TALLADEGA, Ala. ?- He has helped prolong the careers of some of the sport's biggest stars. He has helped launch the careers of numerous others.
But in 1983, Rick Hendrick was an unknown car owner without a driver. Harry Hyde was a veteran crew chief with 45 wins but none in the previous six years.
Before Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson became champions multiple times over, before Terry Labonte became a two-time title holder and even before Tim Richmond brought Hollywood to the NASCAR hardtop, Hendrick harbored hopes of landing the biggest fish in the pond.
They were an odd pairing to be sure, but Hendrick and Hyde were on the verge of signing NASCAR's most successful driver of all time. A new page in the record book of the sport was about to be written.
There was only one problem.
Richard Petty, winner of 198 races and seven NASCAR Cup titles, stood just outside one of the garage bays inside Charlotte Motor Speedway. His winning car was the focus of NASCAR officials, who scurried around the familiar No. 43 as it sat parked nearby.
"Richard was supposed to be my first driver," Hendrick recalled May 2 during his induction speech for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame here on the grounds of Talladega Superspeedway. "It didn't work out."
On that October evening in 1983, officials discovered an oversized engine under the hood of Petty's Pontiac.
Hendrick and Hyde were unaware of the situation.
"I was actually in the garage area with Harry ? to sign Richard that night," Hendrick said. "And Richard comes up to the window and we said "Richard, what's the problem? We need to go sign the contract.'
"And Richard said, 'Well, my motor is a little big.'"
Hyde wasn't overly concerned, Hendrick said, telling Petty "Well, when it cools off, it'll check OK."
Petty knew otherwise.
"Richard said 'You can take that one to Alaska and it ain't gonna check right,'" Hendrick said.
Petty eventually signed with team owner Mike Curb, capping off a spectacular career with win No. 200 the following year at Daytona International Speedway with President Ronald Reagan in attendance.
Hendrick survived the setback as well, winning three times the following season with little known Geoff Bodine behind the wheel, then going on to become one of the most successful car owners in the sport.
Hendrick, whose teams have won 10 NASCAR Cup titles and 212 races, was one of four men inducted into the IMHOF. He was joined by 1989 Cup champion Rusty Wallace, eight-time championship winning crew chief Dale Inman, and drag racing legend Don Schumacher.
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