‘Together’ documentary gets to heart of Hendrick

October 8, 2009


CHARLOTTE — The successes of Hendrick Motorsports, which is marching toward a fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship and has 185 victories, are well documented. But there also have been many dark chapters for team owner Rick Hendrick, who lost his brother, a son and several key employees in a plane crash, survived a bout with leukemia and pleaded guilty to mail fraud (and later was pardoned).

All are chronicled — sometimes in excruciating detail for the first time — in Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story, which charts the 25-year history of NASCAR’s most powerful team. The emotionally raw documentary, which will be shown in a one-hour version Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on ABC, was made with the blessing of Hendrick, who struggled with its candor before team spokesman Jesse Essex convinced him excluding personal elements wouldn’t be telling the whole story.

“Do you pretend like the crash never happened, like I never got sick, like I didn’t go through the legal problems?” Hendrick said at the movie’s premiere last week. “If we didn’t tell it all like it happened, then we were phony and I would be ashamed of it.”

Hendrick wasn’t so proud of his first foray into filmmaking as a consultant on the 1990 Tom Cruise vehicle Days of Thunder. Together reunites him with Cruise (the narrator) but avoids the cartoonishness where Days of Thunder “got off track and out of hand,” Hendrick said. The documentary forgoes on-track highlights in favor of confessional interviews and rare footage to tell the story, much of which is carried by Hendrick’s wife, Linda, and daughter, Lynn Carlson, talking about the plane crash that killed Ricky Hendrick, team president John Hendrick, his two daughters, Hendrick engine builder Randy Dorton, general manager Jeff Turner and four others. Carlson, who gives a tearful eulogy at the memorial service, said her reaction was, “We’re not a family anymore.”

Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip, who won the 1989 Daytona 500 with Hendrick, said Together made him cry like a baby. “You laughed, you cried, you felt proud, robbed, disappointed. Even the indictment, that was the most embarrassing thing to happen to him. But he is man enough not to ignore it.”

Not all of the surprises are about Hendrick. Jeff Gordon reveals he wanted to hide from the news media early in his career and explains how Hendrick helped him through his 2002 divorce. “He got me a lawyer,” Gordon says. Hendrick (who advised the four-time champion, “Don’t hit her, don’t leave her, don’t get caught with your britches down,” and said, “He did one but forgot the other two.”) also allowed Gordon to live in a spare bedroom.

“It was so weird to see him in jeans and a T-shirt saying he’s going to the mall,” Hendrick said. “It was, ‘OK, son, see you later.’ ”

Together has lighthearted moments, too, including star Tim Richmond (who died of complications from AIDS in 1989) dancing in an all-female aerobics class. The movie’s final frame is a self-deprecating shot of Hendrick awkwardly scaling the pit wall at Martinsville Speedway (“that was so pathetic it might motivate me to lose some weight”). It’s a fitting ending for a film that shows Hendrick hasn’t had it easy in ascending to NASCAR’s pinnacle.

“Nothing is Hollywood (or) flowered up,” he said. “I am hoping the fans will like it, because it’s true.”


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