How Trackhouse Racing and Owner Justin Marks Are Transforming NASCAR for the Better

  • Justin Marks bought Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR operation last year and brought that team to full flower this season as Trackhouse Racing.
  • Trackhouse has won two races with driver Ross Chastain and has pushed his teammate, Daniel Suarez, ever closer to his first Cup victory.
  • Marks hired an Oregon-based branding company to create the team’s name, logos and general style and worked out a deal with international musical star Pitbull to join in ownership.

    Over its 75-year history, NASCAR has had more than a few transformative figures.

    • In the 1950s, Carl Kiekhaefer introduced first-class “team” racing to the sport, equipping his mechanics with identical uniforms and his cars with similar paint schemes.

    • Beginning early in the 1960s, Richard Petty proved that one standout figure could bring droves of fans into racing.

    • Darrell Waltrip crashed into the sport in the 1970s and changed the old-line dynamics of the sport, driving and talking his way into prominence.

    • Jeff Gordon arrived in the 1990s and used racing talent and showbiz shine to take the sport into places it had never been.

    And there are others.

    Justin Marks might be the next name on that list.

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    Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks, right, talks with Kyle Busch on pit road at Darlington earlier this season.

    James GilbertGetty Images

    Among other items of note, Marks is the first NASCAR team owner to fly to Switzerland in an attempt—which ultimately proved successful—to recruit a former Formula 1 champion to drive in the Cup Series. In August, at Watkins Glen International, Kimi Raikkonen is scheduled to drive a car owned by Marks’ Trackhouse Racing team as part of Trackhouse’s new PROJECT91 program. Marks plans to offer occasional Cup rides to drivers of international standing as part of the PROJECT91 plan.

    Raikkonen’s first Cup start (he ran Xfinity and Truck races in 2011) will be an unusual moment of sorts for NASCAR, but Marks’ grand plan is to normalize such things at the highest levels of stock car racing. A former driver now at the steering wheel of one of NASCAR’s most-watched teams, Marks has big ideas and doesn’t appear afraid to put them in motion.

    He bought Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR operation and brought that team to full flower this season as Trackhouse Racing. In what must be considered one of the top breakout seasons in recent NASCAR history, Trackhouse has won two races with driver Ross Chastain and has pushed his teammate, Daniel Suarez, ever closer to his first Cup victory.

    Surprisingly to many, the Trackhouse Chevrolets have been up front consistently in the first half of the season. In Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, Suarez and Chastain combined to lead 189 of the race’s 413 laps.

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    Justin Marks made six NASCAR Cup starts, 35 starts in the Xfinity Series and another 38 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck series during his NASCAR driving career from 2007-2018.

    Daniel ShireyGetty Images

    None of this was expected at the start of the season. Chastain and Suarez had shown promise prior to 2022, but neither had a Cup victory and neither was projected to be on the playoff grid when things get serious in September.

    For Marks, 41, this is a road he expected to travel a few years ago when he took an exit ramp from a 20-year driving career and began forming plans—big plans, as it turned out—in the ownership arena. He brought in long-time racing executive Ty Norris to run the operation, assured Chastain and Suarez their roles would continue, hired an Oregon-based branding company to create the team’s name, logos and general style and worked out a deal with international musical star Pitbull to join in ownership.

    “Two years ago, if Justin walked into a room and said, ‘I’m going to start a race team and we’re going to win races in our first years,’ everybody would say, ‘OK, Justin, let me show you where the padded room is,’” Norris said. “He’s earned that credibility now. He’s more right than wrong. If he walked in now and said, ‘Hey, I’m taking five NASCAR drivers to Mars through SpaceX,’ he probably would do it.”

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    One way to bring instant attention to a NASCAR team is bring Pitbull into the picture as a team co-owner, as Justin Marks did at Trackhouse.

    Steve JenningsGetty Images

    Marks had success driving in sports car racing before crossing over into stock cars in 2007. He found the going rough, scoring no top fives in 38 Camping World Truck races and leading only one lap in six Cup races scattered across four seasons. He logged one Xfinity Series win in 2016.

    Even as his driving career failed to ignite, Marks, who had access to more financial opportunities than the typical mid-range driver, was designing his future. He saw it not only in racing but also in entertainment in general.

    “When I got to 30, my career stopped having an upward trajectory,” Marks said. “My competition started getting younger and better. I wasn’t really building a career. I thought that I really needed to have a plan. I knew I couldn’t do that forever.”

    But Marks, who had watched other developing teams hit a wall—literally and figuratively—in NASCAR, said he needed a strong reason to believe that NASCAR would be a good fit for him over the long run. He got it with the Next Gen car.

    “I sat down with Jim France (NASCAR chairman) in the fall of 2019 and grilled him on this car and walked out of his office and thought, ‘I need to do this,’ ” Marks said. “I had to hear some conviction about how serious they were about strictly officiating the car. I would never have played if they were going to open windows to change the car all the time. He told me they weren’t going to let people screw around with it.”

    That meeting, and others, convinced Marks he and his team would be competing on a level playing field.

    Also that fall, Marks and Norris met with NASCAR officials Steve O’Donnell, John Probst and Ben Kennedy to outline Trackhouse’s proposal, one that involved not only racing in the Cup Series but also taking its brand internationally and fusing motorsports with music, education and outreach to minority communities.

    “They almost stood up and applauded it,” Norris said. “They realize that something significant has to change. They had bet on themselves with the new car and the changes in the schedule and some of the moves like [banning] the Confederate flag, which caused somewhat of a ripple. Diversity became a very important initiative, and when you add all those things up you see a very progressive change. That change was born out of knowing that if we didn’t change then we would become so irrelevant that we couldn’t rally from it.”

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    Ross Chastain has helped put Trackhouse racing in victory lane twice so fan in the 2022 NASCAR Cup season.

    James GilbertGetty Images

    NASCAR’s general move toward broadening its base was underlined Wednesday—the first day of Pride Month—when it tweeted that its “recent actions have not aligned with NASCAR’s mission to be a welcoming sport for all.” NASCAR didn’t define “recent actions,” but the message was widely interpreted as a sort of apology for the appearance of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a key role at the May 22 race at Texas Motor Speedway. Abbott has been criticized by national LGBTQ organizations.

    Marks lives near Nashville and opened Trackhouse Entertainment Group’s management office there. Trackhouse’s racing operation will stay in Concord, North Carolina, he said.

    Trackhouse has an investment in the IndyCar race in Nashville and is working with members of the music community in the city, Marks said. The famous Tootsie’s bar in downtown is a Trackhouse sponsor.

    “We have to build equity in the brand,” Marks said. “We can’t go after everything at once. People have to know what Trackhouse is. That comes from winning and being in the news, from Pitbull talking about it. I took a lot of risk on the front end of this, betting on myself that we were going to get the economics of this done. Now we have the 2023 season basically 90 percent sold out (in car sponsorship). That’s working really well.

    “A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘I love what you’re doing.’ It’s not just the fact that we’re bringing a competitive effort to the track, but we’re doing something that’s different. It’s just kind of proof of concept. People have been waiting a long time for a new team to show up and be exciting and different. And win.”

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