The pride of Richmond, Virginia, Ray Hendrick (April 1, 1929 – September 28, 1990) always wanted to be a race-car driver when he grew up. And with that he became one of the most successful and popular Modified and Late Model Sportsman stock-car racers of his era.
Hendrick’s career started in 1950 and he quickly found Victory Lane in the Hot Rod Division. Then, after two years of dominating the class, he moved up to the Modifieds with Ira Smiley’s team and began to build a record of success on dirt and asphalt race tracks that for the next 35 years made him one of the most prominent race-car drivers in the country.
Ready and willing to race anywhere and everywhere, Hendrick won over 700 races on a variety of short tracks and on some of the finest asphalt speedways. While his 1950s efforts with Smiley and John Tadlock’s coupes were quite productive, he is best remembered for his 1960s and early 1970s drives in the Jack Tant-Clayton Mitchell red winged No. 11 Modifieds – 1937 Chevrolet coupes and later Chevrolet Camaros – and the red No. 01 Ford Pintos and Mustangs fielded from 1973 onward by Dick Armstrong with Tant-built engines.
Hendrick’s major Modified victories include: the 1969 Race of Champions 200 at the old one-mile asphalt Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway in the Tant-Mitchell No. 11 coupe; the 1975 Race of Champions 300 at the old 1.5-mile Trenton (N.J.) Int’l Speedway in the Armstrong No. 01 Pinto; four (1965-1966, 1968 & 1970) NASCAR 200s on Trenton’s one-mile and 1.5-mile (1970) layouts; a 1970 win on Pocono (Pa.) Raceway’s old three-quarter-mile infield oval; two (1969-1970) 100s on the one-mile Dover (Del.) Downs Int’l Speedway in the No. 11 T/M Camaro; and, the 1970 Memorial Day Weekend 100 at the half-mile Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway.
He also won several NASCAR Late Model Sportsman races, including: a 1970 100-miler at Dover in the T/M No. 11 Chevrolet Chevelle; the 1970 Cardinal 250 and 1971 Dogwood 250 at the half-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in the T/M No. 11; a 1971 100-miler at the one-third-mile Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, Virginia, in the T/M No. 11; the 1975-1976 300-milers at the 1.5-mile Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in Armstrong’s No. 01 Chevrolet; and, the 1977 300-mile race at the 2.66-mile Talladega (Alabama) Superspeedway in the No. 01.
Hendrick won five NASCAR Championships at the fourth-tenth-mile South Boston (Va.) Speedway – four Modified Division and one Late Model Sportsman – and an all-time record of 20 races between 1963-1975 at the half-mile asphalt Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, including the Modified 250 portion of the 1970 Cardinal 500 from the pole in his T/M No. 11 Camaro.
With efforts like this throughout his career he was given several opportunities to race in NASCAR’s Grand National/Cup Series. While he never raced in this top division full time, he did make 17 starts (1956-1969 & 1971-1974) and posted two Top-5s and six Top-10s.
If there was ever any regret in Hendrick’s illustrious career it was due to the fact that he never won the NASCAR National Modified Championship. But he did come close in 1966 when he finished second to Ernie Gahan in the title chase and for nine years (1960-1961 & 1963-1969) he finished in the Top-10 in NASCAR’s National Modified Championship.
One of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers, Hendrick’s last victory came on July 19, 1980, in a 100-mile Late Model Sportsman race in the Armstrong No. 02 Pontiac Ventura at Old Dominion Speedway. And he effectively retired from racing after the 1982 season.
There is one more thing about Ray Hendrick that is well-worth noting. In 1961 he was cited with NASCAR’s John Naughton Memorial Sportsmanship Award for his actions in Richmond, Virginia, where, while leading the race, he purposely spun his car in front of Emanuel Zervakis’ overturned machine to shield it from the cars that were coming towards it.