Almost half a century on and remarkably one of those drivers present in 1976, Hershel McGriff, was back at La Sarthe to cheer on the Hendrick entered Chevrolet Camaro.
The 95 year-old said that he was “honoured” to be back at the track and that he felt the Hendrick run Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 next Gen NASCAR, which runs on Goodyear Tyres, was a “great project to see here.”
John Doonan, the President of IMSA was instrumental in bringing the car to Le Mans with Hendrick Motorsport and gave some insight in to why the project got the green light last year.
“If you talk about why NASCAR is here you need to rewind the clock back to 1976 and a vision that Bill France Snr had to put NASCAR further onto the global stage,” said Doonan.
“Fast forward to 2023, and Jim France wanted to recreate that and there’s no better way and time to recreate it than with the next gen NASCAR.
“The next gen club car represents the latest and most technologically advanced NASCAR ever, and it is very close to the GT cars that race here,” said Doonan.
“So, it was the perfect opportunity to put NASCAR, once again, on an international stage.
Throughout the process it was extremely important for the whole project that much of the NASCAR DNA was kept as possible for the Garage 56 entry “from the way it sounds, the way that it looks, and the way that it performs,” added Doonan.
“Thanks to the amazing group at Hendrick Motorsports, we’ve certainly achieved that.”
The driver line-up for the No.24 entry, which features new carbon brakes, lights and aero upgrades, is packed with talent and achievements in F1, NASCAR and at Le Mans itself.
Jenson Button, Jimmy Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller have proved the speed of the car already in free practice, and although they will not be racing for points or trophies, they will be squeezing every drop of performance from one of the loudest roaring engines heard at Le Mans in recent years.
“The first actual time I saw the car was back in Sebring in December. I’d already spoken to Jimmy (Johnson) about his possibility of racing at Le Mans in a cup car, I thought he was crazy initially,” said Button.
“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast.
“When you see it go by and hear it, it just puts a massive smile on your face.
“After my long career in F1, I wanted to do stuff that was fun. I’m in a very lucky position where I can just go and do fun racing. It’s not so much a job anymore. And this just ticked all the boxes.”
Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion and twice a winner of the Daytona 500, reckons that the Garage 56 initiative has so far been “so special and for many reasons.”
“I’ve always had a great interest in sports car racing and early in my NASCAR career was able to race in some Daytona Rolex 24 a handful of times,” added Johnson.
“I was always hopeful that I could someday come to Le Mans and compete. But all the years of NASCAR and a few years in INDYCAR where I was busy on this weekend I haven’t been able to make it.
“So literally the first year I’m available and able to make it, I get to come with my NASCAR family, my Hendrick family, Chevrolet.”