CHARLOTTE, N.C. There are no easy days for Rick Hendrick. He can throw himself into working with his NASCAR teams or his car dealerships, but not an hour goes by that he isn't flooded with thoughts about the plane crash that killed 10 of his relatives, employees and friends.
He thinks about how he was supposed to be on the plane Oct. 24, when it took off from his Charlotte hangar headed for a race in Martinsville, Va. Illness kept him home.
He thinks about the fog that day. If it had been clear, would his son, Ricky, have traveled by helicopter instead?
Hendrick knows he'll never have the answers to all the questions in his head.
''You think, 'Well, if there wasn't a race' or 'If it wasn't for this' or 'If it wasn't for that,''' Hendrick said Thursday during a stop at Hendrick Motorsports on the Nextel Cup media tour.
''You can go nuts trying to figure all that out. You just have to accept it as God's plan and know you'll meet again.''
The healing process is ongoing for Hendrick, head of one of NASCAR's top teams. As he prepares to start the 2005 season next month at Daytona, the wounds are still raw.
Lost that Sunday morning were his son, brother, two nieces and company employees so close to the car owner that he considered them family, too.
He gains strength from the thousands of letters of support he's received, including one from San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds. Hendrick is personally replying to each letter.
In the weeks after the accident, he struggled to watch the next three races on television. But with drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in contention for the Nextel Cup championship at the season finale, Hendrick found the strength to attend.
He spoke briefly to the media that day, but did not take questions. Preparing to discuss his loss again on Thursday, he spent the morning with driver Kyle Petty, whose son Adam was killed in an accident during practice in 2000.
''One thing I learned is, it doesn't get any easier, you just have to learn to deal with it,'' Hendrick said. ''It's a situation in life and you can't believe you have to go through it. Every day you're challenged here. It takes your faith, your friends and your family to help you.
''You just learn to live with it, and that's the best way I know how to describe it. You miss them and see things that stir memories and you think about every minute of the day. It's something you don't have a choice about so you just got to go on.''
Hendrick is doing that, focusing this season on fulfilling many of 22-year-old Ricky's goals.
He is moving his office into a new building that Ricky helped plan. The shop will house the teams of Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch, the two drivers Ricky hand-picked as he started his own career as a team owner. Hoping to scale back his day-to-day routine, Hendrick had been grooming Ricky to take over the family business.
''Ricky was going to be better at this than I am,'' Hendrick said. ''He had a gift. ... I think he studied my weaknesses and there's a bunch of them. He had a real knack for working with people, sponsors, drivers, everything.
''His only problem was he was young. Just like Adam (Petty). Those two guys had a lot of class and really neat personalities. The sport would be a lot better off to have them around.''
So retirement will have to wait at least another five years. Hendrick is still in the rebuilding process.
He's tapped his son-in-law, Marshall Carlson, to replace Jeff Turner as general manager of Hendrick Motorsports. And he promoted within to replace engine builder Randy Dorton, who was considered the best in the business. Also killed in the crash was Rick's brother, John, president of Hendrick Motorsports.
Hendrick has impressed those who know him best by finding the strength to move on and by putting a plan in place that will allow his four Nextel Cup drivers a chance to race for a championship this season.
''He's just an amazing guy. Just him being here today, I think he carries a strength that not many of us could comprehend,'' Gordon said. ''I'm really proud of him because he's brought people in who he has confidence in, that are really part of the family, more than just business-wise.
''We are very fortunate to have those people here, and we're fortunate to have Rick play a key role in getting those people here.''
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