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Is Rick Hendrick the George Steinbrenner of NASCAR?

By admin | July 14, 2010

By Richard Allen

For better or worse, George Steinbrenner was one of the most important figures in professional sports history. The iconic owner of the New York Yankees baseball team died on July 13th at the age of 80. He had owned the team since 1973.

During his reign as a Major League Baseball owner Steinbrenner rewrote the book on setting up a successful model for sports ownership. Before he came along, owners typically allowed their teams to build from within by drafting players and raising them up through their minor league system until they were ready for the big leagues.

After Steinbrenner, the method for building a championship team changed. In his hurried quest for pennants and World Series trophies, ‘The Boss’ simply plunged into the free agent market and bought up star players to roam the infields and outfields of Yankee Stadium.

The method obviously paid dividends. In his time as owner the Yankees won eleven pennants and seven World Series titles.

As a race fan I wondered after hearing of Steinbrenner’s death if auto racing has an owner like that. In IndyCar racing the name of Roger Penske would quickly come to mind because of his domination in that arena. But in NASCAR the name that has to be the first on everyone’s list when considering such a question has to be that of Rick Hendrick.

Hendrick and Steinbrenner came from very different backgrounds on their way to fame in sports ownership. Hendrick developed a highly successful business in automobile sales while Steinbrenner thrived in ship building. However, their business models once in the sports world have been very much the same.

Like Steinbrenner, Hendrick has surrounded himself with top line talent. And like Steinbrenner, Hendrick has acquired much of that talent by outbidding the competition. In particular, the recent signings of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kasey Kahne have demonstrated that this owner knows how to pluck big name, highly marketable drivers away from other teams.

Hendrick has realized that driving talent alone does not fulfill the requirements for success in today’s world of auto racing. Drivers have to be marketable as well so that sponsors can be signed and merchandise can be sold.

Steinbrenner operated in exactly the same way. A players ability on the diamond was only part of the equation as he saw it. His players had to be able to withstand the heat under the brightest of spotlights in New York City. And, they had to have the appeal that would make fans want to come out to the games or watch on television. That’s why Steinbrenner coveted such players as Reggie Jackson and Alex Rodriguez.

And for the sake of comparison, Hendrick has won nine championships since 1995 against the aforementioned titles of Steinbrenner. While their business models may be much the same, there is one key difference between the two men. Steinbrenner always found ways to publicly interject himself into his team’s business. His hiring and firing of managers and use of stinging comments to provoke his players were legendary. Hendrick, on the other hand, often operates in the shadows, not seeking the spotlight quite so much.

However, make no mistake, he is very much in charge of his racing team just as Steinbrenner was in charge of his baseball team. So yes, in many ways Rick Hendrick is the George Steinbrenner of NASCAR.

Follow @RacingWithRich on twitter.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.

Topics: Articles |

One Response to “Is Rick Hendrick the George Steinbrenner of NASCAR?”

  1. Marybeth Says:
    July 15th, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    I think it would be best if I just left this one alone…for now.