Images of prominent NASCAR team owner, Rick Hendrick, in victory lane certainly aren’t rare, in fact, almost expected as he has visited the coveted grounds nearly 250 times during his 27 year tenure in the sport. However, following the inaugural running of Kansas Speedway’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, the trip was anything but usual.
July 7, 2001 marked the first NASCAR national touring series to visit the fledgling oval. Hendrick fielded two cars that day, one driven by two-time truck series champion, Jack Sprague, and the other by his son, the late Ricky Hendrick.
Veteran competitor, Dennis Setzer led the field to the green flag that day in front of a capacity and sun drenched crowd. Setzer eventually gave way to Jack Sprague who dominated most of the race, leading 80 laps. At one point, Sprague had built up a five-second lead over the second place contestant, and teammate, Ricky Hendrick. However, with just 32 laps remaining, Sprague’s engine gave out, clearing the way for his rookie colleague to lead the remaining laps.
With the assistance of his crew chief and friend, Lance McGrew, Ricky Hendrick claimed his first NASCAR win and rewrote the history book, as he became the youngest truck series winner, at the time, at 21 years, three months and five days of age. “This is a dream come true. This is awesome. This is probably the coolest thing that’s happened to me in my life as something me doing for myself. It’s pretty neat,” said Ricky Hendrick following the race.
The elder Hendrick made a last minute decision to attend the race, and he was certainly glad that he did. “When you remember him sitting in your lap, or (Ken) Schrader’s lap and now he’s driving the car. He’s like a mascot to a football team who ended up being the quarterback. It’s really special for all our family,” said the proud father.
Jack Sprague would go on to win his third series title that year, with the two previous coming in 1997 and 1999. Ricky Hendrick finished sixth in the point standings in 2001 and competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series before his retirement from driving in 2002. After leaving the cockpit, Ricky assumed a management role in the Hendrick Motorsports empire.
Tragically, Ricky Hendrick, along with other family members and friends were killed in an airplane crash on October 24, 2004 while traveling to a race in Martinsville, VA.