Stocker Shocker: NASCAR, Hendrick to enter Le Mans

Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton

NASCAR has Le Mans in its crosshairs.

When NASCAR debuted its Next Gen stocker last year, race car cognoscenti were quick point out the similarities between the new ride and the road racers in Australian Supercars, TransAm, and IMSA. The independent rear end, sequential box, rack-and-pinion steering, and symmetrical design were clearly implemented with lefts and rights in mind.

Some predicted that, over time, more road courses would join the Cup Series schedule. Some predicted a crossover race between IMSA and NASCAR, as both are owned by the France family. We’re not sure even the most radical prediction went this far: NASCAR—and Hendrick Motorsports—will ship a modified stock car overseas to compete in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, pending approval.

(left to right) NASCAR president Steve Phelps, NASCAR and IMSA Chairman Jim France, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, Chevrolet Performance and Motorsports vice president Jim Campbell, Goodyear general manager Stu Grant, Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) president Pierre Fillon, and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) president John Doonan Getty Images/Sam Greenwood

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France announced Thursday that NASCAR, IMSA, Hendrick, Chevrolet, and Goodyear have embarked on a project to campaign a modified Camaro ZL1 stocker in the 2023 French endurance race. While driver lineup has to be announced, we do know that Hendrick’s Vice President of Competition Chad Knaus will lead the mission. Once their entry is approved by Le Mans’ organizing body l’Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), the Hendrick Camaro will campaign under the Garage 56 slot.

For those unfamiliar with this entry blank, Garage 56 is reserved for experimental race cars participating in the 24-hour war. Fog lights, disc brakes, and diesel were all tested in race conditions for the first time at Le Mans. To further support innovation at the track—and to accommodate controversial rocket-shaped DeltaWing racer—the l’Automobile Club de l’Ouest synthesized the additional position in 2012. Last year, the SRT41 race team utilized the slot, fielding an Oreca prototype which featured adaptive controls for its two drivers who were paralyzed from the waist down.

Garage 56 is not part of official competition and therefore doesn’t have to adhere to technical specifications. “Even though Garage 56 is a ‘class of one,’ we are competitors and have every intention of putting a bold product on the racetrack for the fans at Le Mans,” team owner Rick Hendrick told NASCAR. “It’s a humbling opportunity—one that will present an exciting challenge over the next 15 months—but our team is ready.”

NASCAR’s winningest team owner is no stranger to sports car racing. In the late 1980s, Hendrick fielded a factory-backed Corvette GTP in IMS.

Getty Images/Meg Oliphant

While this would be the first trip to Le Mans for Hendrick Motorsports, this wouldn’t be the first time a NASCAR stock car blazed down the Mulsanne. In 1976, Le Mans organizers and NASCAR founder Bill France created the Grand International class, which allowed for V-8-powered stockers to compete in the famed 24-hour race. Eventually the class fizzled out, but not before providing some pretty dramatic photo ops between the giant American coupes and the typical European road race ringers.

And so, almost a half century later, a stock car may return to the Circuit de la Sarthe for the centennial running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. We wait with bated breath, ready to witness Southeast flair in northwest France.

Getty Images/Dylan Buell
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