Jimmy Hensley was a fan of the Indianapolis 500, so when NASCAR’s finest came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, it was special.
“One of my biggest thrills was making that first race,” Hensley said. “Eighty-some cars going for 43 spots. It’s the most nervous I’ve been trying to qualify. That was trying.
“It was awesome. When I was young, watching those Indy cars go around, it was awesome. I’ve always been NASCAR since I’m from this part of the country (Virginia). This year’s Indy 500 was the best race I ever watched … 68 lead changes … you never knew who’d be leading when they came back to the line.”
Hensley, 67, raced in the Brickyard 400 in 1994 and 1995 before retiring to his Ridgway, Va., home after running NASCAR’s truck series in 2001.
Like Dale Earnhardt and others, Hensley was cognizant of the history of the Speedway when he arrived in 1994.
“The first time I went out, it felt something different,” he said. “The history of it … you just got caught up in it. As a kid in the ‘50s, I always watched the ‘500.’ You have four corners up there instead of two. It takes some getting used to. It was kind of awkward. We couldn’t run wide open like the Indy cars, but you try to be fast and smooth at the same time.”
Although he enjoyed watching Indy cars, he didn’t think he’d like to try one out.
“I’m 6-3,” he said. “I don’t think I’d fit.”
Hensley misses the sport.
“I miss racing – parts of it,” he said. “I’m old school in just thinking ‘drive it hard.’ But I miss seeing the people more than anything. I go to (the races) at Martinsville because it’s close to where I live. You do it for 30-some years, it’s like your own family. Sometimes you spend more time with that family than your own family.”
But Hensley isn’t all the way out of racing.
“I mow the grass and have a 9-year-old grandson (Colby Quick) in go-karts, so I don’t do a lot of work,” he said. “He’s doing great. He started when he was four and has already won 101 features. I’ve always been scared starting that early that you can get burned out, but that’s what he wants to do right now.
“They run dirt tracks all the time. His daddy (Cory Quick) sets ‘em up. He’s a tire changer for Bobby Labonte. They go to Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, all over.”
And that’s where Jimmy Hensley keeps his hand in … just a little.