Rick Hendrick's teams have had much success recently in the highly competitive world of NASCAR racing. Now he appears to have conquered an even tougher opponent: cancer.
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 percent 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.
"We are waiting for more test results," he said, "but it is unlikely it will change."
Hendrick was traveling for the holidays and unavailable for comment Thursday. But Hendrick Motorsports spokesman Dan Lowhasser said his boss had been increasing his workload in recent weeks at the team's sprawling complex in a Charlotte suburb.
"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, 50, leads a racing operation that includes three Winston Cup teams responsible for producing 60 race victories in the past six seasons as well as four of the past five series driving championships.
Including two NASCAR Truck Series titles, the Hendrick Motorsports stable has claimed six major NASCAR championships in five years.
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.
Limentani said 30-40 percent 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 Oct. 11, when the rain-delayed UAW-GM Quality 500 was run at Lowe's Motor Speedway at Charlotte.
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick's top driver, won the race, and when he went to Victory Lane, he found his car owner waitng for him. The emotional celebration was the first time Hendrick was on hand to commemorate a victory with one of his drivers since September 1996.
Lowhasser and Limentani said Hendrick has regained the weight, strength and endurance he lost during his fight.
With the disease in full remission, Limentani said, 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," 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."
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