Corey LaJoie anxiously awaited the start of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
The third-generation racer had two missions last Friday night. The first was to introduce inductee Waddell Wilson to the audience in the Grand Ballroom.
The second: track down Rick Hendrick within the sea of attendees.
Tucked securely in LaJoie’s suit coat pocket was a handwritten letter for Hendrick, crafted from the heart. Over the page and a half, the 28-year-old racer expressed his deep desire to be considered as a candidate to drive the No. 48 Chevrolet when Jimmie Johnson retires from full-time competition at the end of the 2020 season.
Johnson promised to endorse LaJoie if he's close enough to Hendrick to initiate a conversation.
“He said I would have to make myself stand out,” LaJoie said of Johnson. “I’ll do what I can on the race track, but like little gestures—like a handwritten letter possibly why I should be considered—who knows where it could go?
“I feel like I’m at the point right now with maturity and experience behind the wheel, where five years ago I couldn't jump in and be the driver Rick Hendrick needed me to be. Now, I feel with my maturity level, my personal life, I’m a more complete person out of the car as well as all the skills I’ve learned in the car.”
Last year was LaJoie’s first full season in the NASCAR Cup Series. Prior to competing in the No. 32 GoFas Racing Ford in 2019, he ran a limited Cup schedule in 2017 and 2018. Since 2009, LaJoie’s only other full season in NASCAR competition was in the K&N Pro Series East. In 2012, the Concord, N.C., native won five races and scored 10 top 10s in 14 starts en route to finishing second in the standings. LaJoie has also dabbled in NASCAR’s Xfinity, Gander RV & Outdoors Trucks, ARCA Menard’s and Whelen Modified Series.
“I’m just looking for a chance from Rick or somebody else. Archie (St. Hilaire, Lajoie’s team owner at GoFas Racing) has given me a chance the last two years, and I’m excited to see what I can do with these new cars coming in to showcase the team he has built but also show my potential in the car as well.”
Should LaJoie be given an audition for the No. 48 Chevrolet, he wouldn’t be the first from his family to race for Hendrick Motorsports. His father, two-time Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, piloted the No. 50 Hendrick Chevrolet for nine races in 1998—when Corey was six-years-old.
“I’d like to think I’d be on the list,” LaJoie said. “I’m probably on the bottom of the list, but I’d like to think I’m on the list. There’s no doubt, I think a lot of people would attest, what I can do when cars are apples to apples. It’s something I’ve been able to do my whole life. But in my NASCAR career, I haven't been apples to apples.”
While Johnson is focused on this year, he’s certain Hendrick and Gordon will want his input when selecting a successor. Johnson believes that with the challenges associated with the Gen 7 car, choosing the ideal candidate will be paramount. Plenty of drivers will be clamoring for one of the most coveted opportunities in NASCAR.
And the seven-time champion admits the applicant pool is deep.
“I’ve definitely heard the interest from guys,” Johnson said. “It’s super early, so I don’t know where it’s going to go. There’s so much talent out there in that field, especially someone like Corey LaJoie and a lot of these people—and I know because I put myself in a similar position to Corey where I didn’t have all the credentials coming in and Rick and Jeff saw something and gave me that chance.
“Who knows who will be in the seat? But I know they’ll look far and wide to find the right person.”
LaJoie offered to cut the lawn at Hendrick Motorsports just for an opportunity. He is currently two years older now than Johnson was when the seven-time champion embarked on his two-decade run with Hendrick—and has significantly more stock car experience at this juncture of his career.
“I wouldn’t compare myself to Jimmie Johnson, because there’s only going to be one,” LaJoie said. “But I would consider myself a diamond in the rough. Sometimes pressure makes the best rocks. I’ve been in a lot of pressure just to maintain and stay in the garage. I feel if I can get in the right system with the right people to knock some of the dirt off and shine this rock up, I think someone will have something.
“I’m one phone call away from being what I always dreamed of as a kid—or one phone call away from getting fired. Right now I’m right in between that. It might also end up being a dream come true.”
LaJoie took his shot last Friday night and delivered the letter to Hendrick. He wasn’t even certain the NASCAR Hall of Famer knew his name. At least LaJoie is now on Hendrick's radar--and that's a start.