Rick Hendrick rises from tobacco farmer to Hall of Famer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Rick Hendrick, owner of the most successful organization in NASCAR, grew up on a Virginia tobacco farm knowing that wasn’t the life he wanted.

He took chance after chance chasing a NASCAR career, came close to folding his team more than once, but always found a way to persevere. It earned him a spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday night.

Hendrick Motorsports has a NASCAR-leading 15 national titles – 11 in the top series with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte.

”I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, but I knew what I didn’t want to do, and that was be a tobacco farmer,” Hendrick said. ”But I wouldn’t take anything for the time that I spent with my mom and dad. They taught me something that really has been the pillar of my life, and that is you need to take care of other people if you want people to take care of you.

”You need to take care of your neighbors, and you need to do for others, and then good things will happen to you.”

He was introduced by Johnson and Gordon, both future Hall of Famers themselves, and inducted by his wife, Linda.

”He’s the most loyal man that I know – he’ll take the shirt right off his back for you,” Gordon said. ”His accomplishments are endless, and his character is unrivaled. Some know him as a champion. Some know him as a winner. Most of us simply know him as Mr. H – and now that H takes on a new meaning: Mr. Hall of Famer.”

Also inducted Friday night was Mark Martin, car owners Richard Childress and Raymond Parks, and former NASCAR champion Benny Parsons. Martin is considered the greatest driver to never win a championship.

Martin was a runner-up five times for the Cup title, and won 40 races – 17th on the all-time list. In NASCAR’s second-tier series, Martin won 49 times, which was a record for 14 years.

He was introduced by 2003 champion and former teammate Matt Kenseth, who considers Martin his mentor, and he was introduced by former car owner Jack Roush. Martin was the first driver hired when Roush formed Roush Racing in 1988.