Boston tragedy strikes close to home for Hendrick Motorsports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the nation watched the manhunt for the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect unfold Friday, members of the Hendrick Motorsports team found themselves in mourning at Kansas Speedway.

Sean Collier, the MIT police officer who was shot and killed Thursday night in an on-campus confrontation with the bombing suspects, is the older brother of Hendrick machinist Andrew Collier.

“It really does bring it very close to home for everyone at Hendrick Motorsports and the Hendrick family,” said Jeff Andrews, who is director of engine operations for Hendrick Motorsports. “We are a big family, and when someone so close to us goes through so much pain and so much tragedy, it touches us all. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with Andrew and his family and everyone involved in Monday’s tragedy.”

Two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday.

Andrew, 25, who joined Hendrick Motorsports in September 2008, is not at Kansas Speedway for this weekend’s races, but he contacted several members of the Hendrick team as news of the bombing suspects’ rampage through the Boston suburbs broke.

“A few of us have talked to Andrew,” Andrews said. “He reached out to a few of us late last night or early this morning to inform us of the terrible news.”

Andrews described the team’s mood as numb, “but we have a great group of people at Hendrick Motorsports and in the engine program at Hendrick that care about each other tremendously,” he said. “There will be a lot of reaching out and trying to help Andrew and his family as they go through this very difficult time.”

This week’s tragic events in Boston were at the forefront of everyone’s mind during practice and qualifying Friday, especially for the Hendrick drivers.

Hendrick owns the Sprint Cup cars of five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champion Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, all of whom will be competing in Sunday’s STP 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Reactions varied from anger to bewilderment.

“We will race with heavy hearts,” Johnson said. “At a sporting event, at a type of an event where most people are competing for the awareness of a charity or for some cause, to have these innocent people that are there in the spirit of giving back have this tragedy take place is just ridiculous.”

It also puts the job of driving a race car and its importance into perspective.

“We’re trying to race, but last night I was up until 2-something in the morning, seeing how things were going and watching Twitter,” Kahne said. “You could follow what was going on and it was really crazy. It’s sad that it’s come to this, and I just pray that it’s over with soon.”

There will be several efforts to remember and honor the victims of Monday’s bombing.

Carl Edwards’ team, Roush Fenway Racing, will donate $100 for every lap led by Edwards, Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., to the One Boston Fund, which was established this week for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Roush Fenway, which has close ties to the Boston Red Sox, also will sport “B-Strong” decals that pay tribute to Boston’s 617 area code.

“I know I can speak for all of Roush Fenway Racing in saying that our thoughts are with everyone there that’s not only suffered, but all the confusion that’s going on,” Edwards said.

Michael Waltrip Racing repainted its doors to have the numbers on the Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 car, Mark Martin’s No. 55 and Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 56 mimic the runner’s bibs worn by Boston Marathon participants.

“I thought that was a great way to say we were thinking about them and we’re along with them,” Bowyer said. “Everyone has been following this and it affects everybody.”

It’s a personal gesture for Waltrip, who ran the Boston Marathon in 2000.

“When I ran the Boston Marathon in 2000, I remember thinking about what a privilege it was to be able to participate and all the hard work it took to be there,” Waltrip said. “When you can see those international flags flying in Copley Square, you know you are about to complete your journey. I know the joy those runners were feeling at that moment when their worlds changed.”

Stewart-Haas Racing, represented on the track by Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Ryan Newman, will put a special decal on each car for Sunday’s race

There also will be a moment of silence before Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series SFP 250 and before the Sprint Cup race on Sunday, which seems like a secondary concern for many at the moment.

“The events Monday remind us that this is a sporting event,” Andrews said. “When you see a tragedy like that, it reminds how precious life is. But when it touches you that close, to where it affects one of your employees that you’re very close to and have a personal relationship, it makes it even tougher. To know the pain he’s going through and know the pain his family’s going through, your thoughts definitely wander from racing.”