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NASCAR Team Owner Rick Hendrick on EVs, Hybrids, and the Future of Classic Cars

Rick Hendrick has scored a slew of larger-than-life victories over the decades. The 74-year-old presides over a network of 100 car dealerships that employs over 10,000 people, runs the winningest team in NASCAR history, and achieved cinematic immortality by inspiring actor Randy Quaid’s character in the film Days of Thunder. But he has also experienced unspeakable heartbreak, having endured the untimely passing of his only son Ricky, a brother, nieces, and friends in a 2004 plane crash.

The son of a tobacco farmer, Hendrick says he gained valuable life lessons from those early agrarian days. “I learned on the farm that you need to rely on other people, and if you treat people right, they’ll treat you the same way.” Hendrick became a bona fide car guy when, at age 14, he restored a 1931 Chevrolet with his father—a vehicle he still owns. He did his share of racing until he decided to step back and leave it to some of the world’s top drivers. And the Hendrick Motorsports team brought NASCAR to last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time in nearly half a century, doing so with its Camaro ZL1 stock car.

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Rick Hendrick, founder of Hendrick Motorsports, poses trackside in his younger years.
Rick Hendrick, founder of Hendrick Motorsports, poses trackside in his younger years.

While success has fueled his collection of over 300 cars, Hendrick, who resides in Charlotte, N.C., lives the example of giving back to his community by providing 350 scholarships a year in the name of his son, and offering disaster funds for his employees. “I believe in servant leadership, and I believe in turning the pyramid upside down. It doesn’t mean we can’t still excel and be really good at what we do,” he adds, “but we take care of each other. And I believe in that.” Here, Hendrick also shares his beliefs on hybridization, where the industry stands with EVs, and the value of winning.

Is the classic-car world a niche that’s getting smaller?

I think so, I really do. A lot of the guys that have vintage cars tinker on them themselves, and they put them in a trailer and take them to a show. I don’t see people wanting to do that anymore. 20 years ago, there were a lot of cars that had been rebuilt or restored. I don’t see that much anymore. There are not a lot of places to take your ‘57 Chevrolet or your ‘60 Corvette.

Actor Tom Cruise and Rick Hendrick are all smiles before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 in 2009.
Actor Tom Cruise and Rick Hendrick are all smiles before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 in 2009.

Do you prefer the cars in your collection to be classic stock or restomods?

I like them both, but I enjoy driving restomods. I’ve got the first ‘55, ‘56, and ‘57 Corvettes that were built, the last one that was built in the St. Louis plant, and the first M1 BMW . . . a lot of specialty cars like that. I’ve also got a ‘70 Chevelle convertible with the new Corvette drivetrain. I like the looks, but I like all the late-model things on it.

Do you think subsequent generations will share the same enthusiasm for classic automobiles?

I don’t think so. I feel like the kids today like exotics, they like the very top end, and then they like the little Hondas and they’ll soup up the little Toyotas . . . and then they like trucks. I’ve got three grandkids and they’re all over the place. I’ve got one that likes Range Rovers, a grandson that likes all exotic cars, and another one that doesn’t care. When I was growing up, everybody was into muscle cars, [but] then the guys my age are kind of fading away.

Racer Jimmie Johnson competes in Rick Hendrick's Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 at the 2019 Pennzoil 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in Las Vegas.
Racer Jimmie Johnson competes in Rick Hendrick’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 at the 2019 Pennzoil 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in Las Vegas.

What are your thoughts on bringing hybrid power trains to NASCAR?

I think our cars, the cars we race today, are built to be hybrid. So we can go hybrid. In IMSA [International Motor Sports Association], they’re running hybrids. I don’t see as much pressure on EVs because that’s just almost impossible to run in a [NASCAR] race unless you have a hybrid to charge it.

Are you surprised that some carmakers are now backing off their timelines for EVs?

The customer is going to dictate what you build. I’ve been in the automobile business for almost 50 years, and you can’t force customers to buy what they don’t want. We were too aggressive with the EV market . . . I think the EV market will be there one day, but we’re not ready for it. I’ve got dealerships in the [Northern California] Bay Area, and selling a Lexus EV versus a Lexus hybrid—we’ve got a waiting list for the hybrids and have to put big discounts on the EVs. Mercedes came out with all these [EV] models—I’m a Mercedes dealer and we had a horrible year. And in some cases, with Audi and others, you had a $25,000 rebate to get a customer to buy a car and they still wouldn’t buy it. I mean, you just can’t force people to buy what they don’t want.

Rick Hendrick stands between two of his cars that appeared in the film "Days of Thunder."
Hendrick stands between two of his cars that appeared in the film Days of Thunder.

Does the auto-industry adage of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” still hold true?

In our business, you still see diehard Chevy, Ford, and Toyota fans. When our cars win, people will hit the website and we get leads and customers off of that. So, from our standpoint, we know it works.

Where do you personally like to drive?

Having a performance [car] on the street is almost a waste because you got nowhere to run it; traffic is so bad today, whether you’re on the interstate or in town. I think being able to go to a road course and drive, that’s when I enjoy really feeling the car, feeling the brakes, feeling the acceleration. I like Road Atlanta, that’s probably one of my favorites, and VIR [Virginia International Raceway] is a fun place.

From left: NASCAR's Tony Stewart, Rick Hendrick, and Jeff Gordon during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway last year.
From left: NASCAR’s Tony Stewart, Rick Hendrick, and Jeff Gordon during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway last year.

What has been your experience with private racetrack clubs?

The clubs are unbelievable. Thermal [California], I’ve been to the one in Miami . . . just being able to get out and stretch it and, again, drive it as hard as you want without abusing the car or worrying about getting a ticket—I think that the club deals are going to be the way to go.

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