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For Rick Hendrick, Martinsville Speedway is where it all began, with Geoff Bodine and Harry Hyde, back in '84

   Daytona 500 winning Geoff Bodine (R), with his NASCAR bobsled teammates (Photo: Geoff Bodine)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Geoff Bodine was back at Martinsville Speedway for the weekend, a place that played such a prominent role in his career, to celebrate with car owner Rick Hendrick that first NASCAR Cup tour victory, right here 25 years ago, and to chew the fat about their old days together.
   Hendrick, of course, has been one of the most dominating car owners in NASCAR for so many years that it may be difficult to remember that back when it all started he came close that first year to shutting down and calling it quits.
   Today Hendrick, with 175 Cup wins, is on track to become the winningest car owner in NASCAR. And his teams, with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson now, have dominated this flat half-mile for years.
   That Bodine is even still alive is a miracle. "I'm very blessed to be here, after that 2000 accident," Bodine concedes, referring to that dramatic, flaming, death-defying Daytona crash.
   And that Hendrick is still alive too may be fate: if he hadn't been feeling ill and skipped the Martinsville race in 2004, he might well have been aboard the plane that crashed near this track and killed 10 of his people, including his son and his brother.
  So Martinsville has been a very emotional place for Hendrick.
   Rick Hendrick (R), with Jeff Gordon (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
   Bodine, just days from turning 60, has raced only sporadically since that 2000 drama. He ran 27th in his 150-mile Daytona qualifier a few weeks ago but failed to make the 500 field.
   For the past several years Bodine has turned to Olympic bobsled design, taking advantage of his home turf in snowy upstate New York. Each January he has an informal NASCAR bobsled race, and next year he will be tying that event in with the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Hendrick flies drivers up to Bodine's track a couple of hours from Albany, but so far Bodine has been unable to persuade his former car owner to take a run down the icy chute.
  It all began here back in 1984, when Hendrick, then a rookie car owner, paired Bodine, a journeyman racer with five unremarkable years on the tour, and crew chief Harry Hyde (who died in 1996). Now both Bodine and Hyde are NASCAR legends, but back then they were just trying to keep their careers alive.
  Now that wasn't quite a marriage made in heaven, and Hendrick had to do his best to keep the two from each other's throats at times.
  But things certainly worked out well out on the track that first season, with three victories.
  Ironically Hendrick wasn't even at Martinsville Speedway to celebrate that first tour win.
    "We weren't going to all the races back then, and I was in Greensboro, at a church conference," Hendrick said.
   "That afternoon I called my mom and asked her about the race, and she said 'Geoff blew up…..No, he won.'
   "And I started screaming in the phone."
    Bodine won 18 Cup events during his years on the tour, which began in 1979. His last NASCAR Cup victory came at Watkins Glen in 1996; his last great finish was third in the Daytona 500 in 2002; and his last Cup finish was in 2005.
   Hendrick revealed here Sunday just how close he was to giving it up that first season:  "We had a very low-budget operation back then: Randy Dorton (the now famous engine builder, who died in that 2004 crash) just happened to be next door, with two people, and about to go out of business….Harry was getting $500 a week, and I was renting the transmissions from him.
   "I'd told Harry we couldn't keep on going if we didn't get any sponsorship…and we signed a sponsor right here at that race."
    Geoff Bodine and his BoDyne Olympic bobsled (Photo: Geoff Bodine)
    But things didn't keep going so well between driver and crew chief, as head-strong as both of them were.
   It all finally came to a head at the end of a winless 1985, and Hendrick, who had just hired Tim Richmond and planned to pair Bodine with Gary Nelson and move Hyde to Richmond's team for 1986.
    Hendrick was just trying to hold things together the final months of 1985. So Hendrick held a showdown meeting, to defuse the situation: "They were fighting like cats and dogs, so I got the whole team together and said 'Look, guys, we've got to make it through the end of the years, we've got sponsors....'
   "Geoff got up and said 'I can do it, I can work with you, Harry.'
   "Then Harry stood up and said 'Bodine, you're a (expletive) and a prima donna. But I love Rick Hendrick more than I hate you, so we'll keep going.'
   "That wasn't exactly what I was looking for, after I'd worked so hard to cool things off….."
   "I'd forgotten that," Bodine said. "But that was just Harry.
   "Harry's computer was a three-by-five card, and it worked a lot. We won that race here with that. But as times changed, we had to change....and that's why the problems between us began.
   "And Tim had to put up with the same thing....."
    But 1986 proved a charm, for both Bodine and Nelson, and for Richmond and Hyde.
   Bodine beat Dale Earnhardt to win the Daytona 500, in a thriller, and added another win that year, and Richmond won seven times and challenged Earnhardt for the championship.
   But Hendrick says it was close in 1984 to not making a go of it.
   "That first season nobody paid much attention to us," Hendrick recalled. "Harry was being written off. But Harry had the desire to prove something, that he could do it again.
   "Then after that first win, we started getting some traction, with people looking at us. And after the second win, we started getting sponsors. We signed a three-year deal, we were legit and ready to roll."
   Rick Hendrick and the guy who played the 1990 Hollywood role loosely based on Tim Richmond's career with Hendrick, Tom Cruise (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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