Moving the Needle
By Bobby Markos
Is this a moment or an arrival?
One of the dominating headlines in the world of stock car racing this year has been the meteoric rise of the Trackhouse Racing Team in the NASCAR Cup Series. After making its debut last season as a single car operation featuring Cup veteran Daniel Suarez behind the wheel, the young team showed early signs of brilliance, as Suarez was in contention to win at some events and brought home several top-20 finishes. Trackhouse followed up by making one of the biggest moves in recent Cup history with the purchase of Chip Ganassi Racing and its driver Ross Chastain. With a two car fleet ready to do battle, Trackhouse showed speed immediately in the 2022 season, and before long celebrated their first win with Chastain topping the field at Circuit of the Americas. He would follow up the feat a month later with a big win at Talladega, before Suarez joined the party recording a win of his own at Sonoma. The quick rise to prominence is reminiscent of Hendricks Motorsports in 1984, when Geoff Bodine brought home three wins and a ninth place points effort in their debut year as All Star Racing. But for Trackhouse owner Justin Marks the success is the result of a long road of tireless hard work, dedication, and attention to detail.
On this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and co-host Mike Davis welcome Justin Marks into the Bojangles Studio to discuss Trackhouse’s dominance and how it came to be, as well as his humble beginnings as a dirt racing fan and his roundabout journey through the world of auto racing. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Marks was first exposed to motorsports by his grandfather, and began attending races with him at an early age at Midwest dirt strongholds like 34 Raceway, Knoxville Raceway and Southern Iowa Speedway. When his father Michael determined an upcoming digital boom in the business world was impending, he uprooted the family and moved them to California to seek out a job in the technology sector. Marks managed to indulge his taste for racing on the west coast, and soon got it in his head that he himself wanted to take a turn in the driver’s seat. Upon graduating with good grades, his parents sent him to Skip Barber Racing School where he learned the ins and outs of road course racing. Marks secured a Dotsun racer and began competing in the SCCA San Francisco Region. His dedication to the craft proved fruitful, and within 18 months of his first laps he was a professional racer, splitting his time between the Speed World Challenge and the Rolex Sports Car Series.
During this time, he found a factory ride with BMW, and became teammates with road racing aficionados Joey Hand and Boris Said. Through Said, a connection with the stock car racing world in Charlotte, North Carolina was made, and in 2006 Marks left road racing with his sights on NASCAR. There he spent time in the ARCA and NASCAR Truck Series, but was released from his ride at the end of the 2008 season. Marks reflects that he was too young to recognize the opportunity he had, and didn’t work hard enough when he had the chance. He decided to recalibrate his approach to racing, focusing on securing sponsorship deals and fulfilling the goals of his business partners. As a result, the next few years saw Marks race in a variety of different rides, from Grand-Am Rolex Sports Cars to ARCA and the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In 2016, Marks would achieve one of his life’s goals when he scored his first and only win in the Xfinity Series at Mid-Ohio while driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. While he had established a reputation as a well-rounded racer, his inner entrepreneurial interests began pulling him in the direction of a higher cause.
Marks began following in the footsteps of his business-savvy father, who was quite successful in the tech sector and became a partner at Riverwood Capital, eventually going on to be a board member at GoPro and a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors. In 2012, Marks partnered with fellow racer Michael McDowell to open the GoPro Motorplex karting facility. A few years later, he came on board at HScott Motorsports as part owner of their four-car K&N Pro Series East team. He also partnered with Ganassi teammate Kyle Larson to start a World of Outlaws Sprint Car team under the name Larson-Marks Racing. HScott would close down at the end of the 2016 season, and in 2018 he turned his ownership stake at Larson-Marks over to Larson, but Marks was just beginning. He explained that during the 2019 season, when NASCAR began to define what exactly the “Next Gen Car” was going to be, and what the goals were upon its introduction in 2022, he knew his time driving in NASCAR was over, and his dream of owning his own Cup team was suddenly clearer than ever.
The Next Gen Car was designed to increase parity amongst the Cup garage and to put a cease to the arms race between OEMs and the more prominent, well-resourced teams. Not only that, the changes to the chassis mirrored many existing traits in the autos of the IMSA Sports Cars world, an area Marks was well versed in. He knew how the cars would drive before ever seeing one in person, and he also knew how to build a successful team around them. Marks explained that all of the hurdles and challenges that kept him out of Cup team ownership were gone, and he threw his hat in the ring before having any concrete plans in place.
Over the next year, the pieces began to come together. Marks partnered with longtime Cup garage personality Ty Norris and bought out Leavine Family Racing in August of 2020. At the beginning of 2021, Marks brought rapper Pitbull in as a co-owner of the team, and the rookie team took the track with Suarez behind the wheel of the No. 99 Chevy for the 2021 season. During the summer of that year, it was announced that Trackhouse would buy out Chip Ganassi Racing and all its assets, expanding to a two car operation and retaining Ganassi driver Ross Chastain. As the calendar year turned over to 2022 and the Next Gen Car made its debut, Marks proved his instinct was correct, as Trackhouse has been a factor week after week bringing home a combined three wins and 11 top-five finishes to date.
Marks expressed the joy it brought him to be able to facilitate both Suarez and Chastain’s first wins. He explained that a goal of his and Trackhouse was to be able to provide cars capable of winning, allowing his drivers to perform to their full potential. His vision for Trackhouse is ever expanding, with intentions to have a brick and mortar presence in Nashville on the popular Broadway Street with an emphasis on bringing about a marriage of auto racing and entertainment. He also gave the low-down on Project91, which will be a third Trackhouse entry with a limited schedule designed to bring world class racers to the Cup Series to compete. Former Formula-One World Champion Kimi Raikkonen is set to debut the car at the upcoming NASCAR event at Watkins Glen. Through every endeavor, Marks sets out to reinvent the wheel and create a lasting legacy in motorsports, hoping to leave the sport better than how he found it. As both Trackhouse cars are playoffs bound and its fan base grows rapidly by the week, it's safe to say that Marks’ revolution of the modern race team has arrived in style, and is destined to rewrite the motorsports history books.