Race Weekend Central

The Case for Ray Hendrick in the NASCAR Hall of Fame

The NASCAR Hall of Fame vote takes place Tuesday, May 21, and there are some who believe there is one name that may belong in more than the others on the ballot: Ray Hendrick.

Hendrick was added to the Hall’s pioneer ballot this year thanks to his 700+ wins in NASCAR-sanctioned races in the modified and late model sportsman (now the NASCAR Xfinity Series) divisions. The NASCAR Hall of Fame website labels Hendrick “as a driver that was willing to race ‘anywhere and everywhere,’ filling his schedule with modified and late model sportsman races across the East coast.”

His desire to race anywhere was a double-edged sword, as he won so many races but never truly raced for a modified or late model sportsman championship. Though Hendrick did win five track championships at South Boston Speedway, and he also won at tracks such as Charlotte Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Dover Motor Speedway.

Roy Hendrick, Ray’s son who also raced and was successful at the grassroots level, believes electing his father to the Hall of Fame is a no-brainer.

“I think he should’ve been in it a long time ago,” Roy Hendrick said. “I really do. Anybody who goes out and does what he did in his career, not just in modifieds. He raced on dirt when he first started racing … and he won, I don’t know how many races, because I was a little kid then. And then when he started racing for Jack Tant, they won about everything they ran.”

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When Ray Hendrick paired up with Tant and Clayton Mitchell, he started driving the Flying 11. That red car with a white No. 11 featuring wings around it has become one of the most legendary and most-recognizable cars in racing lore. It even inspired the font when Ray Evernham started Evernham Motorsports.

Hendrick raced the Flying 11 for most of his modified and late model sportsman starts in his racing career, which spanned from 1950-88.

“When I was growing up as a kid, it was just the greatest car in the world for me, and it still is,” Roy Hendrick said.

Roy Hendrick said the No. 11 has always been his favorite number because of his dad. He looked forward to his 11th birthday and dreaded his 12th because his age wouldn’t be 11 anymore.

Hendrick described the team of his father, Tant and Mitchell as being “unbeatable” and “kind of like Rick Hendrick and them [Hendrick Motorsports] today.” Though not related to Ray and Roy, Rick Hendrick spent time in the 1960s working on the Flying 11 car.

Roy Hendrick recalled a recent visit with Tant where Tant told him, “I ain’t ever seen nobody pass your daddy. I can’t remember anybody ever passing him.”

“Oh, good lord, you couldn’t beat him,” Roy Hendrick said. “Nobody beat him. If he lost a race, it was usually because something happened to the racecar.

Roy Hendrick got the chance to race against his father multiple times. In one race, Roy led the entire way, until the last lap.

“We went into turn 1, got the white flag and I noticed he was right here beside me,” Hendrick said.

Roy Hendrick finished third that night.

“Daddy always had these little sayings,” Hendrick said. “I’d say, ‘How come you couldn’t give me a little break?’ He’d say, ‘Boy, I’m here to win. I ain’t here to run second.’

“And he was. He was always there to win.”

Ray Hendrick is the only driver with more Martinsville Speedway wins than Richard Petty, winning there 20 times in a 13-year span.

“They had four 500-lap races at Martinsville with these cars [modifieds] with no power steering, no racing seat, [just] a helmet and no gloves, nothing,” Roy Hendrick said. “And he won three out the four of them, and the reason he didn’t win the fourth one: the car broke down. … And he was winning those races six or seven laps ahead of the second-place car.”

Frontstretch‘s Steve Waid, who has covered NASCAR since 1972 and has won the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Squier-Hall Award for lifetime excellence in motorsports journalism, had a job at the Martinsville Bulletin toward the end of Ray Hendrick’s dominant era at The Paperclip.

“During my years covering modified races at Martinsville, the field of cars was always first rate,” Waid said. “That is largely because the top drivers of the Northern circuit considered Martinsville their Daytona.

“Ray Hendrick was always the star of the Southern stock. He was always the target of the Northern fleet. Ray was unfailingly competitive and — very often — a winner. 

“That, along with his many, many other achievements, made him the most celebrated modified driver of his time.” 

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So why did such a decorated driver never make a full-time campaign in the NASCAR Cup Series?

Ray Hendrick only drove in 17 Cup races, very rarely in great equipment, and scored two top fives and six top 10s. The Richmond, Va., native’s career-best finish was a pair of fifths, coming at Richmond Raceway and Langley Speedway.

At one point in the mid-1950s, Buddy Shuman, who was a Cup winner himself and had recently been named the head of Ford’s NASCAR efforts, offered a ride to Hendrick. But the night before the opening race of the 1956 season, Shuman died in a hotel fire.

“So that deal fell through, and daddy didn’t ever pursue it again,” Roy Hendrick said. “But he regretted it [not racing Cup full time] later in life.”

Roy Hendrick believes that had the Shuman deal worked out, then his father would’ve delivered due to the quality of that ride.

“He never had a top-tier car to drive in that class [Cup],” Hendrick said. “Now if he had gotten hooked up with Buddy Shuman back in the day, he’d have been right there with Joe Weatherly, Curtis Turner and them.”

Roy Hendrick said Rick Hendrick once told him Ray would’ve been a two-time or three-time champion had he gone full-time Cup racing. But Ray did what was best to put food on the table and raced anywhere and everywhere instead of full time in Cup.

“When he was racing these modifieds, he was making more money than what the Cup guys were making at the time,” Roy Hendrick said. “They [Cup] were paying $1,000 to win a 100-lap race back then, and daddy was getting that much in deal money just to show up and try to beat the local guys. And he did, almost every time.”

If Ray Hendrick does get in the Hall of Fame, he will do so posthumously. He passed away on Sept. 28, 1990.

That very same day, his son Roy won a 300-lapper at Southside Speedway. Roy thought about skipping the race until his wife told him, “Your daddy said you will run this race no matter what happens to me, and you better lap the field.”

“I lapped the field several times,” Roy Hendrick said. “Everybody said, ‘Why’d you run so hard?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s what my daddy wanted me to do that night.'”

Roy Hendrick said if his father is inducted that he will give the speech and try to get Rick Hendrick, who is already in the Hall of Fame, to do the introduction.

“I’ll be a nervous wreck, I’m sure, but I’ll do it,” Roy Hendrick said. “… I just wish daddy could be [there], but of course he’s been gone now 34 years.”

In 2017, Denny Hamlin, who grew up racing at the same tracks Ray and Roy Hendrick frequented in Virginia, ran a throwback Flying 11 scheme for Darlington Raceway’s Throwback Weekend. Hamlin had the scheme on the No. 18 in the Xfinity race, and he ran it again the next day on his No. 11 Cup ride. He swept the weekend.

“When he [Hamlin] put the [Flying] 11 on that car, I about had a heart attack,” Roy Hendrick said. “I couldn’t believe he was gonna do that.”

Hendrick said that he cried in victory lane for the Xfinity race and that he wishes he had celebrated harder with Hamlin after the Cup win.

But when asked about Ray Hendrick, Hamlin revealed he did the throwback scheme more as an homage to his childhood fandom of Roy.

“He [Ray Hendrick] was a little before my time, so I can’t speak to it very high-educated-ly all his accomplishments,” Hamlin said of Ray’s case for the Hall of Fame. “But you just see what they are, with all the modified championships and whatnot.

“I was just a big fan of his son, Roy Hendrick. He was one of the local short track aces around the Mid-Atlantic that I always watched. So I saw that Flying 11 going around Southside Speedway for many decades. I was always a big fan of the family. There was the Virginia roots there. It was definitely something that meant a lot to me.

“Certainly would love to see [Ray Hendrick] make it in, but I don’t have enough knowledge about his accolades to really speak on it.”

Ray Hendrick is one of just 14 drivers on the NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list from 1998 to not already be in the Hall of Fame. He ranked fourth on the NASCAR Modified All-Time Top 10 list from 2003, the highest ranking driver not already in the Hall of Fame.

Only one nominee from the pioneer ballot will go into the Hall’s next class. Hendrick is going against Banjo Matthews, Ralph Moody, Larry Phillips and Bob Welborn. He has already been inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Is the NASCAR Hall of Fame next?

Click the video below to watch the whole interview with Roy Hendrick.

About the author

Michael.massie 113x150

Michael Massie joined Frontstretch in 2017 and has served as the Content Director since 2020. Massie, a Richmond, Va., native, has covered NASCAR, IndyCar, SRX and the CARS Tour. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad and Green Bay Packers minority owner can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies and Packers.

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Nobody more deserving that Ray. As a young boy, I saw him race at Richmond, Martinsville, and South Boston and grew up in the Littleton area where the Flying 11 was kept. Ray should have been in the Hall a long time ago! A member of the Viriginia Sports Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and one of Nascar’s 75 Greatest Drivers, he definitely belongs!

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