Turner (born April 9 1962 in Bangor, Maine) is an American former professional basketball player. A 6'9" forward/center from Vanderbilt University, he was selected by the New Jersey Nets with the 17th pick of the 1984 NBA Draft. and engine builder Randy Dorton, perhaps the best in NASCAR, also were on board the plane when it crashed.
Hendrick Motorsports has shuffled its staff, adding people and creating positions to prepare for the 2005 season.
Marshall Carlson is the team's new general manager. Jeff Andrews is the engine program director and Ken Howes is the competition director in charge of engineering and personnel.
Other changes have been made, adding crew chiefs and team managers throughout the organization.
Hendrick Motorsports has done well at California Speedway, site of Sunday's Auto Club 500. Gordon, who won the Nextel Cup race at California Speedway in April, is a three-time winner at the 2-mile oval. Johnson won the race in Fontana three years ago.
Gordon and Johnson proved to be among the best in NASCAR by qualifying for the 10-race Chase for the Championship last year. Johnson finished second in points, eight behind Nextel Cup Series winner Kurt Busch.
Gordon made a run at his fifth Cup championship, winning five races in 2004 and finishing third in the Chase, 16 points behind Busch.
``Rick Hendrick has built an organization around the people,'' Gordon said. ``And the people are the priority and the people are what make it successful. It's not always about hiring somebody that has the most talent. It's about somebody with the ability and the personality to work together as a team.''
Hendrick Motorsports got off to a great start this season, with Gordon winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway and Johnson winning the Budweiser Shootout.
But with thoughts of the crash still fresh, emotions remain jumbled.
``I've definitely been through a huge growing phase of my life,'' Johnson said. ``On the personal side, I was married in December, went through the tragedy of the plane crash, competed for a championship, and it's such a close championship. I think there were a lot of lessons through last season.''
The Hendrick Motorsports team has also been challenged with piecing together a team that can maintain its high standards. It's a process that started at the end of last season, when Johnson made a late charge in the Chase for the Championship and won four of the last six races.
``I think we're as strong as we need to be,'' Johnson said. ``There's no doubt we've lost some very critical components to Hendrick Motorsports. But I feel we're at a place where we can step up and win a championship this year.''
Tim Haddock, (818) 713-3715
(color) Jimmie Johnson's carried a tribute to the 10 people who died in the plane crash last October.
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images