CONCORD, N.C. - The Hendrick Motorsports-built Garage 56 entry is not the organization's first entrance into the world of sports car racing.
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While the team is best known for its series-best 14 NASCAR Cup Series championships and 291 wins in NASCAR's top series, Hendrick Motorsports was also involved in sports car racing for a brief time in the 1980s. Shortly after the organization began, Hendrick Motorsports partnered with Chevrolet’s Motorsports Technology Group to produce the Corvette Grand Tour Prototype (GTP) race car.
From 1985 to 1988, the Hendrick Motorsports Corvette GTP competed in the IMSA GT Series, IMSA's top class. During that time, the car won events at Road Atlanta and the West Palm Beach street course (both in 1986). In addition, the car took home 12 pole positions along the way. Doc Bundy and Sarel van der Merwe were the winning drivers at Road Atlanta and West Palm Beach and they were regulars in the No. 52. Other drivers to compete in a second GTP car included John Andretti, Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal and others.
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Inside the archives room, sit relics collected from those years. One of those comes in the form of the fastest qualifier award from the 1986 season finale at Daytona International Speedway. In that event, van der Merwe led the No. 52 entry to the top starting spot.
Another fun piece of nostalgia within the archives is a die-cast replica of the Corvette GTP race car. Models of this specific car are extremely difficult to find. Alongside the die-cast car sit several hero cards that would have been passed out at the track to fans during the 1987 season. This practice still continues today as each Hendrick Motorsports hauler has stacks of hero cards for their driver available to the public in the garage area.
The organization is planning to return to the sports car ranks in 2023 for a special event. In collaboration with NASCAR, Chevrolet, IMSA and Goodyear, Hendrick Motorsports intends to compete as a Garage 56 entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. Garage 56 was introduced as a single-entry class for innovative vehicles. The plan is to showcase the Next Gen car's sports-car chops and adaptability at the Circuit de le Sarthe.
As the organization awaits its official invitation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, preparations are in full swing with a Hendrick Motorsports-built test car logging laps at Virginia International Raceway and Carolina Motorsports Park in recent weeks. Mike Rockenfeller and seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson have participated in the test sessions. Hendrick Motorsports' vice president of competition Chad Knaus is overseeing the project.
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The archives serve as a reminder of the past history that the storied organization carries in the discipline. Although the Hendrick Motorsports Museum doesn't not have this particular car on display, it does feature several models of Corvettes for fans to see. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET and offers a special look at the history of the 14-time Cup Series championship-winning organization.