CONCORD, N.C. — For mega-dealer Rick Hendrick, growing up on a farm meant never tossing anything out.
The toolbox he used when he was 18, for example, is still around — displayed, alongside thousands of other memorabilia, in a 55,000-square-foot personal museum here called the Heritage Center. Or, as Hendrick calls it: "Redneck Disney World."
Hendrick finished building it and opened it in late 2010 to honor his family. Admittance to the deeply personal shrine, inspired by family and tragedy, is by invitation only.
"My dad died about 90 days before my son was killed and so after that I said, 'OK, I can pay tribute to my entire family here,' " Hendrick said in his doleful, soft-spoken drawl.
Hendrick grew up on a tobacco farm outside of Palmer Springs, Va., building and racing cars with his father, "Papa Joe." His mother was a bank teller who helped secure 90-day loans to fund his early days selling cars.
Today, Hendrick, 67, is chairman of Hendrick Automotive Group, the sixth-largest dealership group in the country. He also owns Hendrick Motorsports, which has earned a record 12 car-owner championships in NASCAR's premier division. The two companies are separate yet inseparable, with success in racing bolstering success in retailing.
His dealership empire includes 100 new-vehicle dealerships selling 29 brands, plus four accessories distributor installers, 31 collision centers and one motorcycle store, spread across 14 states. While most of his dealerships bear his name, a few carry the names of his NASCAR drivers: Jimmie Johnson, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Although he sells 26 brands, having just added Jaguar, two dominate, with 16 stores each selling Chevrolet and Honda vehicles. In keeping with the deep track rivalries of NASCAR, Hendrick owns no Ford stores.
"He is very much a leader," said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet's U.S. vice president of motorsports and performance vehicles, "who is in service to his managers, all of his team members and employees to deliver the best service to the customers who come into the dealerships."
Finally, there's Chevrolet's most visible partnership with Hendrick in NASCAR racing. In the three NASCAR national racing series, Hendrick has 302 wins as a team owner, all in Chevrolet vehicles.
Hendrick's victories at the track and in business are only part of his story. His life has included not just triumph, but also turbulence and tragedy as well. Family, friendships and cars bind it all together.
"If I had one dealership in a small town," Hendrick said, gazing out at a row of 20 of his prized 1967 Corvette convertibles in the Heritage Center, "I'm not going to say I'd be happy, but I think I would be."