AVONDALE, AZ — In just its second full season in the NASCAR Cup Series and its first year with multiple cars, Trackhouse Racing has put both of it’s teams in victory lane and earned spots in the Playoffs for the first time in the young organization’s history. When it was all said and done, they also put both cars in the top 10 in points too.
Ross Chastain finished third in the season finale at the Phoenix Raceway on Sunday which meant he was second in points. Daniel Suarez was 10th in the final standings in a career year for him too. It was a season to which they made their mark and one that left them revolutionizing the sports’ ownership model.
“I think the way they came on the scene and what they’re being able to do as a new team, I know from our standpoint, we would love to learn from all of our competitors, and certainly I think everybody is looking at what they’ve been able to do,” Joe Gibbs said of Trackhouse and Justin Marks.
“Hey, anytime somebody can come to a pro sport as hard as this is and compete the way they have and wind up going all the way to the final 4, I say, man, anybody that can do that, I say congrats, fantastic job.
“I think all of us will probably be looking at that in some way, saying what can we learn. For me, you’re in a pro sport, you’re trying to be the best, but you also know that you need to be coachable and continually trying to improve, and one way of doing that is studying what the people that are being real successful are doing.
“I always kind of look at that, and I always said I have no pride. In football if somebody else I saw a play that was really good, I’d take it. I’d steal it. I’d copy it.
“But anyway, I think it is a learning thing for all of us. I say congrats to them, and certainly they had a fantastic year. You’ve got to give them all the credit in the world.
Rick Hendrick agreed.
“Well, you know, I look at Trackhouse and any other competitor that comes into the sport,” said Hendrick. “I think the 23 crowd has shown a lot of muscle. They’re going to be competitors and fierce competitors next year.
“I think you’ve got to race everybody now. I’m going to pull for a Chevrolet team if it’s not us for sure, because we’re stronger together.
“But Justin has done a great job. He’s got two great drivers. You can’t take anything away from that.
“But I look at them like Brad is going to be tough next year, having Reddick over in that Toyota is going to be tough. Hey, you’ve got to race everybody, so it’s going to be a bunch of good cars out there, and we just have to go race and win our share.
“But they have done a super job, and I commend them on that. We can’t really look at other people. We just have to get better ourselves. We have to do a better job of figuring out the car and crew chiefs and drivers working together and the whole organization working together.
“We’ve won 11 races this year, and you always want to win more, but I’m thankful to win 11.
“I see other competitors coming, and you can’t rest on your laurels. We’re going to have to be better.
“I think we are better. I think we are getting better every race. Some races don’t show it, but in some areas I think we’ve improved, and then in other areas we need to improve a lot more.
“I look at everybody as competition.”
Penske built his empire by smart business moves and a trucking fleet. Hendrick built his off of highly successful car dealerships. Gibbs off of a successful NFL coaching career. Marks, well he did his by hardwork and effort. He doesn’t have the business background as his counterparts. His background is racing and a dream. That turned into a fervent worth ethic and now here he is.
“I’ve never seen a team come into the sport as well prepared as Trackhouse,” said Walt Czarnecki of Penske. “Right from the beginning, just the way they presented themselves, as individuals, the way the team presented itself, the way Justin presented himself. I really don’t know Justin. I may have said hello to him once or twice, and that’s one thing I need to do is get to know him a little bit better.
“But when I listen to him, he’s all about business. I think he’s not unlike us in that respect. He knows it’s a sport. He loves it. But he’s also a businessperson, and he understands all the constituent parts, all the entities that have to come together to compete and compete successfully.
“Having said that, I’ve never seen a team that well prepared coming into the sport as Trackhouse was this year.”
With a new car on the horizon for the 2022 season, Marks decided 2021 was a great time to start a new team. He’s always wanted to own a Cup team and had finally gathered enough resources to do so. Two of his main parts of the new Trackhouse Racing team then was Mexican driver Daniel Suarez and Cuban co-owner Pitbull. That was by design. His goal was to raise NASCAR awareness in the Hispanic community.
So, how did this whole thing come together? How did a dream make it from Marks’ brain to getting implemented to showing up to Daytona for the season opener in NASCAR’s premiere series last season?
“This is just a vision kind of coming together,” Marks said the day of the announcement. “I mean, this has been in the works for probably really two years now. So for us to be able to put all the pieces together, to stay steadfastly committed to that vision and the goal of what we’re trying to build, to see it all come together here as we prepare to get ready for the Daytona 500 is pretty awesome, pretty special.
“I mean, I made no secret from day one that what we were trying to accomplish here has to be a team that’s unique in its branding, that’s unique in its mission and the narrative around our activities, to try to communicate with fans and try to create content, try to create visual elements around this team that are unique and captivating and compelling for lots of fans.
“I think we’ve done that so far. We’ve got some great partners and sponsors of the race team. Everybody’s excited to be a part of it.”
While that sounds great, the first step for Marks was actually getting Daniel Suarez and Pitbull to join his vision. For how that relationship with Suarez and Pitbull came, both Suarez and Pitbull actually said that they’ve known of each other for a few years now.
First came getting Suarez. Then came the courting of Pitbull through a good source.
‘I have known Pitbull for a few years,” Suarez said. “We have some friends, good friends, in common, but I didn’t have a personal relationship with him at all.
“When Justin mentioned to me the possibilities that there were out there, I tell you it was just amazing. I’m just extremely excited to have somebody like Pitbull part of this race organization, Trackhouse Racing, to help us take out of what Justin’s ambition is for this race team. That’s actually the reason why I am here as well.
“Justin’s vision in the racetrack and outside the racetrack is extremely important. If Justin was only focusing in everything that is going on outside the racetrack with the STEM programs, helping the Latino community, et cetera, and not really caring much about the competition, I wouldn’t be here. Probably if he was only focusing on the competition without everything else that is outside the racetrack, probably I wouldn’t be here either.
“It’s just a combination of things. I know Pitbull share the same ambition than Justin to try to help others and to change the way that people actually view the sport. Pitbull say something that I totally agree with, I didn’t even think about that in the past, is that NASCAR, other than an amazing sport, it’s also a culture thing. It’s extremely culture on how different generations, different families are so involved into the sport, not just as a sport.”
For Pitbull, he felt like NASCAR was a way to show Latin American’s that there really is a bright future for them. This initiative also is a two way street though too. While exposing Latinos to NASCAR, he also wants to expose NASCAR to the Latin world as well. He wants to show us just how challenging of an upbringing it is in some of these Latin American communities and bridge that gap together.
NASCAR he feels is the perfect place to marriage that new bond.
“When I was speaking about what my normal was, I thought that everybody was around violence, drug abuse, killings, murders, things of that nature,” said Pitbull. “Growing up, I thought that was everybody’s normal in everybody’s city.
“It’s when I started to venture out in different parts of my city to see that clearly wasn’t the normal. If I hear me in certain interviews, I’ve always spoken about I’ve grown up in good neighborhoods, bad neighborhoods, worse neighborhoods. The worst things I saw actually was in the good neighborhoods. What I mean by that is that’s where I saw most of the FBI when they would show up, ATF when they would show up, DEA when they would show up. Growing up like that is why I always speak about taking my life from a negative to a positive.
“Getting involved in the team, I was hearing Justin speak before, this is deeper than sponsorships, this is a movement. This is a revolution/taking a sport and creating a culture because when we first opened SLAM, we had brought a NASCAR car to SLAM the first day eight years ago. If you would have seen the look on those kids’ faces when they saw that car, they just had no clue that it was actually something that was tangible.
“Since that day is when I say, Wow. I’m a big believer in the law of attraction, I want to be involved. There’s no better time to be involved in NASCAR with Trackhouse, Daniel, Justin and Ty than now. It is all about creating awareness. In the same way that music is a universal language, I also see NASCAR as a universal language. Everybody loves a fast car and a great story, you know.”
So what about Trackhouse was attractive to Pitbull? With this vision, he could have went to North Carolina and walked into any shops front door and formed an alliance?
“I’m a big believer in the law of attraction,” he said of why Justin Marks’ team. “I happened to be up in North Carolina having a conversation with someone named Pam Miller. I was talking to her about what NASCAR meant to the kids when they first saw it here in SLAM in Miami eight years ago. She was talking to me about a documentary she was working on.
“As we kept talking about different ways to be able to educate the public on NASCAR and hearing about how they wanted to diversify as far as when it came to culture, utilizing the sport on bringing everybody together, that’s how it all came about. Really Pam is the one that connected us, seeing that our visions aligned.
“I would say about a week later we were all together in Miami, sat down. Daniel, I knew through the a family years ago and was spoken to me about him and his career from Carlos Slim Jr. which is a friend of mine down in Mexico. When all of this came together, we sat down, it was just bigger — it wasn’t just we have to have a winning team, we got to do the sponsorship, got to create this. I was like, Look, we’re going to do that, okay? Really what this is about is this: How do we make this something more powerful? How do we make this so it’s historical and how do we make this so we break barriers, boundaries, limits, bringing everybody together through this?
“That’s what made me think, this is what I want to be involved in. I tell people all the time, I wouldn’t want a billion dollar business and have a trillion dollar headache. It’s all about the people that you are with, it’s about the journey.
“Daniel was saying this in Spanish. It’s about the team, the environment that you’re around. If you’re around a great environment, a positive environment, a winning environment, but an environment that wants to give back and understand that’s what life is really all about. They say: Why say that the sky is the limit when you know there’s footprints on the moon? We’re on the way to the moon with Trackhouse (laughter).”
Many may not know this, but Pitbull admitted to being a NASCAR fan long before this. In fact, it was the classic movie Days of Thunder to what started his racing fandom in fact.
“Always wanted to be a team owner one way or other no matter the sport,” he continued. “NASCAR, I’ve been a fan of NASCAR since the movie Days of Thunder when I got a chance to see what it was about. I would say from that perspective.
“As far as with Daniel, by default or design, I heard about Daniel 10 years ago through a friend of mine in Mexico named Carlos Slim Jr. He was talking to me about Daniel when he was about 17, 18 years old. He is a big, big fan. The Slim family are big racing fans.
“I go back to law of attraction. Here I am 10 years later when I’ve also met Daniel at different concerts through a family that we also know, which is the (indiscernible) family. Now to be here next to him making history with Justin, Ty and Daniel.
“For him I would say coming against all odds into the United States of America, coming from humble beginnings over in Mexico, to coming here and winning a race, which actually happened to be in Homestead, the stories run parallel. They coincide. It just makes sense because we’re all here for one reason and one reason only: to create awareness clearly for NASCAR, clearly for Trackhouse, but more than anything to show this brings people together.
“If there’s anything we need in these times right now is something that unites people, not divides people. That’s what we’re here to do with this platform/opportunity.”
2021 was a learning year. But Marks’ dream wasn’t just a single car. He wanted more. When the charter they were leasing was sold to someone else, instead of packing up and leaving, Marks has the foresight to use a business like approach that would rival something a Penske or Hendrick would do.
He just bought a team and their two charters that wasn’t even for sale.
“I told Ty (Norris) let’s not lose sight of where there might be charters or business opportunities for Trackhouse where nobody is looking,” Marks said last summer. “A lot of these owners are toward the end of their careers, and I was just thinking, maybe there’s somebody out there that is ready to make a change, is ready to step away or ready to move on and focus on other things.”
Now, they pulled it off.
Trackhouse has acquired not one, but both of Chip Ganassi Racing’s charters as well as his entire team. Ganassi, was getting out of NASCAR and Trackhouse is taking over.
“My NASCAR team was not for sale,” Chip Ganassi said when the sale was announced. “Justin (Marks) simply came to me with a great offer and an even better vision. As everyone knows, I care deeply for my employees so selling to someone like Justin who is part of the CGR family make the reality of selling much easier.
“At first, it surprised me a little bit, but I have to say that – after thinking about it for a while – it very much reminded me of about 20 years ago, when I was talking to Felix Sabates about getting involved in NASCAR. I felt like there’s a lot of young, energetic thought being put into what Justin was saying.
“With all the new blood that seems to be coming into the sport now, with Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin and maybe [Brad] Keselowski, and Tony Stewart has his team, Jeff Gordon’s back involved… all these sorts of things.
“The sport is great for some new young blood. We talk about a new generation of drivers and I think you’re going to see a new generation of owners now. I think it’s a great thing for the sport.”
Marks, raced 23 times in the Xfinity Series for Ganassi between 2015 and 2018. He won a race for them in 2016 at Mid-Ohio. So, the two have a friendship and history together.
Plus, Marks’ team in Trackhouse has financial capital from Pitbull as well as Chevrolet cars which is what Ganassi also has which makes this even more seamless.
“This process took several weeks and I want to thank Chip (Ganassi) for being so open and candid with me every step of the journey,” Marks said. “Chip has built an iconic motorsports empire and the Ganassi brand is globally recognized as a winner in the auto racing industry.”
He never wanted anyone outside of Ross Chastain to drive that second car for the next season.
“So it was always Ross,” Marks said. “That’s what I told him when he got out of the car: It was always you. When the Ganassi buy-out happened, and he texted me as I got off of the press conference stage of the Hall of Fame, and he just wrote, “I want this.” He had to be patient with me while I let the dust settle, but we all were huge, huge believers in Ross’ talent.
“We knew what he was capable of doing, and he has proved it the last month at Trackhouse. And I think we’ve really just opened a door for him and Phil and the 1 team moving forward.”
However, at that time, Chastain wasn’t so sure. So, he took a break from a test he was doing at the time of the announcement to reach out to Marks.
“It was important to just — I have a good group around me, and it was like, What do we do? I had to fight off the fear,” Chastain said. “They asked at the wheel force test, Are you ready to get back in? I said, No, I need ten minutes. Ten turned into 30. They’re, like, We’ve got to get going. I said, You don’t want me driving your car right now.
“Once I sent the text — this sounds funny. I’ve done all I can do. He knows. He will see it when he sees it, but I still have a job to do here, so we finished out the day.”
As far as that message?
“I want this.”
He now has this.