By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By: Rachel Plant
HARKER HEIGHTS, Texas — Any longtime racer will tell you, it's always difficult to stay on top after a championship season. A season full of wins, top five and top-10 finishes doesn't happen often.
For 58-year-old Hardy Henderson, the 2020 IMCA Modified division champion at Cotton Bowl Speedway, getting back to Victory Lane is what he's after. After a slow start, the month of June has been kind.
Henderson finished fourth at Cotton Bowl on June 12, then hit the podium with a third at Heart O' Texas Speedway on June 18. After eight starts, that return to Victory Lane is just around the corner.
“About an hour ago, I was on the phone with my car builder, getting his advice on how to get some more speed out of this thing,” Henderson said referring to his beautiful Modified machine. “We haven't had the chance to communicate much this year. He's been on quite a roll with his car, earning 11 wins.
“He says he's hit on something, and he just finished sharing that information with me. The best finish I've had this year was a second, along with some third and fourth-place finishes. I'm looking to get back to Victory Lane in the near future. My car builder thinks he can get me there with what he's learned.”
Henderson has been actively involved in racing for decades, with multiple championships to his credit.
“I got my start in racing way back in 1980,” he said in humble fashion. “I didn't race full-time for the entire time, but you could say I've been at it for 40-plus years now. In 1999 and 2000 I ran my first full seasons, going after the points real hard. We were fortunate enough to win the title both years.
“We got back after it again in 2010, and then in 2017, 2018 and 2019 we went after the titles again and got it done. I know a lot of guys don't chase points these days, but I do it to keep me focused. We just work regular jobs, so it's hard to go traveling all around. Chasing points gives me a goal to chase.”
When Henderson straps into his beautiful No. 1 IMCA Modified machine, whether at Cotton Bowl or at Heart O' Texas, the level of competition he faces is about as high as it gets.
“It's getting really hard just to pull off a podium finish these days,” he said. “For guys like me who were used to winning 15 or 16 races a year, it's a new era. These days, I'm lucky if I can get three or four wins in a season. It's super hard to win out there now. The guys coming in are very, very tough.”
Every serious points chaser needs a strong horse under him, and Henderson has a fine piece to drive.
“This car was built by William Gould, of Gould Race Cars in Calera, Oklahoma,” he explained. “He's a longtime racer up in these parts. It's a pretty old chassis, it's got about 300 nights on it. William won a ton of races in it; I'll guess it's up around 150 or so. This was his personal car; he won with it last year.
“It's still a very competitive chassis, and it's still in very good shape. So we're expecting to get us some wins in it once we get it dialed in with this new setup from William. The car has plenty of character, just like me. I'm confident we'll get it going good here in the coming weeks.”
Along with his decades of experience, ample personality and positive attitude, Henderson also has a few key people and valued marketing partners who make his program successful at the tracks.
“I'm blessed to have some great people and companies behind me,” he explained. “I need to thank Mid-Tex Towing & Recovery, of Killeen, Texas; Saddlewood Roofing of South Texas, 29 Enterprises and Gould Race Cars, of Calera, Oklahoma. I truly appreciate all the support they provide.
“I also want to thank my wife, Linda; my son, Jake, at JHR Racing; and my brother, Charles. I appreciate all they do to support my racing program.”
As the heat of summer rolls on and racers stay pegged at full throttle, Henderson knows what he wants to accomplish before all is said and done this fall.
“Now that we've gotten past the rainy spell, we're getting to the kind of tracks that suit my style,” he added. “I really prefer the dry-slick surface; it puts things in the driver's hands, as opposed to just mash the gas and ride that wet cushion.
“With a dry-slick track, it's all about car control. The guys who have it will come to the front; the guys who don't will fall to the rear. A good setup is key, and I really think William is going to get me going. I'm after another championship at Cotton Bowl, so that's the goal. First, though, I want to win again.”