1976: when the 24 Hours of Le Mans and NASCAR crossed paths
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1976: when the 24 Hours of Le Mans and NASCAR crossed paths

In 1976, the 44th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans welcomed a car from NASCAR, today the most popular motorsports in the United States. This event marked a great chapter in Franco-American history, revisited July 4-6, 2014 at the Le Mans Classic.

 

 

In 1976, the United States celebrated the bicentennial of its Declaration of Independance. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, it proclaimed the secession of the 13 British colonies in North America. This founding document had a profound impact on the French intellectual elite, prior to an official alliance being introduced between the two countries in 1778, after which various missions lead by La Fayette during the Revolutionary War brought him prestigious distinctions on both sides of the Atlantic:  honory United States citizen in 1781 and Marshal of France in 1782.

Two cars from the NASCAR Winston Cup (now NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) came to La Sarthe in 1976 to salute this great time in history. The Dodge Charger of Hershel and Doug McGriff and the Ford Torino of Dick Brooks-Dick Hutcherson-Marcel Mignot revved their massive 7L V8 engines at the 24 Hours circuit. The two cars were forced to retire, but that wasn't the point: it was about the mutual Franco-American history during the Revolutionary War and the fascination American competitors have always had with the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Having been regulars at the Le Mans Classic for several years now, the Charger and the Torino have not lost their powers of seduction.

In 2011 and 2012, two NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers - Michael Waltrip and Brian Vickers - competed in La Sarthe in the LM GTE class with Ferrari. In 2013, Jim France, Grand Am founder (the other American endurance series whose merger with the American Le Mans Series in 2014 formed the Tudor United SportsCar Championship), came to give the start of the 90th anniversary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, while Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, went to Florida in January to kick off the 2014 24 Hours of Daytona. Other great NASCAR champions such as none other than Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson (10 titles between the two) have not hidden their interest in Le Mans. By all indications the history between NASCAR and La Sarthe may still have some great things in store...

Jean-Philippe Doret / ACO - Translation by Nikki Ehrhardt / ACO

Photo: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, LE MANS CLASSIC, JULY 4-6 2014. Today the Ford Torino (photo) and the Dodge Charger present at the 1976 24 Hours of Le Mans have become regulars at the Le Mans Classic.