Originally created 04/12/98

Racing notes: Rick Hendrick is holding his own despite illness, probation



John Hendrick is substituting for brother Rick these days as president and CEO of Hendrick Motorsports, and it's rare when the first words he hears from people aren't "How's Rick?"

Rick has been in his home most of the time since the beginning of 1997 with a form of leukemia. He is also in the first of three years of probation for his part in the American Honda Motor Co. bribery and kickback scandal.

Under the terms of his sentence, he is confined to his Charlotte home for a year, during which time he cannot participate in his automobile business or his NASCAR operations.

Meanwhile, John has set aside his own auto business to run the team.

"Rick is doing real well," John said. "His attitude is great. He's just a few percentage points from being in remission and we feel real good about that.

"On the downside, the treatment really makes him sick and makes him feel bad most of the time. He's fighting for his life. He's fighting to get in remission and he tells me every day he'll be back next year."

STAFF CHANGES: NASCAR's impressive growth spurt is due at least in part to the work of Brian France, who has been serving as vice president of marketing and communications since 1993.

France is the son of NASCAR president Bill France Jr. and, along with sister Lesa France Kennedy, is expected to eventually wield the power in the stock car sanctioning body.

NASCAR announced on Tuesday that Brian France has been promoted to senior vice president. He will continue to oversee all aspects of marketing, licensing, communications, special projects and business development.

George Pyne, who worked as vice president of licensing and consumer products since 1996, will move to vice president of marketing.

"These moves are designed to expand NASCAR's efforts to integrate the sport's drivers, teams and tracks with our New York office," the elder France said.

NASCAR, which began in 1948 as a Southeastern racing series, now has events in its top Winston Cup series in every part of the country except the Northwest. Stock car racing is now a billion-dollar business and still growing.

GRASS ROOTS: Most of the drivers who wind up in NASCAR's top stock car series got their starts in local go-kart racing and showed talent right from the start.

Bobby Labonte is one of them.

"We ran quarter-midgets all the time," Labonte said of his youth in Texas. "I remember running go-karts one time on this road course. We always had the best times and led the points and all that stuff.

"Guys were trying to get us to run it, saying things like, `The class is simple and you run Goodyear tires and Yamaha motors and you just go out and have fun.'

"Well," Labonte added, "that wasn't our style. We ran better fuel and Bridgestone tires because they had a real good tire that was softer. We did all kinds of stuff and just blistered them."

Eventually, the Labonte family, including older brother Terry, moved to North Carolina.

"They said, `Well, we hate to see you leave but sure are glad because you're killing us.' I was about 14."