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Hall entry wasn’t easy for Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Mark Martin

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The three living inductees in the five-member 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class can look at moments in their careers and think about how they could have had much shorter stays in NASCAR.

Mark Martin failed in his first attempt at a NASCAR Cup ride and returned to the American Speed Association in the mid-1980s planning to run short tracks all his life. He returned for a stellar NASCAR Cup Series career.

Rick Hendrick was diagnosed with a form of leukemia that in 1996 took the lives of 95 percent of its victims. He survived the treatment and has become one of the most dominant owners in the sport.

Richard Childress nearly got out of racing after his best friend and driver Dale Earnhardt died in the 2001 Daytona 500. With the help of his two grandsons racing, he now appears to have as much desire as ever.

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Those three NASCAR legends overcame those uncertain times to add to their NASCAR legacies. They will join 1973 Cup champion and broadcaster Benny Parsons and 1949 Cup championship team owner Raymond Parks as part of the 2017 class that will be enshrined Friday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Martin, Hendrick and Childress obviously have had racing in their blood, and their Hall of Fame inductions are a testament to their perseverance.

Hendrick attended races at Martinsville as a kid in the 1950s, got into boat racing for a time and then started a NASCAR team, part of his love of cars that was an extension of his car dealership business.

He had just won his second Cup title as an owner when he received his leukemia diagnosis.

"I'm fortunate to be here," Hendrick said last week, about two months after winning his 12th title as an owner. "I think about that not as often as some of the other things but I've been able to make a lot of difference [promoting bone marrow transplants]. … I have to go every 90 days to get bloodwork done. I've been in remission since 2000.

"You definitely count your blessings."

Richard Childress, right, admits he lost some of the fire for racing for a time after his driver and friend Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash in 2001. ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

Hendrick said he never considered selling the team during that health battle.

"I never thought I wasn't going to make it," Hendrick said. "I thought I'd make it and loved it so much. I had my brother and my dad, my son [working there].

"It was a family affair and it never crossed my mind."

His brother and his son lost their lives when a Hendrick plane crashed into a mountain in October 2004 as the pilots got disoriented and overshot the landing strip near Martinsville. Hendrick never thought about getting out of the business then, either, and his appearance at the team shop in the days following the tragedy helped carry the organization through its grief.

He knew his family members would want him to continue racing. The same was true for Childress after the death of Earnhardt, who had won six of his seven championships driving for Childress.

Childress often tells a story of when he nearly died while hunting with Earnhardt when Childress had to jump off his horse on the side of a mountain but was able to land in some trees.

"I told him, 'If I got killed on that mountain today, you would have had to race Phoenix,'" Childress said years ago in recalling the story. "We looked at each other and he says, 'If it ever happens to me, you better race.'"

But Earnhardt's death was hard on Childress, and he has admitted his heart wasn't into racing for a time.

"I went through a period there where I was just here," Childress said.

The rise in the careers of his grandchildren, Austin and Ty Dillon, have rejuvenated Childress, who has 105 career Cup victories as a car owner. He also has won titles in each of the three NASCAR national series.

"Only in America could a kid with a $20 race car and a dream be here. … it's just unbelievable. It's been a hell of a ride," he said.

Martin can also lay claim to the roller-coaster racer life.

After a rookie season in 1982 where he finished 14th in the standings, his family funding ran out and he had to auction his equipment. He landed a ride but was fired amid struggles, so he returned to the Midwest to compete on the short tracks. He returned to NASCAR in 1987 to what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series, won two of his first 11 races and found himself back full time in Cup in 1988 with team owner Jack Roush.

Mark Martin made the most of his second chance in NASCAR, especially after signing up to race for Jack Roush. Getty Images

Martin won 40 races before running his last race in 2013. He never won a title but finished second in the standings five times.

"When I left NASCAR to go back to Wisconsin, I was a broken man obviously physically and emotionally, economically and I had no intention of doing anything but making a living short-track racing the rest of my career at that time," Martin said.

Martin said he actually made the move back to NASCAR because he wanted his ASA crew chief Jimmy Fennig to move to NASCAR and the loyal Fennig said he would only leave Martin if Martin stopped running in the ASA. They were later reunited at Roush.

"I fell on my face and had to go home and start my career all over again," Martin said. "The perseverance … and building my way back to a second chance is probably the biggest thing [I've done]."


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