The Gift

HARRISBURG, N.C.- - Rick Hendrick has a lot to celebrate during the Christmas season. He was recently named Car Owner of the Decade by Winston Cup Scene after his race teams won four consecutive championships from 1995-1998 in the series. Hendrick Motorsports celebrated its fifth consecutive season with a NASCAR touring division title after Jack Sprague won the 1999 Craftsman Truck Series title. In addition, his son, Ricky, began racing on the Busch circuit in 1999 and appears to have a bright future ahead of him. After a recent visit to the doctor, Hendrick received the news he had been hoping to hear for several years. His cancer was in remission.

Results of tests conducted this month have prompted Hendrick's doctors to say he no longer needs chemotherapy and the disease can be declared to be in full remission. "I'm very gratified by his response," Dr. Steven Limentani, a Charlotte oncologist and hematologist who has been leading Hendrick's treatment, told The Associated Press. Hendrick was diagnosed in November 1996 with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a rare form of the disease that, according to many medical experts, claims up to 95% of its victims.

But doctors prescribed a course of two injections of cancer-fighting drugs a day for nearly 1,100 days. The injections were halted earlier this month and doctors conducted a series of tests. With almost all of the reports back, Limentani said he was confident in pronouncing the disease to be in full remission.

Hendrick Motorsports spokesman Dan Lowhasser said his boss had been increasing his workload in recent weeks at the team's complex near Charlotte. "He's playing much more of a role," Lowhasser said. "He's got that old spring back in his step. We're all excited to have him back."

Hendrick has missed many of the celebrations associated with his race teams in the past three years, weakened and sickened by the effects of chemotherapy. Dr. Limentani said 30-40% of the people who undergo the type of chemotherapy that was prescribed for Hendrick are unable to complete it because of how the chemicals affect their bodies. "Attitude is very important, and he has had a very positive attitude in spite of horribly toxic therapy," Limentani said. "Many people would have stopped their therapy had they had to go through what he did." But Hendrick stayed with it, saying he wanted to get well enough to return to racing. His perseverance paid off in 1999 when he was able to make limited appearances at the track. He visited victory lane with Terry Labonte at The Winston and Jeff Gordon after an October victory at Charlotte.

With the disease in full remission, Dr. Limentani said that the plan is for Hendrick to get routine blood and bone-marrow tests. "We are always vigilant in people who have had a diagnosis of leukemia," Dr. Limentani said. "And people who do what I do like to avoid using words like, 'Cure.' But he has done very well and is doing well."

Jeff Gordon Online

Copyright 1999 Jeff Gordon Online/Excite News.
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