WASHINGTON -- Rick Hendrick, the iconic car dealer and NASCAR mogul who parlayed a single Chevrolet store into one of the nation's largest dealership groups, was honored here with the 2014 Keith Crain/Automotive News Lifetime Achievement Award.
Hendrick, 64, is the founder and chairman of Hendrick Automotive Group of Charlotte, N.C. The company operates 87 dealerships in 13 states, making it the second-largest privately held dealership group in the United States and the sixth-largest overall, according to the latest Automotive News rankings.
Keith Crain, editor-in-chief of Automotive News, presented the award to Hendrick Wednesday night during a ceremony at the Washington Auto Show, adding him to a roster of honorees that includes Ford Motor Co. scion Edsel Ford II, retailing giant Roger Penske and auto safety advocate Ralph Nader.
Muscle car love affair
Hendrick, who had fixed up and raced cars since his teenage years in rural Virginia, started his dealership group in 1976 by purchasing a Chevrolet franchise in Bennettsville, S.C. He was 26 at the time, making him the youngest Chevy dealer in the United States.
"My family always raced Chevys," Hendrick told Automotive News in a 2011 interview. "It's all we ever owned. I had this love affair with muscle cars. It's the history, the aura, the power, the handling, the styling and the looks."
Sure enough, when General Motors auctioned off the first seventh-generation Chevrolet Corvette, Hendrick snapped it up, paying $1.1 million to take delivery of a red Stingray that was the first one of its generation built at GM's assembly plant in Bowling Green, Ky.
Hendrick started All-Star Racing in 1984. The company, now called Hendrick Motorsports, has won more than a dozen championships since its founding.
Through the racing team, Hendrick met Hollywood stars such as Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. The 1990 box-office hit Days of Thunder, in which a character played by Cruise drives for a racing team run by a wealthy Chevrolet dealer, was heavily based on Hendrick's exploits.
Hendrick Motorsports now fields four teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It has been one of the most successful operations on the circuit.
The Keith Crain/Automotive News Lifetime Achievement Award is given annually to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the auto industry. Previous recipients are Ford, Penske, Carroll Shelby, Nader and U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.