50 Greatest Modified Drivers – Ray Hendrick 1929-1990
“They Called Him Mr. Modified”
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, Ray Hendrick was the man to beat. Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Hendrick and the famed Tant-Mitchell ’37 Chevrolet modified coupe, made frequent trips to New England, New York State, and Trenton, New Jersey for extra distance/high paying events. He dominated at Thompson, Connecticut, Oswego, Trenton, and even at Longhorne and Pocono Raceways in Pennsylvania.
At Stafford it was different story because during the 1960’s and 1970’s the track belonged to Bergin, Boutwell, Stevens, and DeSarro. May 30, 1970 was the exception to the rule. A Memorial Day weekend 100-lap event was on tap and Hendrick was there to take on the locals. Fred DeSarro, driving for Sonny Koszela, clearly had the fastest and the best handling car and was running uncontested for the win. With four laps to go, DeSarro got loose after being tapped in turn one by Hendrick. While DeSarro was gathering up his almost spinning car, Hendrick shot by him on the low side to take the lead and the eventual win. DeSarro recovered to finish second. In Victory Lane, the southern hot shoe was booed and cat-called by a near riotous crowd. DeSarro saw a mean situation building and headed for Victory Lane where he took the announcers microphone and explained to the crowd that he “had a brake lock up and contact with Hendrick was unavoidable.” The jeers turned to cheers and Hendrick was able to enjoy the win. Hendrick would return to Stafford many times, but would never take another win.
Hendrick began his racing career in 1950 at the Southside Speedway in Richmond, Virginia. Hendrick won many races and championships with his early car owners, which included Emanual Zervakis and Junie Donleavey in Virginia and North Carolina. In 1966 Hendrick teamed up with Jack Tant and Clayton Mitchell who owned the Flying 11 and took their racing efforts on the road. During their seven years together, the Tant-Mitchell-Hendrick team won races from Oxford Plains in Maine to Fayetteville, North Carolina. At Martinsville, Hendrick won 20 races, fifteen of them in the T/M modified. One of the Hendrick’s most famous drives came in the Longhorne Race of Champions in 1969. New Yorker Dutch Hoag had won the tough 200 mile grind on the one mile circle track three times and was gunning for a fourth until Hendrick came on the scene. In one of the greatest races ever staged, the two ran wide open, side by side for 90 laps until Hoag lost oil pressure and had to park it. Hendrick won at Pocono in 1971. It was here that a virtual unknown by the name of Geoff Bodine dominated the 200 lap event only to lose to Hendrick who passed him in heavy traffic in the late stages to win the event.
By 1973 the Hendrick-Tant-Mitchell team had won just about everything there was to win in modified racing and split up. Mitchell retired and Tant went into engine building full time. Hendrick went driving for New England Jewelry czar Richard Armstrong. When Armstrong wanted to run weekly, Hendrick recommended that he hire Geoff Bodine. Bodine provided team cars for both himself and Hendrick, but the aging speedster could not muster the greatness of the previous decade. By the mid 1970’s, Hendrick retired from driving and a passed away in 1990 after a bout with cancer. Without a doubt, Ray Hendrick was one of the greatest ever in a modified!
By: Phil Smith