You can now own a stock car that’s just like what NASCAR pros race
The $125,000 vehicles aren’t street-legal, but will motor you around the track like Jimmie Johnson’s whip.
For less than the price of a Porsche 911 GT3, you can buy a stock car just like the ones that hammer around NASCAR ovals—and then take it to the track yourself. That’s the promise of the Hendrick Track Attack Camaro and Chevrolet SS track day cars, which promise to put you into a driver’s seat that is very much like the one Jimmie Johnson slides into weekly.
Prestigious sports car manufacturers like Porsche and Ferrari have made a tidy side business selling their trademark sports cars with upgrades to make them more suitable for race tracks than for commuting. In fact, vehicles like the Porsche 911 GT3 and the Ferrari Pista proved to be thrillingly fast and fabulously capable when we track-tested them last year. But they are not only expensive to buy, they can be eye-wateringly costly to repair.
This was the observation of Bill Snider, director of the Track Attack program for Hendrick Motorsports, the team that has won a raft of NASCAR championships with drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. For less than those souped-up sports cars cost, wannabe racers could buy a stock car from Hendrick’s racing stable, he figured.
And when they crash it, drivers will be better protected inside the stock car’s steel safety cage and the car will be far less expensive to repair than one of those automotive gems from Stuttgart or Maranello. “It is more inexpensive to buy one of our cars, it is safer, and if it is tuned right, it is faster,” Snider says.
The Hendrick team has some design innovations in its version of Chevrolet stock cars that it’s understandably wanted to keep secret from competitors. But now that teams have had to lock in their designs for the 2020 season, and new rules for 2021 require all-new cars with more shared standardized parts, there is no reason for Hendrick to keep its car technology to itself.
The Hendrick Track Attack cars are not watered-down stock cars with generic designs and components, according to Lance McGrew, who oversees construction of the cars at Hendrick. Indeed, the first Track Attack car for a customer was originally meant to be a backup road racing car for one of the team’s race drivers.
“We were super careful about letting some of our technology get out, but now this car is how we would have brought it to the race track,” McGrew says.
Teams like Hendrick Motorsports build specific cars for NASCAR’s races on curvy road courses such as Watkins Glen rather than the banked, left-turning ovals. Track-day customers normally also drive on their local road courses, so the suspension in Track Attack cars is optimized for that duty.
Hendrick’s secrets lay mostly in the front suspension, McGrew says, in details of geometry, the camber and caster settings, lower control arm lengths, and height of the front spindles/steering knuckles. “Our cars turn really well on the road courses,” McGrew says proudly. “We’ve worked on that for years and years, so that’s proprietary information as far as we’re concerned. But now it’s not something you’ve got to keep a lid on.”
The result? Anyone with $125,000 now has access to the deepest secrets of Hendrick’s chassis technology in a Camaro or SS-bodied stock car that looks, sounds, and drives just like the ones the team races.
That means a full 1.75-inch diameter steel tube chassis with adjustable front double-wishbone suspension and rear trailing arm suspension for the solid axle. Shocks are Penske racing dampers with no external adjustments, and brakes are AP Racing one-piece aluminum units, six-piston front calipers and four-piston rears.
There’s an ATL explosion-suppressing fuel cell to hold the gasoline, same as in the race cars, and the car rolls on the same steel racing wheels from Aero Race Wheels. The driver sits in Hendrick’s own carbon fiber NASCAR-compliant racing seat and looks at an AIM Technologies MXG 1.2 Strada data display. Traditionalists who don’t want the LCD screen spoiling their NASCAR fantasy can specify NASCAR Cup-style analog instruments instead, McGrew said.
For that base car, customers will get an off-the-shelf 627-horsepower, 586 pound-foot, 454 cubic-inch General Motors small block LSX V8 with a dry sump oil system and forged rotating parts. It connects to a standard Andrews A431 four-speed manual transmission with short-throw H-pattern shifter. The engine is a production-based powerplant, but the gearbox is the very same one used in NASCAR Cup racing, complete with multiple gear ratios that can be installed.
If the idea of a street car engine powering your race replica doesn’t sit right with you, Hendrick will go ahead and sell you the whole-hog 725-hp, 490 pound-foot, 358-cubic-inch Hendrick Motorsports R07 V8.
There’s a change coming down the pike with the way drivers will shift their NASCAR vehicles, and the Hendrick vehicles will match that. In 2021, NASCAR will switch from today’s traditional four-speed H-pattern manual transmissions to six-speed sequential shift gearboxes. The new ones are like motorcycle transmissions, where you click up and down through each gear to get to the next one rather than sliding the shifter to a neutral position, from which any gear can be selected.
Sequential gearboxes allow faster shifts and they make it less likely that drivers will miss a shift and over-rev the engine, so they are popular with racers. With NASCAR moving to that technology after this season, Hendrick will build your car with a Race Tech 6XD sequential six-speed with optional automatic rev matching. Calibrating the software for that rev matching was a chore the team finished just in time for the car’s announcement, McGrew says.
Add all the options and the Track Attack car’s price tag could reach $175,000, but most of the cars are expected to sell in the $125,000 to $150,000 range, Snider predicts.
However, some customers are reportedly interested in spending even more money. NASCAR will be switching to independent rear suspension from the traditional solid rear axle design in 2021, and some prospective customers are asking for this on the Track Attack car, Snider says.
Hendrick is considering an independent rear suspension option for the car, though the solid axle design is so well engineered that “if your springs are tight enough, you might not be able to tell the difference,” he says.
Mix and match your perfect matrix of engine, transmission and rear suspension, then pick the Camaro or SS body to adorn your new toy and head out for a track day. It will cost less to buy than an exotic European sports car, and you’ll be able to drive it all-out. Plus, you can remain comfortable in the knowledge that crunching it into a tire barrier will almost certainly be a reasonable repair bill rather than a potential write-off from a fragile unibody production-car chassis.