Rex White : Small stature, giant legend
Looking back at the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee's career MORE: NASCAR Hall of Fame profile of Rex White " NASCAR Hall of Fame by class (Note: This release is part of a series in advance of the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Jan. 30, broadcast live at 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network, Motor Racing Network Radio and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White are the five 2015 inductees.) DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.– Over the years, NASCAR premier series champions have come in all shapes and sizes – tall, short, muscular and lean. The single constant? It’s impossible to judge a book by its cover. Based upon first impressions, Rex White – at 5 feet 4 inches, weighing just 135 pounds and with his right leg withered by childhood polio – might have seemed the unlikeliest championship contender of all. White , however, was tough as nails fearing neither competitor nor track conditions. He won the 1960 premier series title and posted 28 victories over five seasons, finishing among the top five in nearly half of his 233 starts. "He looked more like a jockey than a race car driver," fellow competitor Buddy Baker told the Gaston Gazette, "but he lived large once they started the race. On short tracks, he was very aggressive. He didn't mind going in the turn with (NASCAR Hall of Famer and three-time premier series champion) Lee Petty and saying, 'I'm inside and if you come down we’re not going to agree on stuff.' "He raced hard." NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, the 1983 premier series champion, said, "I admired Rex as a race driver because he was a little guy. I started out small. Seeing him winning encouraged me to chase my dream." What might have been a handicap to many only served as motivation to White , born Aug. 17, 1929 in Taylorsville, N.C. "Most of the lessons I have learned (from childhood illness) have stayed with me all my life," said White in his autobiography "Gold Thunder," written with Dr. Anne B. Jones. "The biggest one was how to conquer fear." White learned to drive at age six, driving a neighbor's truck in surrounding fields. Two years later he was working on his family's Ford Model T. “I was unaware the car on which I labored represented hope to people around me (and) frustration to those trying to stop illegal moonshine," said White . "I saw automobiles as transportation, not the symbol of an upcoming billion-dollar sport." White dropped out of school, moving to the Washington D.C., area where he found employment as a cook and, after marriage, a service station job. A poster advertising stock car races took White to Lanham (Maryland) Speedway where he caught on as an unpaid crew member for 1952 NASCAR Modified champion Frankie Schneider. A year later, White returned to the track with a 1937 Ford purchased for $600 lettered "X." He won his heat race, the semi-main and the feature. "I'd never won a trophy at anything," said White . White made his premier series debut in 1956 on Daytona's beach/road course. In 1958, he teamed with crew chief Louis Clements in an "off the books" program by GM's Chevrolet Division. They won twice in 1958 and five times the following year. The 1959 season also saw the debut of White's iconic No. 4 gold and white Chevrolet. The 1960 season was the first in which White ran a full schedule, going to the post only after he and Clement built a car for a competitor, the sale of which netted $2,000 for their own Chevrolet. White won six times finishing 35 of 40 races among the top 10. White's ninth-place finish at Birmingham, Alabama on Aug. 3 was his worst performance in the year's final 15 races. The championship was a runaway, White beating NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty by nearly 4,000 points. "The thing about Rex is he thinks," said Clements in a 1960 interview with Sports Illustrated. "When he's out on the track, he's planning and figuring out which cars he has to race to stay ahead." Car owner and engine builder Smokey Yunick, quoted in the same article, said, " Rex is not a cautious driver but he know when to use caution." White didn't disagree. "I couldn't run quite as fast as some of those other guys," he said. "So long as I was smart and kept running; if any of those other guys had trouble, I had a chance." White nearly defended his title in 1961 winning seven times but finished second to NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett. He added two more top-10 championship finishes before retiring at the conclusion of the 1964 season. Between 1959 and the 1963 seasons, White won more races than any other driver. He won 36 premier series poles – at least one in eight consecutive seasons – and finished second in NASCAR's Short Track late model championship in 1959. In retirement, White has owned an automobile dealership and for 25 years a trucking company, both in the Atlanta area where at age 85 he continues to reside. Named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998, White holds membership in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
NASCAR Hall of Fame: Rex White
NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Rex White reflects on his career and winning a NASCAR championship.
Hall of Famer White short in stature, tall in talent
Oldest living premier series champion gives his thoughts on induction, Abreu Rex White , still keeping busy at age 85, reigns supreme as NASCAR's oldest living champion. He might also rank as its shortest. But White , who stands just a few inches above five feet, never saw his height as any sort of disadvantage, even in the rough-and-tumble days of stock-car racing's infancy. "I really wasn't built or the size for fighting, so I kind of avoided any physical contact with any drivers," White said. "In the race car, though, I was probably about the same height as all of them." White's stature will take another step up come Friday night, when he'll be enshrined as part of the sixth class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He'll be inducted with three drivers he competed against -- Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott and Joe Weatherly -- and latter-day star Bill Elliott. It's an honor that left the 1960 champion of NASCAR's premier series at a loss for words. "It's just unbelievable because I didn't really think I was going in that early," White said of his emotions upon hearing the news. "Just unbelievable -- I don't even know the correct word to use for it, but I was really flabbergasted." White won 28 races in NASCAR's top division, all but two of which came in a four-year heyday from 1959-62. He never regarded his diminutive size as a hurdle, a point that was underscored just last weekend with a modern-day corollary. A popular victory by Rico Abreu, who stands 4-foot-4, in the Chili Bowl Nationals sprint car showcase has opened the doors for a driving opportunity in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. White said if Abreu's talent speaks for itself, all other factors should remain equal. "If they build the race cars and get him adjusted and sitting in there where he can operate everything," White said, "I would say he's just as capable of winning races as any other driver." White's ascension to the top of the NASCAR ladder came during a time when the sport was expanding its reach, growing beyond the dirt bullrings and entering a major speedway boom. Atlanta Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway opened in the year White was crowned, and Daytona International Speedway 's 2.5-mile high banks debuted for business the previous year. Though he could see the sport transforming, White said he couldn't have envisioned what NASCAR would look like in 2015. "No earthly idea that it was going to grow to where it is today and be as popular as it is, and draw the money and pay the purses that they're paying," said White , who picked up a $13,000 check for winning the 1960 title. "I'm not even sure that Bill France had enough foresight to see that. I don't know. He may have, but I sure didn't." If White happens to cross paths with current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick during the Hall of Fame ceremonies, a link between the two will come full circle. White -- who drove a "Gold Thunder" car noted for its pristine gold and white paint scheme -- was the last champion to carry the No. 4 before Harvick accomplished the feat last season. White , like Harvick, was particularly loyal to driving for Chevrolet. The story goes, White needed to change his number from No. 44 once he stopped driving Chevrolet factory cars. Noting that Billy Myers -- an early star driver from Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina -- was a hero of his, it made White's choice all the easier. "Naturally, I grabbed it," White said. "It was a great number. Still is today." Though White hung up his helmet after a part-time schedule in 1964 and retired from his job at a car dealership in 2003, he said he's yet to slow down. His active schedule has picked up recently with appearances and interviews ahead of his Hall of Fame induction. Come Friday night in Charlotte, his stature as one of the sport's all-time greats will be secured, complete with a personalized blue blazer and the presentation of his NASCAR Hall of Fame ring. White says he's looking forward to the festivities, even if there might be the potential for stage fright. "Probably as ready as I'll ever be," White joked. "I'm sure there's something that I'll screw up on, so anyway, I'm going to do the best I can. It's a great honor, and it's a pleasure to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame."
White happy to be mentioned with big names
Rex White talks with Bob Dillner about what it means to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
White : 'Words can't express how honored I am'
Rex White acknowledges the team effort that helped earn him a spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Rex White | Class of 2015
Inductee for 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame class
Whelen to sponsor Newman's Coca-Cola 600 car
WELCOME, N.C. (May 23, 2016) - Richard Childress Racing announced today that Whelen Engineering Co., the "Official Warning Lights of NASCAR", will serve as the primary sponsor on Ryan Newman 's No. 31 Chevrolet SS for the 57th running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2016. "Whelen Engineering, the Official Warning Lights of NASCAR, is pleased to be the primary sponsor of the Whelen No. 31 Chevrolet for the Coca-Cola 600 ," said Phil Kurze, vice president of motorsports. "Ryan (Newman) is a familiar name to us since he has been in Victory Lane a number of times in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway . It is fitting to have a graduate engineer driving a race car sponsored by an engineering company. The familiar red and white Sam Bass paint scheme will be displayed on the car and we look forward to the excitement of the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule." The red and white colors of the No. 31 Whelen Chevrolet will hit the track for the annual Memorial Day weekend event, in which Newman has three top-five and six top-10 finishes, in addition to five pole awards. "Whelen's commitment to motorsports is comprehensive, and we are proud to partner with them for the Coca-Cola 600 ," said Torrey Galida, president of Richard Childress Racing . "Their dedication to innovation and safety is in line with the philosophy here at RCR, and we look forward to seeing the No. 31 Whelen Chevrolet on the track this Memorial Day weekend." A company that now employs over 1,400 workers, Whelen began in 1952 when George W. Whelen invented the first rotating aircraft "anti-collision" beacon in his garage in Deep River, Connecticut. Over the years, Whelen grew out of the garage and into the mainstream, working with police, public works, and fire departments across the country. Today, Whelen has two manufacturing facilities totaling over 1,000,000 square feet, employs the largest staff of design engineers in the industry, and has partnered with OEMs on new vehicle design and product integration. While this is RCR's first partnership with Whelen in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Whelen has an extensive history and presence in motorsports. As the "Official Warning Lights of NASCAR", Whelen provides all of the caution lights, pit road entrance, and pit road exit lights, "hot pit/garage area" warning lights, as well as all of the warning lights used on pace cars and safety vehicles across all three NASCAR national touring series. Whelen also serves as the title sponsor of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, and the NASCAR Whelen Euro-Series. This commitment to motorsports extends beyond NASCAR as well. Whelen is the primary sponsor on the Action Express No. 31 DP Corvette in the IMSA Weather Tech Championship Series. For additional information on today's announcement, and all that's happening at RCR, please visit rcrracing.com .
NASCAR to honor fallen troops with 600 Miles of Remembrance
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (May 23, 2016) -- Continuing the sport's long-standing tradition of honoring the United States Armed Forces, all 40 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will bear the name of a fallen service member on their race car windshields during Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), NASCAR announced today. For the second consecutive year, "600 Miles of Remembrance" will pay tribute this Memorial Day Weekend to those who bravely served and died defending our country. Windshield headers normally reserved for drivers' last names will read "SGT HARVEY," "LCPL RAMIREZ," and "SPC BEAUDOIN," among other names of the fallen. The special tribute will commemorate the launch of NASCAR: An American Salute ™, the industry's collective expression of respect and gratitude for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, past and present. Fans can follow the conversation on social media using #NASCARsalutes. "Each of the names proudly displayed on these race cars tells a story of honor and sacrifice," said Brent Dewar, NASCAR chief operating officer. "As the NASCAR industry reflects on Memorial Day Weekend, we’re proud to honor these and all fallen service members in a way that helps ensure their stories and lives are never forgotten." Many of the service members whose names will be displayed on the race cars were chosen by the teams, and some have unique connections to the fallen. Navy SEAL Denis Miranda, who was killed in a helicopter crash in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2010, trained in BUD/S alongside Graham Molatch, jackman for the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team. Miranda’s name will appear on Kyle Larson 's car during the Coca-Cola 600 . Lance Corporal Scott Lynch served in the United States Marine Corps with Mark Singleton, tire changer for Chip Ganassi Racing , and will be honored on Jamie McMurray 's No. 1 car. Furniture Row Racing employee John Parks served in the Marines with Jeffrey Bohr, Jr., a gunnery sergeant who was killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and whose name will be carried on Martin Truex Jr . 's No. 78 car. Toyota will also honor the names of fallen service members on its pace cars and grand marshal cars for the Coca-Cola 600 as part of 600 Miles of Remembrance. Many of the families of the service members being recognized will be in attendance at Charlotte Motor Speedway . The track will host more than 6,000 active military members at the Coca-Cola 600 in honor of Memorial Day. Throughout the week, NASCAR: An American Salute will feature various activities demonstrating the industry's support for the military, including: · During Saturday’s Hisense 4K TV 300 , NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers will display red, white and blue XFINITY windshield decals on their race cars. · Goodyear will replace the "Eagle" sidewall design with "Support Our Troops" messaging on all tires used during the Memorial Day Weekend races. · NASCAR, Coca-Cola and Mars, through the annual military support program, DeCA, will offer a sweepstakes to shoppers at more than 180 commissaries who will have a chance to win a trip for two to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week in Las Vegas. The kickoff event will take place at Fort Bragg on May 25 and feature No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin . The 2016 DAYTONA 500 winner will tour the Warrior Transition Battalion Unit and visit with families at the South Commissary. · In partnership with Operation Gratitude, Mars will invite race fans to help assemble care packages for the troops in the midway at Charlotte Motor Speedway . The care packages will include Mars candy and be shipped following the Coca-Cola 600 to deployed military members. · NASCAR and Honor and Remember, Inc. will display specially prepared Honor and Remember flags representing those who lost their life in service to our country from each of the 50 United States throughout the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway . During the Coca Cola 600 pre-race broadcast (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX), FOX Sports will recognize all service members who have lost their lives in the past year by displaying their names and branch of service on a graphic scroll. This Sunday, NASCAR drivers will discuss 600 Miles of Remembrance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (channel 90) during a special military tribute show airing at 1 p.m. ET. The Dialed In Salute to the Troops special, hosted by Claire B. Lang, will feature interviews with several drivers as well as service men and service women from different branches of the military. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600 will be broadcast live from Charlotte Motor Speedway at 6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Additional live coverage can be found on NASCAR.com . To view an online gallery of the service members honored as part of 600 Miles of Remembrance, visit www.NASCAR.com/salute .
Hard luck, near-win heartbreak for Kyle Larson
RELATED: Full race results CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson nearly became the latest driver to go from the preliminary event to the winner's circle of the annual NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. But a loose-handling car and a hard-charging Joey Logano proved to be his undoing Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway . It's a familiar feeling for the young driver of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates' No. 42 Chevrolet, who has finished second four times in points-paying races in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. RELATED: Larson grabs runner-up finish at Dover Saturday night's 113-lap show wasn't for points, but there was a $1 million payday waiting at the checkered flag. And when the 23-year-old shot the gap on the race's final restart, he zoomed from third to first with less than 13 laps remaining. But Logano ( Team Penske ) was able to track the leader down and after a side-by-side battle, Larson slipped up and into the wall less than three laps from the finish. Logano held on for the victory; Larson limped to the garage, 16th in the final rundown. "I definitely didn't over-correct," a dejected Larson said afterward. "I was just going fast, got loose, lost control and hit the wall. I'm disappointed. I feel like I keep letting my guys down." Larson had qualified for the Sprint All-Star Race by winning a sheetmetal swapping, last-lap battle with Chase Elliott ( Hendrick Motorsports ) in the final segment of the Sprint Showdown preliminary event earlier in the day. The damage done to his car kept his team busy throughout the afternoon, but by the time the red-and- white entry rolled through pre-race inspection for the main event, it looked good as new. And it ran that way, too. RELATED: Larson edges out Elliott " See frame-by-frame of the finish "They worked their tails off after I got all the damage in the Showdown," he said. "We had a really, really good Target Chevy and were able to get to the front pretty quick there to be in the best position possible there for the last restart." After starting the race 18th , Larson ended the first 50-lap segment inside the top 10. He eventually took the lead on Lap 94 and was the race leader after 100 laps had been completed to end the second segment. He restarted third for the final 13-lap dash after only two drivers, Jimmie Johnson ( Hendrick Motorsports ) and Kyle Busch ( Joe Gibbs Racing ), running 12th and 13th respectively, were re-slotted to the front. The top 11 were required to pit. "I was getting looser throughout the race," Larson said. "We were making adjustments but weren't making big enough ones. I just got loose and Joey caught me. "He did a really good job side-drafting me. I tried to hang on his quarter panel like I did with Chase earlier today. I got really loose as soon as I got in the corner." Logano said he knew Larson would "try to suck me around from the outside and I knew I had to drive in to make sure he didn't do that. "Just good hard racing there at the end. It was a lot of fun. He's a heck of a racer. He's going to win a lot of races, that's for sure." Kasey Kahne ( Hendrick Motorsports ) was the last driver to win the Sprint All-Star Race despite not automatically qualifying for it (and having to race in the preliminary event) heading into the weekend, accomplishing the feat in 2008. (Kahne won the Sprint Fan Vote that year.) "I thought clean air would be everything there on four tires," Larson said. "Joey was just really good there that last run; I thought I was better than him most of the race. I don't know, I feel bad. But it's good that we have fast race cars right now. "Just really, really proud of everybody on this team. We were pretty down earlier in the year but we've got cars now and confidence and one of these days it will all come together."
At Martinsville, Hendrick embraces memories while motivating
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Rick Hendrick probably knew the answer. That didn't keep the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner from asking the question. Standing inside the No. 48 hauler, shoulder to shoulder with team members, Hendrick glanced at driver Jimmie Johnson . "I'd like to have another clock," he said matter-of-factly. "Jimmie, how many clocks do you have?" "Not enough," came Johnson's rapid reply. "That's the right answer," chimed in crew chief Chad Knaus. Officially, Johnson has eight career victories at Martinsville Speedway , where the race winner receives a grandfather clock for his or her efforts. Driver introductions were less than an hour away, and Sunday's STP 500 would not start for another 90 minutes or so. Hendrick, 66, was making the first of several stops on a sunny but cool Sunday morning at Martinsville -- which is the site of both some of his greatest highs in racing and his most devastating heartbreak in life. His Hendrick Motorsports organization fields four teams in NASCAR's premier series. The No. 48 of Johnson, the No. 5 of Kasey Kahne , the No. 24 of Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Chase Elliott , and the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr ., the series' most popular driver. On race days, Hendrick visits them all. After chatting with Johnson's group Sunday, Hendrick ducked into the No. 88 hauler, then the 5 and finally the 24. That the HMS transporters are parked next to one another helps expedite the process. Later, he speaks again briefly with the drivers and others out on the starting grid before the beginning of the race. "I start at the back of the grid and work my way to the front speaking to the drivers," Hendrick said of his own personal weekly grid walk. "It makes it hard sometimes when you've got one in the back, one in the front, one's going to the bathroom, things like that. It's tight between the time they get out of the truck (after driver introductions) and they start the race." That's the case at Martinsville, with Johnson starting uncharacteristically deep (24th) in the 40-car field, and Kahne pitting at the front thanks to a No. 2 qualifying effort. Slowing the process to a crawl are the fans and fellow competitors with whom Hendrick stops to chat as he makes his way from the frontstretch to the Turn 2 side of the series' smallest venue. The founder of a hugely successful NASCAR operation and automotive sales group, Hendrick remains an incredibly humble person. Fans that stop the team owner seeking an autograph get an autograph; those who ask for a photo get their picture taken with the team owner. The only request, coming again and again from those who help ferry their boss from one location to the next is a simple: "Give him room to walk, please." After stopping to offer Johnson and Earnhardt, who rolled off 21st, encouragement, Hendrick stops to speak with owner/driver Tony Stewart on pit road. Stewart remains sidelined after a back injury in a non-racing incident before the start of the season. His Stewart-Haas Racing organization purchases engines and much technical information from HMS, though that will change next season when SHR moves to Ford. SHR driver Kevin Harvick speaks briefly with Hendrick as well, then crew chief Rodney Childers. A few yards farther and it's Felix Sabates, minority owner of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, who steps around the cars on the grid to greet Hendrick. The team owner is still two teams shy of completing his task by the time the national anthem has ended and the planes in the flyover have flown over, colored smoke trailing from each. Elliott and Kahne are already behind the wheel, but Hendrick manages to lean in and speak to each before the window nets go up on their respective cars and the command is given to start engines. Hendrick will often visit each of the four teams' pit boxes, joining the crew chiefs, car chiefs and engineers for varying periods of time throughout the race. When the green flag finally falls, he's poised atop the No. 24 box of Elliott, standing in the background and watching the action unfold. Team owner Rick Hendrick, center, speaks to all of his drivers before a race -- Dale Earnhardt Jr . (left) is one of four. WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT "I just tell them good luck," Hendrick says of the pre-race conversations with his drivers. He offers words of encouragement to those who might be struggling, as well those who aren't. Staying out of trouble, making good adjustments and driving smart can pay off, he tells each one. Do that "and then you're going to be there," he says. "We've won a lot of races that way." Johnson, who has driven exclusively for Hendrick at the Sprint Cup level, calls his boss "a great motivator." "He can say a lot in a few words," the six-time champion said. "Here it would be, 'You know I won my first race here.' And just smile at you. "Yes sir. Message delivered. Let's go win another." RELATED: Top moments from Martinsville Of course, conversations can sometimes take a delightfully unexpected turn. "I can think back to my rookie year at Charlotte for qualifying," Johnson said. "There was some cool car I wanted to buy. He knew that I had ordered it through his dealership; I was going to lease it, and he stuck his head in (the window) just as I was getting ready to roll off for qualifying, and said 'You know how much I love to win the pole at home,' and I said 'I'm sure you do.' "He goes 'You won't have to worry about paying for that car if you win the pole.' " Johnson indeed wound up winning the pole for the 2002 Coca-Cola 600 . It was his first pole at a non-restrictor plate track. It wasn't until he was headed home, he said, that he remembered the owner's comments. "I was like 'Damn! I got a car out of this!' " Johnson said. "So I call him and go 'Hey what about that car?' and he goes 'No problem. A deal's a deal.' " There have been similar deals, some that paid off and some that didn't. But the primary message on Sunday for each team was straightforward and simple. "I'm here to support you," Hendrick said. "Give them that moral support and acknowledge how hard they work. "It's easy to be positive when you're winning every week, but when you're not, to come back with the right attitude to work together, figure it out and not point blame. We're a team. Drivers are going to make mistakes, crew chiefs are going to make a bad call, and pit stops are going to be bad. Nobody's perfect. Just keeping them all motivated. That's it." THE TRIP THAT NEARLY WASN'T Winning at Martinsville is special for Hendrick. At only .526 miles, it is the smallest venue on the Sprint Cup Series circuit. From an emotional standpoint, it might well be the biggest for him. As a kid, Hendrick traveled with his father, Joe, from their home in South Hill, Virginia, to watch the races. The younger Hendrick got Richard Petty's autograph "in Turn 4 down there," he said. "I don't remember how old I was. "I used to pull for Rex White here in the convertible (division)." Martinsville eventually became the launching pad for Hendrick Motorsports , known as All-Star Racing in 1984 when a former Modified driver from Chemung, New York, named Geoff Bodine put the team in Victory Lane for the very first time. "Had we not won this race in 1984, I wouldn't be here today," the car owner said. "That's how close it was. We had made the decision to close the shop until we got a sponsor. You know, usually when you do that, you never come back. "But Harry (Hyde, crew chief) talked me into coming up here and Bodine won the race. The rest is history. We owe the track a lot." There have been 22 more wins at Martinsville for the organization since Bodine’s victory. Most were celebrated. Jimmie Johnson' s win in the Subway 500 on October 24, 2004 was not. It was Johnson's first short-track victory. It was the day Hendrick, feeling under the weather, chose to stay home. And it was the day a company plane carrying 10 passengers, including son, Ricky, and brother, John Hendrick, president of the company, crashed while attempting to land at Blue Ridge Airport in nearby Stuart, Virginia. There were no survivors. Saturday, the day before this year’s STP 500 , was Ricky Hendrick's birthday. He would have been 36. "It was kind of one of those days where -- I really thought about this morning just not coming," said Hendrick, adding that returning to the spring race each year is difficult but that "it's really hard to come back in the fall. "Once I'm here with the guys, that's what those guys would have wanted me to do," he said. "When you come back and fly in you think about that." He returned for the spring race in 2005, and the reception from fans, officials and other competitors "just blew me away," Hendrick said. Skipping the fall race, he learned that "sometimes it's harder not to be here than to be here. "As tough as it is, at home it's worse. You're watching it or maybe you don't want to watch it. It's hard to explain," he said. "But I think I've learned that it's going to be tough because it was so much of a loss that day. But being here is easier than being at home thinking about it." 'LET'S GO TO TEXAS' A constant, cool breeze eventually pushed Hendrick inside one of his team's haulers for the completion of Sunday's race. It had been a trying day, and while a glimmer of hope remained in the closing laps, it turned out to be a rare un-Hendrick-like day in the series' first of two annual stops at Martinsville. Johnson finished ninth, Earnhardt Jr. 14th, Elliott 20th and Kahne 22nd. "When you have days like this, I do more trying to console them than anything else," Hendrick said, removing the radio headset that had kept him in contact with each of his four teams throughout the day. "I always just try to tell them, 'Let's go to Texas.' " The teams will gather Tuesday to go over what worked and what didn't, filing it away for later in the year when the series returns. But the focus will be on the upcoming race this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway . "We've been good on the mile-and-a-half stuff," he said. "They'll just have to decipher where they think they were off here." The man whose teams have won 11 premier series titles and 242 races -- including nearly two dozen here -- headed back outside into the fading light and growing shadows. "This is," he admitted, "a humbling sport." MORE: Key takeaways from Martinsville