By Geoff Bodine
September 5, 2016
I found out of the news of William Byron signing with Hendrick Motorsports through social media and auto racing news websites.
I did see parts of William and Rick Hendrick’s media availability from the media center at Bristol Motor Speedway. I had no idea the connection William and Rick had, their families had.
Apparently when he was younger, he went trick-or-treating to Rick’s house. The story goes William told Rick one day he wanted to drive for him.
William didn’t say what he dressed up as for Halloween, but of course, that couldn’t have been many years ago.
That’s a pretty interesting and unique story. I didn’t have the chance to go trick-or-treat at his house, but I did see Rick early on at the racetrack when I was racing modifieds in the 1970s.
I may have bumped into him a couple of times in the pits, but we were both young and doing our own ventures in racing.
You have to open doors, you have to shake people’s hands, because you never know whose hands your shaking. For William, it’s hard to say if he didn’t go trick-or-treating to his house, if that would have had the same affect on his racing career.
I know how difficult it is to get noticed, to have opportunities to get into the big leagues of NASCAR.
It took winning the Trans South 200 at Darlington Raceway in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 1982 at 32-years-old to get noticed. Our small team was able to outrun legends like David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt that day, Two days later, I had a Sprint Cup Series ride.
Even though there are recruiters for big teams today, scouting local tracks for the next talent, by no means is it any easier today than it was 30 years ago to try and make it as a NASCAR driver.
Drivers still have to prove their talents and prove they can perform under pressure and win races.
Getting the offer to drive for Rick Hendrick
I didn’t get a call from Rick to drive his car in the Sprint Cup Series.
I was driving for Cliff Stewart in 1983, and I got a phone call from Harry Hyde, the crew chief Rick approached to put his race team together.
I know at one point, they were trying to get Dale Earnhardt to drive the car, and I think he may have driven their car in a test, and I also believe Richard Petty may have been approached, but who in their right mind was going to give up a good deal and go with a start-up team.
Thank goodness none of them said yes. Keep in mind, 1984 was set to be Rick’s first year as a team.
After getting the phone call from Harry, I went down to City Chevrolet, Rick’s Chevy dealership in Charlotte, North Carolina before the second Atlanta race in 1983, and I met with him.
Rick said he could do about 15 of the 30 races in 1984. Prior to that, I had a deal to run the whole schedule with another team.
But I had gone to that meeting more to see Harry, because he was a proven, winning crew chief, and I wanted to share the same on-track success. I was okay with only having 15 races guaranteed.
Rick said he would talk to Harry and would give me a call to let me know if I would be hired for the ride.
Back then, we didn’t have cell phones. I asked Rick, “You mind if I wait out in your customer waiting room for an answer?”
I didn’t want to go home. That’s how bad I wanted this ride. With no cell phones, I had a feeling there could be a chance the landline wouldn’t ring.
I ended up waiting about five minutes before they called me into Rick’s office and told me I got the ride.
That’s my story of how I got be Hendrick Motorsports’ first driver; I didn’t get a phone call, or go trick-or-treating, I had to go to City Chevrolet and sit out in the waiting room for an answer. I’m glad it happened that way, everything worked out really well.
The numbers may look a little off. Byron is leaving arguably the highest-performing driver-development team and manufacturer currently in the Truck Series for Hendrick’s satellite operation.
But the statistics do not matter.
Listening to the way William talks about Rick and the respect he has for Hendrick Motorsports, it appears William has had the desire to be a part of that organization.
I can compare it to when I wanted to dive for Rick. I had a full-time deal, but I was willing to take a part-time deal to partner with Harry Hyde.
There’s no question there are cycles in racing with all the powerhouses.
Advice for William
William, you’re a great young man, hopefully I get to know you a little bit better as time goes on, but you’re doing a great job.
It seems like you’re handling the success very well. Keep it up; don’t change, listen to Rick. He’s a very smart individual and cares for everyone.
Hopefully you didn’t scare him too much with whatever your Halloween costume was, and hopefully he doesn’t make you wear said costume behind-the-wheel.
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.