Daytona's Magical Aura: Hendrick Motorsports' 1997 Daytona 500
Daytona has always had this magical aura with stories surrounding the Daytona 500 that everybody loves to tell over and over. As we near closer to the Daytona 500, here is a look back through some of the highlighted moments in Daytona 500 history.
While the boss was going through his fight with cancer, his drivers were trying to keep having success on track. With Rick Hendrick’s brother John leading operations, they headed to Daytona in 1997 with one goal.
Late in 1996, Hendrick was diagnosed with leukemia and had to undergo treatment. He was also given 12-month house rest sentence by the courts for mail fraud with his dealerships while undergoing the treatment. As a result of the sentence and sickness, Hendrick put his brother John in charge and the three-car team headed down to Daytona.
As they ran up front near the end of the race, Gordon took the attitude on the radio with the words, “We’re doing this thing. Never die. Never quit.” Those words not only symbolized the attitude of the race, but yet the attitude they wanted their boss to keep. The attitude that they wanted him to recover.
Gordon knew with the win that he could help in making Rick feel a little better so he took the attitude to go out and do it no matter what. When it came to the pass on Bill Elliott, he made the bold move of going under him, partly on the flat part of the track, knowing he had to make the move.
Following behind Hendrick, Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven passed Elliott to make it a Hendrick 1-2-3.
“Congratulations,” crew chief Ray Evernham came on the radio as the caution came out late in the going. “This is a great gift for Rick.”
“You won’t believe it buddy,” Gordon said back. “Let’s come across here one-two-three.”
On the last lap, they crossed the finish line three wide, doing it all for Rick. As Gordon said on the radio, “This is for you, Rick.”
Their emotions gave them reason to push further and led to them to victory and classic Daytona style. It was the perfect type of medicine that they could have given their boss.
Gordon added an extra dose of medicine at the end of the year when he won the championship, capping off a great season for Hendrick Motorsports.
As the story goes, Hendrick fought through his cancer and made it through, pushing forward to continue his team to a whole new level. Hendrick fought through more emotional battles, though still reigns as one of the top owners in racing.
Looking back even today at the finish, tears still come to the eyes as the emotions are brought forth of that exact race.
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