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His racing career may not have lasted very long, but he turned himself into a Hall of Famer in motorsports. Rick Hendrick was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2017 as the owner of Hendrick Motorsports.

In November of 1996, Hendrick was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. The following year, he missed his first Daytona 500 in 10 years but wound up getting quite the surprise.

Rick Hendrick’s early years

Rick Hendrick began his racing career at age 14 and started as a driver. He turned to the ownership side of things quickly, as he ran in just four races during his NASCAR career. He had two NASCAR Cup Series races as a driver, with his first race coming in 1987 and his best finish coming a year later when he finished 63rd.

In the late ’70s, Hendrick founded a drag boat racing team that won three straight titles. “I liked racing boats; there are no speed limits on water,” Hendrick said in 2017, according to The Sporting News. When Hendrick left boat racing, he sought a place to store his boats. The property he found was owned by Harry Hyde, an out-of-work NASCAR crew chief who had won the 1970 championship.

Hyde convinced Hendrick to start a racing team. He founded All-Star Racing, now Hendrick Motorsports, in 1984. “It just seems like yesterday we didn’t think we’d even make it through our first year (1984), and now we’ve won 12 of these things, and it’s hard to do,” Hendrick told The Sporting News in 2017 after Jimmie Johnson’s championship. Hendrick has since added another title to his resume.

Hendrick’s life has been marred by tragedy

In 2004, Rick Hendrick’s father, Ricky Hendrick, who was a former NASCAR driver, was killed, along with other Hendrick family members and members of Hendrick Motorsports, in a plane crash. On Oct. 31, 2011, Rick and his wife were involved in another plane crash in Key West, Florida. His wife, Linda, had minor injuries while he broke his clavicle and three ribs.

In November of 1996, Rick was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. According to the Tampa Bay Times, his type of cancer is fatal in about 50% of those who contract it. Rick once compared his cancer fight to a race, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “At one time, I was a lap down. Now I’m on the same lap (and) I think I’m going to get to the finish line,” he said in 2005.

While treating his leukemia, Rick pleaded guilty in 1997 to one count of federal mail fraud involving a scandal with his auto dealerships and Honda. Because of the leukemia, he was sentenced to 12 months of home confinement and three years probation. He was also fined $250,000.

Hendrick was forced to miss the 1997 Daytona 500

Rick Hendrick’s cancer has been in remission, but it wasn’t easy. For years, he has undergone chemotherapy and taken the drug Interferon, known for some intense side effects. Through it all, racing has helped him push through.

Hendrick was unable to make the 1997 Daytona 500. It was the first one he missed in 10 years as an owner. He was struggling with his recent leukemia diagnosis and was crushed he was unable to attend the race.

Although Hendrick could not attend, he was pleasantly surprised and given a gift of a lifetime. Not only did his driver, Jeff Gordon, win the race, but two of his other drivers, Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven, finished second and third, respectively. It’s been 25 years since his diagnosis. The 71-year-old Hendrick is still going strong.

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