Copy of RacingVirginia.com race article:
HALLMAN: THE RETURN OF THE FLYING ELEVEN
August 20, 2017 /
"The Flying Eleven."
It's a phrase I heard soon after I had settled into the motorsports beat at The Richmond News Leader back in 1972.
That was the number – and the way it was displayed – on cars driven by Richmond's Ray Hendrick. If I wasn't already familiar with the Flying 11, I was told, I soon would be.
And so it was. Again and again I saw Hendrick in victory lane – in that red car with its sides festooned by a number 11 in a circle trailed by fiery wings.
Ray had already earned the sobriquet "Mr. Modified" for his decades of winning races – hundreds of them – in that NASCAR division.
Most of the times I saw him race he was driving a Late Model Sportsman. After a while on the beat, I reckoned a good case could be made to call him "Mr. Late Model Sportsman" as well. He was as good a stock car racer as anybody I would ever see.
A likeable guy, Ray was modest for such an accomplished driver. If you had a question he gave you a straight answer. And his sense of humor came through.
NASCAR Cup driver Denny Hamlin, who grew up in Chesterfield County and began his racing career on some of the same tracks where Ray Hendrick once ruled, chose the Flying 11 as his Throwback paint scheme for Darlington Raceway's Bojangles' Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend.
Darlington has made its Throwback theme an annual happening. This year, it's the 1980s. Nearly the whole field will sport paint schemes that evoke those years.
As it happens, Hamlin developed his initial awe of the Flying 11 when those cars were driven by Ray's son, Roy Hendrick. More about the younger Hendrick later. Let's look at Ray's phenomenal record.
Ray won an estimated 700-plus races in his career. Perhaps the hardest-to-beat combination in all those years was Hendrick at the wheel of a Flying 11 built by Clayton Mitchell and powered by an engine from Jack Tant's shop.
Ray Hendrick is in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. He was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers in the organization's first 50 years.
He won at all kinds of tracks – from the ultra-fast 2.66-mile high-banked Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama to the flat quarter-mile dirt (and later 1/3-mile paved) Dogtrack Speedway in Moyock, N.C.
Ray won an all-time record 20 races at the Martinsville Speedway half mile between 1963 and 1975. Next on that track's list: Richard Petty with 15 wins.
For decades, wherever and whenever he raced, Ray had to be counted among the favorites. There was hardly a major Modified or Late Model Sportsman race he hadn't won at one time or another. "He won at Trenton and Langhorne and tracks all up and down the East Coast," his son recalled.
Ray Hendrick died of complications from cancer in 1990. He was 61. By then, Roy Hendrick had already done his father proud.
Roy, who owns and operates a pair of muffler and automotive shops in the Richmond area, steered that winged number to seven track championships and more than 150 wins.
In 1983 he made a three-track Late Model Stock Car championship sweep at Southside Speedway, South Boston Speedway and Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, N.C.
It was Roy who first wowed Denny Hamlin in the Flying 11 when Hamlin went to watch races on Friday nights at Southside Speedway in the 1980s.
"Back then, it was Roy Hendrick, Ray's son, who was dominating races at Southside Speedway," Hamlin said in a NASCAR.com video. Hamlin learned later that Roy's father was the famous Mr. Modified.
He did research on Ray Hendrick, and when it came time to decide on a Throwback paint scheme, Hamlin "got to thinking that, hey, I'm a short-track guy myself. So, why not throw it back to someone that I idolized, his son, Roy Hendrick, and bring back the Flying 11."
Hamlin's effort got an assist from rival Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car owner, Rick Hendrick (no relation). Ray was one of his boyhood racing idols. Rick's father had been a pit crew member for Ray, and Rick had actually worked on Ray's cars for Tant and Mitchell.
Rick Hendrick is building a replica of the Flying 11 Modified coupe to bring to Darlington.
Roy Hendrick – who plans to be at Darlington for the race with several family members – said Hamlin did far more than just tell his paint-shop crew to take care of things. Rather, Hamlin took a personal interest in the look of his throwback car, Roy said, "making sure it's exactly right,"
In images released by Hamlin's team, sponsor Sports Clips gets its name on the hood and quarterpanels. The sides are dominated by the Flying 11 – the font of the number against the bright red, the mixed red-yellow-orange of the wings and the five swooping wingtips.
"I mean, it looks just like the car I grew up watching in the '80s and '90s," Hamlin said. "I think it was great that Sports Clips has allowed me to help out with the design process.
"Getting every detail is what's important," he told NASCAR.com, "all the way to making sure your fire suit looks the same to what the throwback scheme was. That was important."
Ray Hendrick ran at Darlington in the 1956 Southern 500. Engine failure left him with a finish of 52nd in a 70-car field. That was the first of a handful of Cup Series Hendrick entered.
Hamlin likes Darlington. He has started 11 races there and has a win and three second-place finishes. Only twice has he finished out of the top ten.
He wants to see the Flying 11 in victory lane. "That's really where it needs to be," he said.
If he wins, Hamlin's celebration might include the newest member of his family. On Aug. 15, Hamlin and his longtime girlfriend, Jordan Fish, welcomed into the world their second child, Molly Gold Hamlin. Molly Gold has an older sister, four-year-old Taylor.
Randy Hallman brings his more than 45 years of sports writing experience to RacingVirginia.com. Hallman retired from the Richmond Times-Dispatch in February, 2016, but continues to write a weekly NASCAR column for the paper. He began his journalism career in 1972 at the Richmond News Leader, then joined the Richmond Times-Dispatch when the two papers merged in 1992. He has also authored or contributed to several books on NASCAR. Randy's weekly Racing Virginia column appears on Sundays.