The art and science of shipping Hendrick Motorsports’ Garage 56 cars to Le Mans
If no detail is too small in racing, Hendrick Motorsports is testing that theory as the final days of preparing its Garage 56 entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans close in.
But these details extend beyond car preparation. Hendrick Motorsports will ship two cars to France, a primary and a backup. Building and sending off race cars to competition, however, is an area Hendrick Motorsports is familiar with. In the case of Garage 56, it’s packing and shipping thousands of other parts, pieces, and various items that is a new world. One of its NASCAR Cup Series haulers has a quarter to maybe half of that much equipment.
Racing closer to green flag 🟢🟢🟢 pic.twitter.com/iF83x05n9k
— NASCARG56 (@nascarg56) May 8, 2023
“We have to bring everything,” program manager Ben Wright said.
And “everything” is no exaggeration. Hendrick Motorsports walked RACER through what was the No. 5 and 9 Cup Series race team shop as it prepared for shipping day. It’s where the Garage 56 program has been housed. Bigger items for Garage 56, such as toolboxes, ladders, a refrigerator, and most of the car parts, were sent via sea freight. It took about a month for those items to arrive in France, which they now have.
Thursday is air freight shipping day. Both cars and the remaining equipment are set to leave the shop — pieces like bodywork, suspension parts, brakes, diffusers and the underwing.
“There are multiples of multiples, and things down to specialty bolts and screws,” said Scott Honan, race mechanic and logistics coordinator. “Things that you can’t even grasp how many special fasteners or things there are. It keeps adding up.”
There is no going back to the race shop if something is missing or another tool is needed. And the team isn’t going to take the chance of what they need being in France somewhere or having partners who can lend them something. Unlike going to Darlington Raceway or North Wilkesboro for a Cup Series race and the team knowing what they need, it’s completely new with the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Some of those at Hendrick Motorsports have been sports car racing before, but nothing to the extent of preparing for Le Mans.
“We don’t have a clue (what we need),” said Honan. “You keep looking and packing and thinking, ‘Maybe I need more of this or these.’ It seems like overkill, but maybe it’s not because I keep reminding myself we don’t know what we’re in for.”
“We’re trying to be self-sufficient,” said Wright. That includes bringing tables and chairs, the necessary apparel, crew suits, hats and extra crew shoes. There are even bags upon bags of shoelaces and air fresheners. Those aren’t for competition but as giveaways to fans during a parade event.
There are lists for everything. Honan said it’s not uncommon to pack things, unpack them, move them around and pack them all again.
Speaking of lists, because the team is dealing with international travel, there has to be a catalog of what’s shipped. And those lists can’t change once they’ve been submitted. If more items are thought of, they’ll get packed into suitcases and bags for team members to take individually.
Hendrick Motorsports went as far as building its own wooden crates for what’s being packed. Honan opened one to show how a center or rear clip was put in it in as close to one piece as possible. Most of the shipped parts and pieces are kept as intact as possible to limit the time spent in France having to put it all together.
It’s the same for the two cars, which an auto carrier will pick up. Those will stay largely intact and won’t be put in a crate. The front splitter will be wrapped in some way to protect it while pieces that protrude from the car, like the side mirrors, dive plains (on the front fenders), and rear canards (on the rear quarter panels), are taken off as not to be damaged in transportation.
Before the sea freight left, Honan and others played Tetris on the shop floor. They mapped out the size of the sea freight container and worked to see how everything would fit before putting it all in the real thing. There was also a 3D rendering done before packing it so Hendrick Motorsports knows everything in their container and how it fits.
It was helpful to do that after taking a 16-hour reconnaissance trip to Sebring recently, where they watched some of the WEC teams unload their containers and saw what did or didn’t work.
“It’s been about three months, and I haven’t touched a race car at all,” said Honan. “Sea freight and air freight is all I’ve done for three months.”
While the last of the equipment is shipped off Thursday, the team doesn’t leave for France until the 27th. The race is June 10-11.
“It’s exciting, for sure,” Wright said of being involved in the Garage 56 program. “Doing this for a one-off, to be racing at Le Mans, for me, it’s a bucket list thing. New cars are always fun. They’re fun and a mountain of work. And it’s a challenge, but I think we all like to be challenged.”
Hendrick Motorsports is going to Le Mans intending to finish the race. As far as it can find through research, a car built purposely for a Garage 56 entry has never finished the race. Some never even made the start having experienced problems beforehand.
Of course, everything that gets shipped to France has to come back. Nothing can be left behind when the race is over. Meaning the whole packing and shipping process will repeat itself before being unloaded and categorized back at the Hendrick Motorsports shop.