NASCAR stars support ailing owner Hendrick His fight against leukemia spurs bone marrow effort

Daytona notebook

February 14, 1997|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For the first time in 13 years, Winston Cup car owner Rick Hendrick isn't in the garage area for Daytona 500 activities. The owner of Terry Labonte's championship team is home in Charlotte, N.C., fighting leukemia.

Yesterday, an assembly of NASCAR elite held a news conference to say the sport is backing a drive to increase awareness of the disease and encourage people to become part of the national bone-marrow donor program.

Hendrick was diagnosed with CML, chronic myelogenous leukemia, a form of bone-marrow cancer, on Nov. 18 and revealed it publicly last month. He is fighting the disease with the latest chemotherapy, but will need a bone marrow transplant, said Dr. Jerry Punch.

The illness was diagnosed just before Hendrick was indicted in December on federal charges of fraud in connection with dealings with American Honda. Hendrick owns 69 dealerships, making him the largest auto retailer in the country.

More bad news came Hendrick's way Jan. 13, when Honda announced it was including him in a lawsuit with 21 other dealers, saying they are responsible for the corporate scandal that has rocked the company.

No one was interested in Hendrick's business troubles yesterday. It was his health that dominated the conversation of NASCAR president Bill France Jr., car owners Joe Gibbs, Felix Sabates and Roger Penske, crew chief Ray Evernham and a bevy of top drivers.

"The people who are up here are able to generate millions of dollars," said Evernham, Hendrick's crew chief on Jeff Gordon's car. "But that's not what's important. What's important is that there are people out there who can save a life -- and you don't have to go through a lot to do it."

Evernham knows. His son was diagnosed with leukemia in 1991. Though Ray Jr.'s illness is in remission, Evernham is one of 2.3 million registered bone marrow donors.

The number to call for donor information is (800) MARROW-2.

A good deed

Driver Joe Nemechek didn't make the 500 field on his own yesterday, but car owner Sabates worked out a deal with driver Phil Barkdoll to paint his car in BellSouth colors and have Nemechek start in Barkdoll's car.

"Phil has been a friend for a long time and he's always said, 'If you're ever in a jam, anything I have is yours,' " Sabates said. "Well, Joe didn't qualify for the Daytona 500 and I was in a jam."

Said Barkdoll, who qualified 38th: "I hit a home run and now Joe's going to run all the bases."

Thirty and counting

Driver Dave Marcis will start 24th Sunday. It will be the 30th time he has run in the Daytona 500.

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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