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"Gentleman" Jim Hendrickson, Sr.
Born: December 24, 1924        Died: February 2, 1997
Home: Deer Park, NY

Gentleman Jim

Jimmy Hendrickson kindly passed by any competitors who got in his way.       By Ken Spooner

Several people have told me that when Ray Evernham was learning to drive a Modified at Wall Stadium in New Jersey, he was given this piece of sage advice: “Just follow the x3. Even if he goes through the fence, follow him.”

Fence not withstanding, it was good advice for anyone who aspired to learn the smoothest way around the racetrack. Gil Hearne, a longtime Wall dominator, perhaps said it best: “The rest of us were just drivers. Jim was something else again—he was in a class by himself.”

Jimmy Hendrickson didn’t start competing at Wall until near the end of his driving days. But he always left a strong impression on competitors, promoters, officials, announcers, sports writers, and fans. Richie Evans used to say, “The car I’m going to be looking for near the end of the long distance races is the x3 because I know it will be there.”

Jimmy’s reputation for being smooth and not abusing the equipment led to several nicknames during his 30-some-odd years as a driver. “Mr. Clean” might have started because of the white moccasins and driver’s uniform he wore, but it also applied to his style of driving. “Mr. Modified” worked well because he was at the head of the class. But most knew him as “Gentleman Jim,” and it certainly applied.

Look Ma, One Hand

I met Hendrickson when I was 12 years old, on May 3, 1959, on my first trip to Islip (New York) Speedway. I had been a diehard stock car fan for two years, but I never saw anything like I saw that afternoon.

Hendrickson drove a white ’37 Ford coupe with a big red “Flying A” gasoline station logo where the number normally goes. The windows were greatly enlarged and you could see right into the car from the stands. The amazing thing was what you saw.

Hendrickson drove with one hand, the other casually resting on the rollbar crossbrace; he maintained this relaxed attitude as he cut through seemingly invisible traffic. The fields were inverted back then and I saw him pass and lap almost everyone else, not once or twice, but three times that day. They had a holdover main from a rainout.

The people in the stands went nuts as Hendrickson seemed to pass four or five cars every lap. During the two mains he lapped most of the field. I found out later he cleaned house the night before at The Polo Grounds in New York City.

I suppose the biggest event for me that day was when my father asked, “Do you want to go meet him?” The line in the pits to see Hendrickson resembled one for Santa Claus at a department store. When I got my turn to say hello and shake hands, I was almost speechless. It was my first encounter with a real live hero. We would not speak to each other again for 35 years.

A $15 Race Car

I called Hendrickson in Freeport, Long Island, on July 4, 1994, and introduced myself. We talked about a book I was planning to write on Saturday-night heroes. Two weeks later, I flew up from Nashville and found myself in his living room. The excitement was just as intense, but this time I didn’t freeze up. We spent hours together on several occasions after that, and made many long-distance phone calls. Jimmy introduced me to a lot of his family, friends, and competitors, and I feel I really got to know the man.

As smooth as he was in 1959, I found out it didn’t start that way 10 years earlier when he first showed up at Freeport Stadium with a $15 ’37 Ford sedan, fresh from the junkyard. “I had trouble keeping the left-front wheel down and rolled it one night six times,” Hendrickson said. A move several years later to what was then called Islip Stadium proved more fruitful. Hendrickson won his first main there in 1952 and collected $23.50.

Islip became Hendrickson’s home for nearly a quarter of a century. He won the track championship five times. When he left to go to Wall in the late ’70s, only five wins separated him from Al DeAngelo, the all-time Islip feature winner who would also become one of his closest friends.

In the early ’60s, Islip promoter Larry Mendelsohn came up with a 500-lap Modified race with a $1,200 purse. It drew competitors from all over the East Coast. Hendrickson won the event. Bobby Allison, NASCAR’s Modified champ that year, came in second.

Hendrickson had the NASCAR Modified crown sewn up in 1958 but was stripped of his points by a NASCAR official. “Islip was rained out, so we towed to Connecticut around 100 miles away. The rule was: In a rainout, you could run at an unsanctioned track if it was at least 50 miles away,” Hendrickson said. “I never protested it, but what hurt was I had more points in mid-season than Bud Olsen had by the end of the year when NASCAR gave him the title.”

Daytona Bound

Hendrickson ventured to Daytona three times. The first was at the opening of the superspeedway. “Freddy Formato built a big Flying A ’39 Ford coupe for it. It had full fenders and we punched out holes to let the air escape,” Hendrickson said. “Qualified in the top 10, but the engine let go after a few laps. The following year we returned with a ’57 Ford and ran pretty well.”

That year was earmarked by the biggest pileup in NASCAR history—some 35 cars plowed into each other on the first lap. Hendrickson got through the pileup, and the ensuing rainstorm, as some 60 laps were run under caution. He finished 11th. “The car still had wipers and I used them, though they smeared the cement NASCAR used for speedy dry.”

The third try was in 1961 and this time it was for all the marbles, the actual 500 itself. “We bought a ’60 Chevy off Jim Reed. Qualified pretty good between Ned Jarrett and Richard Petty. We were just a couple of backyard guys from Long Island … we didn’t know much. I was in the 125 qualifier and Junior Johnson either spun in someone’s oil or his own.

“This caused Petty to get airborne. I expected Richard to come back down, didn’t think he was going to go out of the park. So I hit the brakes and got airborne myself. When I hit Junior, he was off the track. Had I stayed on the gas I would have went right by him. We were credited with a 10th-place finish and we could have put a new nose on the car in time for the 500, but Freddy was too concerned.”

Modified Magic

Freddy Formato got out of racing and along came Tony Ferrante. People most remember the partnership of Ferrante as a car owner, Bobby Punzi as a mechanic, and Jimmy as the driver of a long line of blue and white X3 Modifieds. “We were together 18 good years and never had an argument,” Hendrickson said.

Their winning ways became so predictable at Islip, writers ran headlines like, “Hendrickson Wins Again … So What’s New?”

Through the ’60s they traveled to tracks at Old Bridge, Trenton, Reading, and Langhorne, but called Islip home.

After Larry Mendelsohn died, several promoters took over Islip. Hendrickson and the x3 team pulled up stakes and migrated to Wall, where Hendrickson became a track champion also.

Although he started his career there and was a longtime Freeport resident, Hendrickson didn’t return to his backyard track until 30 years later, when, at the age of 53, he entered a 200-lap Modified event. He was up against some stiff competition from younger racers like Charlie Jarzombek, Maynard Troyer, Geoff Bodine, Jerry Cook, and Richie Evans. The X3 Vega was first across the line.

Goodbye Jimmy

Hendrickson and I became good buddies and stayed in touch with each other from 1994 on. In early 1997 he sent me some 8mm home movies from Islip, Trenton, Daytona, Old Bridge, and other places, and I had them transferred to videotape. When I got them back, I called him at home. He was getting his motorhome ready to leave for his annual winter trip to Florida.

Usually brief on the phone, this time Hendrickson spoke for almost an hour as he relived the moments on the tape.

The next morning the phone rang early. It was Marty Himes saying, “I have very bad news.” My instant reply was, “Jimmy’s gone isn’t he?” That week I found myself back on the island again spending a lot of time with his family and friends.

If there ever was a model for how to conduct yourself in life it was Gentleman Jim Hendrickson. The words of longtime friend and sportswriter Gary London seem to sum it up the best, “Jim…You did OK.”

Article from StockCarRacing.com










Jim Hendrickson raced the numbers 56, X3, 141 and the Flying A











Memories of Wall Stadium, "The Wall", NJ

Mark Walling   01/12/04   High Point, NC

  • Jim Hoffman finishing second to Jim Hendrickson at an All-Star race in the 70's.

Thom    10/01/06

  • Jim Hendrickson "cruising" around the high banks with one hand on the wheel.

Josephine    09/22/06

  • "My dad really enjoyed finishing his racing career at Wall.  He always though the fans treated him great for an out of state driver.    My greatest memories was that my dad won two turkeys in a row and almost a third won but a lap car held us up."
    (Josephine is the daughter in law of "Gentleman Jim" Hendrickson Sr.,
    driver of the #X3.)

Islip Speedway Champions
compiled by Mark Southcott
special thanks to Walter Johnston, Nicholas Teto

1965 Cliff Tyler Jim Hendrickson
1966 Fred Harbach Al Hansen
1967 Jim Hendrickson Al Hansen
1968 Jim Hendrickson George Wagner
1969 Jim Hendrickson  
1970 Jim Hendrickson/Gary Winters (tie)  
1971 Jim Hendrickson  
1972 Charlie Jarzombek  
1973 Jim Hendrickson  

Note: Page under construction. Please send stories or pictures for inclusion.

Jim Hendrickson Grand National DRIVER Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1961 63 2 of 52 0 0 0 0 208 0 275 117 25.0 20.0
1 year 2 0 0 0 0 208 0 275   25.0 20.0
Race Site Cars St Fin # Sponsor / Owner Car Laps Money Status Led
3 Daytona 34 16 17 56 Charles French Chevrolet 37/39 75 crash  
9 Atlanta 46 34 23 56 Charles French Chevrolet 171/334 200 fuel pump 0

Nascar Nextel Cup Series Tickets

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