CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Most people will never see Rick Hendrick's Heritage Center. In this way, it's a lot like Fort Knox: We know it exists. We know what’s in it. But few have been inside -- until now.
Recently, Mr. Hendrick granted NBC Charlotte exclusive access to his private collection and, in a word, the building is enormous.
Exotic cars are lined up next to each other -- one just as incredible as the next -- in a jaw dropping display of classic American muscle.
Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, summed it up best when he said, “If you are a car guy, to go in there and look at cars you will be blown away. I mean there is no other museum or venue like that in the world, I can guarantee it.”
Hendrick has been collecting cars all of his life. They were just spread out all over the country. The idea to bring everything under one roof didn't come about until the deaths of his son, Ricky, and his father, Joe. Both passed away within months of one another.
When Hendrick's team restored his son’s hauler, he dreamed up the idea to put all of Ricky’s cars with his father’s in one place to make a heritage center.
He did it up right. Inside, Ricky’s cars surround his trailer which houses his fire suit and helmet, along with photos and keepsakes. Not far away is the car his father worked on, while the rest of the building is filled out with cars Hendrick has collected from all over the world.
“It’s around 140 some or maybe 150 some cars,” smiled Mr. Hendrick. “I've got pace cars from when Jeff Gordon won Daytona and when Jimmie Johnson won Daytona.”
His favorites by far are Corvette’s -- 1967 stingray Corvettes to be exact. He has a 1967 Corvette once owned by Roy Orbison. The 1968 Chevy L-88 -- the most successful Corvette race car in history -- is parked right next to the stingray.
A 1967 Corvette which belonged to King Leopold of Belgium is in there as well. On the corner of Stingray Street and South Hill Street, sitting in its own little Corvette garden, is the first ZR-1.
“I have always had this love affair with those cars,” said Hendrick. “I never thought I would own one and it drove me to work hard to try and have enough money to have one.”
Let’s not forget the Camaros. Hendrick owns the first 2010 model -- vin number one -- along with a 2012. Behind those sits one of his world-record-setting drag boats and Don Prudhomme’s 2009 top fuel dragster.
One would think picking a favorite would be next to impossible but when asked, Mr. Hendrick said that without a doubt his 1931 Chevrolet he built with his father tops the list.
It's not just cars in this museum though. Along the walls are storefronts from places which shaped Rick Hendrick's life.
He has a replica of his grandfather’s general store where he worked on his first car in a makeshift garage (which was really a bathroom with the commodes removed). There is the Palmer Springs firehouse where his father volunteered. He has a replica of the bank his mother worked in and would write him 90 day notes so he could fix cars. The tractor shop where he worked is next, followed by a scaled down version of the drag strip he watched his father race on back in Virginia.
A little further down is a replica of his first big dealership, City Chevrolet. On display inside the show room is Cole Trickle's stock car from the film Days of Thunder.
Mr. Hendrick even has a re-creation of the ice cream parlor where he met his wife, and his own drive-in theatre -- complete with the speakers on sticks.
Beyond the museum, Hendrick also has a man cave which houses an equally impressive collection of signed guitars. There are guitars signed by Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, George Harrison and Jimi Hendrix. He has so many that in order to display them all, he had a special glass floor installed and stores some under it.
When he needs to talk things over he heads to his conference room where his glass table is supported by the chassis and motor of his first Corvette. In his lobby sits an eight-foot replica of the NASCAR Sprint Cup trophy. He had it on loan from NASCAR but liked it so much he bolted it to the floor and kept it.
“It's a time capsule and something I love and it takes me back,” said Hendrick. “My son isn't here anymore. My mom and dad aren’t here anymore. My brothers died in a crash, so I can walk in there and see the history of my life and my family all in front of me and it makes me feel good when I walk in.”