The Garage 56 entry into this year’s 24 hours of Le Mans is on display at the Daytona 500 this weekend. Garage 56 is usually reserved for ‘specials’ like the Delta Wing, or a unique technologically innovative car that wouldn’t normally compete in the endurance race. In 2023, that spot is going to be a NASCAR stock car. Seems that the NextGen car really is different!
Prepared by legendary race team Hendrick Motorsports, racers who’ll muscle the American car will include NASCAR Champion Jimmy, Johnson, Formula 1 Champion Jenson Button, and an actual 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, Mike Rockenfeller.
This isn’t the first time NASCAR has brought a hulking American race car to France. In 1976, Big Bill France Sr, head honcho of NASCAR, was invited to bring cars to the 24 Hours of Le Mans as part of an exchange program that would see European racers compete in the 24 Hours of Daytona, which Big Bill also ran. The No. 4 Olympia Beer Dodge Charger and the No. 90 Truxmore Ford Torino were selected to compete at Le Mans, with expsnses and transportation paid for by Le Mans organizers.
The Torino and Charger were called Les Deux Monstres by the media, and French fans loved the cars. These full-size, front-engine, V8-powered stock cars were completely different to the Porsche 911s that normally raced at Le Mans. They could reach 200 MPH on the Mulsanne Straight, flying by slower sports cars from Europe. But slowing down the behemoths for the 90 degree right hander was outside of the stock cars wheelhouse.
It all went very badly in 1976. Qualifying near the back of the pack, the No. 4 Charger only lasted two laps. NASCAR engines normally run 100+ octane fuel, but even specially-built low-compression engines could cope with the fuel supplied by race organizers…which turned out to be just over 80 octane, not 90 octane as promised. The No. 90 Torino did better, lasting 11 hours. Driving the stock car at Circuit de la Sarthe required 22 hear changes per lap, where the NASCA 4-speed manual gear box normally didn’t make 22 changes in an entire 500 mile race. It proved the weak point, and ended the Ford’s run.