NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick became the 17th member of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame -- and its first "Southern Gentleman" -- during the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Gala at The Speedway Club on Thursday evening.
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip, a former Hendrick Motorsports driver, praised Hendrick as "my good friend, my buddy, somebody I love to death." Waltrip said Hendrick personified the qualities of a true "Southern gentleman" during his introductory remarks.
"When I think about a Southern gentleman, I think about his dad (Papa Joe Hendrick) and about Rick," said Waltrip, who posted nine of his 84 career NSCS wins for Hendrick Motorsports between 1987 and 1990. "And a Southern gentleman has a lot of characteristics that I think have gotten lost through the years, but Rick still has them -- hard work, respect for your elders, a firm handshake, your word is your bond, you make eye contact with someone when you're talking to them .. you treat other people like you want to be treated.
"He's as smooth as silk, but he's as strong as steel. Rick Hendrick, folks, in my opinion, is a true Southern gentleman and he is so worthy of any award but particularly this award tonight."
Hendrick has enjoyed a wealth of success at Texas. His team's six career Sprint Cup victories are second most by an owner, trailing only fellow Texas Motorsports Hall of Famer Jack Roush's nine.
"I've been so blessed in my life because I get to do the two things I enjoy the most --outside of my family -- and that's racing and the automobile business," said Hendrick, whose auto empire includes three dealerships in Texas. "I've met some terrific friends, like Darrell. I've seen guys like Jeff Gordon (emerge as superstars).
Now he's retiring and I'm still here --I'm a fossil.
"The sport's been so good to me. In some of the darkest hours of my life, NASCAR has been there. I've been to the top of the mountain and all of my friends have been with us. But in any business you're in today, it's all about people ... and racing's that way. Thank you for this terrific honor. I'm blessed to be here; I'm honored and humbled."
The remainder of the awards amounted to a Hendrick Motorsports love fest. Waltrip received the O. Bruton Smith Legend Award after an introduction by brother Michael. A popular analyst on FOX Sports' NASCAR telecasts, "Ol' D.W." said the award was special to him because it had the blessing of longtime friend O. Bruton Smith, chairman of the board of Speedway Motorsports Inc.
"In 2000, I was honored to receive the Bill France Award of Excellence, and that meant a lot to me," said Waltrip, a NASCAR Hall of Famer. "But this award, I mean this when I say it, this means more than any award I've ever gotten from anybody."
Chase Elliott, the driver who will replace Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet next year, was honored as Texas Motor Speedway Racer of the Year. Elliott posted his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in last April's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300. At age 18 years, 4 months, 7 days, Elliott became the second-youngest driver to win an Xfinity Series race and the first series rookie to win at TMS. The son of 1988 NSCS champion Bill Elliott, Chase went on to win the Xfinity championship.