NASCAR Cup Series
Hendrick Engine Builder Showdown Creates Competition, Camaraderie
Nov 8, 2023
Thursday's Randy Dorton Hendrick Engine Builder Showdown had a championship-fight feel as two Hendrick Motorsports heavyweights Danny Emerick and Scott Vester squared off in the championship build.
At the end of six qualifying round builds, 12 engine build teams were whittled down to just two. And in the finale, of course, were the two winningest engine builders in the history of the competition.
While Vester bested Emerick last year by 13 seconds to score his sixth championship in the event, at the end of a knock-out drag-out final build on Thursday, it was Emerick, and Bill Sullivan of Hendrick Toyota of Wilmington that were declared the winners by an incredibly tight victory margin on 0.91 sec.
For Emerick, who won five straight Hendrick Engine Builder Showdowns from 2015 to 2018, it was a return to his winning ways after numerous close calls over the last four years. Emerick says winning is what it's all about.
"It never gets old," Emerick told Racing America. "I think it's what keeps me going in racing because winning never gets old. Especially in that fashion -- within a second. The other thing that really makes it so special are the guys you're up against are really up on their game."
As far as the victory margin being under a second, Emerick says it's even more special winning in that close of a battle.
"I have never seen it that close. I'm glad to be in it that close. It makes it all that more exciting," Emerick said.
While it ultimately ended with another win for Emerick, it really appeared as though Vester and Hendrick Toyota of Merriam's Phil Seaton would collect the win for the majority of the final build, as Emerick made an error shortly after the engines were flipped.
"We put the cylinder head on before the lifters were installed," Sullivan recalled after the build on the Racing America broadcast. "There isn't room to do that with the head installed. We had to regroup pretty quick, remove the head, and start over."
It was a costly error, sure, but would it be insurmountable?
After the error, Emerick and Sullivan kicked it into another gear, and incredibly, they began to really close the gap to their competitors.
With Rick Hendrick breathing down their necks at the back of the build bay, Emerick and Sullivan somehow, someway, flipped the starter switch on their motor just before Vester was able to do the same with his.
"I just knew from the moment we started, it was going to be close no matter what," Emerick explained. "But I felt like that setback, pretty much was going to take us out of it, unless there was a miracle that happened. I guess you could say I was mirror driving. I was watching those guys, and I knew I had to fire no matter what. My kid is sitting here, I was going to make a show out of it. I was like, 'We might have a shot at this,' sure enough, it all worked out."
It worked out indeed.
The engine is required to run for 60 seconds for the build to be considered complete, and at the end of the build, inspectors ensure that the build is clean.
While the room was in total disbelief, Emerick's motor came back clean, despite being in a fevered pace to make up time throughout the second half of the build.
Emerick and Sullivan picked up the impressive Randy Dorton Engine Builder Showdown trophies, and they will now have their names etched onto the plaque that hangs on the wall of the Hendrick Motorsports race shop.
"We have this really cool plaque up in the shop, and it has every winner's name, and their partner and what year it is. [It's a] really nice plaque, it's a centerpiece," Emerick said. "Honestly, to be up on our walls, such a renowned place, rich history here. That'll be up there for a long time. To have my name on there again, it means a lot to me. It really does."
In addition to the trophies and recognition on the HMS plaque, Emerick and Sullivan also took home toolboxes and carts from NAPA Auto Parts, and they were filled to the brim with tools. To the victors go the spoils.
With win number six in the books, Emerick will now set his sights on a number that has a rich history in the sport of NASCAR -- seven.
"Oh yeah. I think that number seven is so big, as you know, in NASCAR. Petty, Earnhardt, Johnson. I got to work for Johnson for many years. Just to have that number seven, just to be part of that, I want to be the first one there. I'm selfish, especially to do it with a partner from these automotive groups," Emerick stated.
Will we see another match between Emerick and Vester in the 2024 Engine Builder Showdown? Only time will tell, but as it stands right now, I wouldn't bet against it.
Photo Credit: Will Bellamy, Racing America