There’s a saying in some forms of sports that goes “expect the unexpected”.
Sometimes in motorsports, that cannot always apply. Thursday’s announcement in Daytona? That may come close.
It was announced that for the first time since 1976, NASCAR will field a race car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Joining the venture will be Hendrick Motorsports, Goodyear and Chevrolet. With this, the Gen 7 race car will make the trip to Le Mans, albeit in a modified version.
“From the early days of NASCAR, it was important to my father that we played a visible role in international motorsports, and there is no bigger stage than the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” said Jim France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO as part of today’s press conference. “In partnering with Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, we have the winningest team, manufacturer and tire in NASCAR history. We look forward to showcasing the technology in the Next Gen car and putting forward a competitive entry in the historic race.”
The Garage 56 entry is considered a “class of one” vehicle. This means that the entry is scored and recorded in the official results but is not eligible to compete for the podium or the overall victory. That berth is considered a “class of one” outside of the traditional classifications and an extra entry outside of the 55-car cap. In other words, don’t expect to see a Chase Elliott or Kyle Larson celebrating on the podiums in France next June.
Who knew when Geoff Bodine took the Checkered Flag on a spring day in 1984 for the first win for the All-Star Racing team that it would start off a spark that would see Hendrick Motorsports on track with some of the worlds’ greatest racing teams on one of the hallowed grounds of motorsports.
“Participating in one of the truly iconic events in auto racing and representing NASCAR and Chevrolet on the world stage is a privilege,” said Rick Hendrick, as part of the press conference. “Jim deserves tremendous credit for having the vision for the project, and we thank him for trusting our organization with the responsibility. 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. It’s a humbling opportunity – one that will present an exciting challenge over the next 15 months – but our team is ready.”
However, it’s no formality that the project will be approved, as it will be looked over with a fine toothed comb that not even NASCAR’s tech can prepare them for. “Garage 56 is a special opportunity at Le Mans since this race has been a leader in technological process for the auto industry over its nearly century long existence,” said Pierre Fillon, president of l’Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), the organizer of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. “When the ACO receives an application for a Garage 56 program, we begin by talking with designers, team partners, and suppliers in order to set performance parameters such that the program can be successful for everyone involved. We will continue to work with NASCAR and all their partners as they work toward their proposed 2023 Garage 56 project.”
This will not be NASCAR’s first involvement with the race. In 1976, legendary owners Herschel McGriff and Junie Donlavey fielded two cars. McGriff drove the Dodge Charger, while Donlavey had Dick Brooks and Dick Hutcherson behind the wheel. It was part of a brokered deal between Bill France and the event organizers. From a fan’s perspective, how much of this that will be deemed a success could also show NASCAR’s future intent to showcase their other Gen 7 vehicles in the future.
The unexpected is now close to reality.
Featured image from @HendrickMotorsports on Twitter