Meet John Heinricy, AKA “Heinrocket”


johnWe’d like to introduce you to our partner, John Heinricy, better known as “Heinrocket!” Mr. Heinricy has had a long and distinguished career at General Motors, serving as Assistant Chief Engineer for the Corvette and as Director of the GM Performance Division. John retired from GM in October 2008 and is a noted racecar driver who was recently inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame. John’s relationship with Matick began in 2012, and since then he has represented Matick at various events, including several races where he drove Corvettes and his Matick Chevrolet Sonic. We had a chance to talk with John and get to know a little more about him and his racing experiences.

1. How did you get into racing?

I have been interested in driving fast and at the limit since my early years on our family farm in South Dakota. Once I got to Chevrolet Engineering I pursued work in Vehicle Dynamics and High Performance vehicles. Through this path I was able to become friends with some pretty important names in Corvette racing like Dick Guldstrand and Tommy Morrison. Dick gave me sound advice on how to get started in racing and the need to prove myself from a driving standpoint. I quickly progressed in SCCA Club racing and Tommy Morrison gave me the opportunity to drive with his team of winning Corvettes starting in 1984. It helped immensely that we also had a very famous name in racing engineering, Paul Van Valkenburg working on Tommy’s team. Paul worked with Penske Racing and Mark Donahue in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It also helped that Dave McLellan, Chief Engineer for Corvette, who I worked for at the time was very supportive of my racing activities because he felt that it would help to develop the racing credentials of Corvette as well as be a catalyst for improving the performance of the vehicle.

2. How did you get the nickname, “Heinrocket?”

In 1989 I was racing with Mecum Racing in the IMSA Firehawk series in a Chevrolet Camaro and the SCCA Escort Series with Don Knowles as a co-driver. The Mecum team also had a second car that was driven by Leighton Reese and Mitch Wright (who is currently the General Manager of the new Motorsports track and facility at the National Corvette Museum). There were conflicts in both series and several times I needed to get into the Mecum car with little or no practice and was able to get up to speed very quickly. Leighton Reese is a very funny guy and he used the nickname Heinrocket to describe me and my driving performance in these circumstances. The name stuck and I have since registered it and use it as the name of my engineering and racing business, Heinrocket Inc. 

3. What was your first car?

I had a number of old junker-type cars in high school and college - about 10 of them that just got me through for transportation. The car that I consider my first real car was a 1970 SS396 Chevelle that I bought new from a dealer in Rapid City, South Dakota. I kept this car for several years after I started working for Chevrolet until I was assigned my first company car. I drag raced the Chevelle at a few local tracks.

4. What was your favorite race you’ve competed in?

In the early ‘90s I was racing Corvettes with Tommy Morrison in the World Challenge series. We were racing a Corvette ZR1 in the Mosport 24 hr. race. One of our main competitors was Bakerracing in another ZR1 Corvette. Don Knowles was driving the Bakerracing ZR1. It rained hard throughout the night and the Mosport track had no auxiliary lighting so the conditions were very poor with limited visibility and very little grip on the track. Don and I found ourselves racing against each other in a very close battle for 1st and 2nd places for about two hours in the middle of the night. The experience was very taxing but also very rewarding. 

5. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a child I was very interested in mechanical things, in particular those powered by internal combustion engines. On our farm we did almost all the maintenance and repair work on our farm machinery. I thought that I wanted to be a mechanic but my mother encouraged me to go to college and become an engineer, while assuring me that engineers work on cars!

6. What is the fastest speed you’ve ever reached?

I have driven over 200 mph a number of times, once in a Corvette on the autobahn in Germany and in a modified Corvette on test tracks. I think the fastest is about 220 mph in the Hennessey Venom GT Supercar.

7. How long have you partnered with Matick?

My relationship with Matick Chevrolet started in 2012 while discussing racing Corvettes at the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle. Those discussions continued and my work on the Chevrolet Sonic racing parts package for Chevrolet Racing led me to racing the Sonic in 2014 with Matick Chevy sponsorship. It has been a very successful racing season with 6 wins, 1 second and 1 fifth place finish. I recently purchased a C7 Corvette from Matick and am looking forward to representing Matick in a number of different Corvette activities.

John and Corvette

8. Why do you like working with them?

I have had quite a few interactions with Matick personnel at all levels of the organization parts, service, sales and body shop, including maintaining the transportation needs of my family as well as my racing business. I have always looked forward to these interactions as highlights of my day because the service experience is second to none. The whole facility is a first class Chevrolet dealership that I am proud to be associated with.

9. How many Corvette models have you driven?

My career at GM, racing, and my relationship with Corvette owners worldwide has given me many opportunities to drive virtually every production model of Corvette in its history as well as many prototypes, race cars, and styling Corvettes like the Stingray.

10. Which would you say is your favorite and why?

It is always hard to pick a favorite, but I have come to the realization that it is always the “next” Corvette that is my favorite since each new one is always better than the last one because of improved technology.

11. What do you like best about driving a Corvette?

For me, driving a Corvette is always about the driving experience. The performance is exhilarating and the Corvette gives the driver this feeling of oneness with the machine that is hard to explain. The Corvette is also very easy to have as a daily driver because it is comfortable and roomy enough for travel. One of the best parts is that owning one makes you a part of a very large yet close community of Corvette owners who appreciate owning and driving the Corvette as much as I do.

12. Who are your nemeses out there and why?

I really don’t have what I would call a nemesis, but I guess that the main competitor in each race could be called a nemesis. But, it is only for the moment. Each year at the National Championships there are competitors who should have a good chance of winning, so for the moment, they are the nemeses.

13. Can you tell us about your crew?

My crew changes a lot depending on what team I am driving for, or if it is my own team. Most of the time I am driving for someone else and they provide a crew to maintain the racecar for the race weekend. For my own team with the Matick Chevy Sonic, the workload is fairly light and I am able to do most of the duties myself. For this year’s Championship races I will be driving in two classes and the other team I will drive for will also provide support for the Sonic.

14. What do you do for fun on the road traveling to races? Does your family go along?

My wife has attended most of my races until the last several years because now grandkids are taking up a lot of her time. In the past, though, we often tried to take in the local sites as much as possible, but the responsibilities at the racetrack are pretty encompassing so staying focused on the racing is usually the rule of the day! For me racing is the fun!

15. What equipment have you had worked on at the Matick body shop?

Recently I raced the Matick Chevy Sonic in the Pirelli World Challenge race at the Mid Ohio racetrack in Lexington, Ohio. During the race I had contact with competitors that required body and paint repair. The Matick body shop did a great job of getting the Sonic back into shape for me so that I can focus on preparing the Sonic for the next races.

16. What are some of your best racing memories and worst experiences?

The best memories are usually the wins! But there are specific experiences that are also very memorable. For instance, the opportunity to drive the Callaway GT3 Corvette racecar competitively in Germany and Belgium at some of the most famous tracks in the world. Also, driving the factory C5R Corvette prepared and raced by Pratt and Miller at the Daytona 24 and Sebring 12 hr. races were definitely high points for me. Setting World Speed records in the Corvette ZR1 was also very memorable.
The worst memories were crashes. I’ve raced several hundred races so crashes are inevitable. The saying is that there are only two kinds of drivers, those who have crashed and those who are going to crash. Twice the crash has resulted in trips to the hospital in an ambulance, once in Sonoma, California and the other in Miami, Florida. Fortunately, neither one resulted in serious injuries.

17. Why drive a Sonic vs. some other car/model?

Racing sanctioning organizations like SCCA and Grand Am started classes for the Sonic class of cars due to requests from various manufacturers. I was contracted by Chevrolet Performance to develop a racing package for the Chevrolet Sonic that Chevrolet could sell to Sonic owners who wanted to race the car. While developing the racing parts, took a liking to the class of racing and decided to give it a try. It has been very rewarding in that there’s quite a big difference in driving style compared to high horsepower cars like the Corvette that I am used to. So it has required learning new skills.

18. What do you think about while driving?

Most of the time I am analyzing the performance of the racecar and am trying to adjust my driving to get the most out of the car. This could be for handling/cornering, braking or acceleration. I would be adjusting the location of the apex of the corner or when and how hard I may be able to start accelerating depending on how the race car is performing or when and how hard I might be able to brake. The grip of the tires change a lot during the race so I continually need to adjust my driving to the changing conditions. If I am attempting to pass someone, then I am analyzing the competitor’s actions and am strategizing on when and how I am going to attempt the pass. I may be attempting to keep from getting passed also. Suffice it to say that there is never a dull moment.

John’s racing activities this year have qualified him to enter the SCCA National Runoffs in Monterey, California October 6th through the 12th. He will be competing for the National Championship in his Matick Chevy Sonic and also in a 2002 Pontiac Firebird. John currently holds 12 National Championships in Corvette, Camaros, Firebirds and the Chevrolet Cobalt. And we would love to see him add the Matick Chevy Sonic to the list. John is also planning on participating in the High Performance Driving Experience events at the National Corvette Museum September 26, 27, 28, and 29 with the C7 Corvette.

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  1. Pingback: GM’s Fastlane Features Story of Corvette Hall of Famer John Heinricy

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