MOORESVILLE, N.C. — The emergence of Trackhouse Racing was one of the main stories of the NASCAR Cup Series season.
In just two years, Trackhouse Racing has gone from “Oh, that’s the team that Pitbull owns” to one of the top teams in stock car racing’s top division.
It has gone from being confused with 23XI racing, to standing on its own as a team that took on Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing with three victories and a berth in the NASCAR Championship Four.
The driving force behind Trackhouse is Justin Marks, a bright entrepreneur from Tennessee who formerly was a NASCAR Xfinity Series driver from one 2008 to 2018. Marks had one win (Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2016) and five top-five finishes. He competed in six NASCAR Cup Series races.
Behind those obscure statistics, however, was a bright mind that looked beyond the windshield of a stock car. Even before that, he envisioned a world-class karting facility that he drew up on a napkin at the Bob Evans Restaurant in Huntersville, N.C., when he was eating with another NASCAR Cup Series driver Michael McDowell in 2009. It was modeled after the historic karting track in Parma, Italy.
Go-Pro Motorplex opened on Oct. 8, 2012 and is one of the premier karting facilities in the United States.
“I’ve always loved karting,” Marks said. “To me, it’s like high school football. It’s the purest expression of the sport. Everybody, no matter how far they have made it up the ladder in racing, still always gets excited about racing karts. Whether you have won the Daytona 500 or just race rental karts as a hobby, everyone has the same reaction; they love karting.
“It’s a fantastic sport.”
Marks’ next dream was to become a NASCAR Cup Series team owner. When Leavine Family Racing announced the team was for sale during the COVID season of 2020, Marks put in a bid, but that team was sold to Spire Motorsports.
Instead, Marks started his own team and hired Ty Norris as team president.
On Jan. 15, Armando Christian Perez purchased an ownership stake in the team. He is better known as Pitbull, “Mr. Worldwide” in the music industry.
“Being able to come out of the gates as Trackhouse and announce a partnership with someone like Pitbull, it sort of just set the tone for what Trackhouse is all about; that we’re really trying to stand out from the crowd and we’re trying to build something that is exciting for the fans and a team that people can root for,” Marks said. “We did that with Armando, but at the end of the day, we’re a racing team. To be able to contribute to the excitement of the sport, I think in this building, it probably holds more equity with our workforce because this is what we’ve dedicated our whole lives to doing, is to work hard and compete for an opportunity.”
Daniel Suárez (left) and Ross Chastain. (Trackhouse Racing photo)
Trackhouse opened the 2021 season with lots of flash, but low expectations. At the same time, Charlotte Hornets owner and former Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan of the NBA and NASCAR Cup Series team owner Denny Hamlin created 23XI Racing with Bubba Wallace as the driver.
The teams were often confused with each other, but it wasn’t long before Marks and Trackhouse established itself.
On June 30, 2021, Trackhouse purchased Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR team, including its two charters. Daniel Suarez was the original driver at Trackhouse and Ross Chastain was hired as the team’s second driver.
Both drivers won races in 2022 and made the NASCAR Playoffs. Chastain made the Championship Four and finished second in the standings.
He will be forever known in NASCAR history for his incredible, last lap move at Martinsville Speedway when he hit the throttle, drove the car into the turn-three wall and let the wall steer his Chevrolet as he passed five cars. That move gave him the final transfer position into the NASCAR Championship Four.
“We have 152 people working for this company, and in that moment the opportunity to fight for a championship came down to just one person sitting in the car,” Marks said. “He carried the strength of that entire workforce on his shoulders, and he drove off into turn three, and it’s been incredibly empowering for our company.
“All we want is a chance. All we want is an opportunity. I came into this race season with a personal goal. This wasn’t a goal that was socialized publicly or even within the walls of our company, but it was just inside me, is I just wanted to put one car in the playoffs. That’s all I wanted to do. I wanted to put one car in the playoffs.”
Marks discovered that it was perfect timing for him to create Trackhouse because of the NextGen car entering competition in 2022. The new car features standard parts for all cars in the field and that created historic parity, with 19 different winners this past season. That matched a NASCAR Cup Series record from 1956, 1958, 1961 and 2001.
Ross Chastain celebrates his first NASCAR Cup Series victory at Circuit of The Americas. (HHP/Jim Fluharty)
“Honestly, Trackhouse is a thing because of this Next Gen car,” Marks admitted. “I know that obviously we’ve got some growing pains with it. It’s expensive. We’ve got to make it a little bit safer.
“But the parity that it’s allowed to happen in this sport is why Trackhouse has this opportunity.
“If I go back to the day that I decided to start this thing, it was really because of this race car, because if we’re all playing with the same ball, then it truly becomes about the team.
“I believed in my ability and the management of Trackhouse’s ability to cultivate a workforce culture where we could take advantage of this race car that is the same as everybody else’s and go compete with teams that have more money than us, that have more depth than us, that have more people than us, and this is proof of concept for the whole vision of the Next Gen car.
“I think for NASCAR, I think that they deserve a tremendous amount of credit to have the courage that they had to completely flip the script and introduce a car and a model like this to the sport because there’s no denying that it has added an element of uncertainty and drama and excitement that I think this sport hasn’t seen in a long time, and Trackhouse is here for all of it.
“Yes, the time was right. The time is right for this. NASCAR knew that the time was right for this before I ever picked up the phone and called them and asked questions about this new car. And you see it with the car, you see it with the schedule. You see it with new marketing initiatives and partnerships the league is doing right now.”
The emergence of Justin Marks and Trackhouse Racing has come at a pivotal time for NASCAR. Its legendary team owners are aging. Roger Penske is 85. Joe Gibbs is 81. Richard Childress is 77. Rick Hendrick is the relative youngster out of this group at 73.
Justin Marks is 41 and a face of NASCAR’s future.
“The incumbents in the sport have been here for a long time,” Marks said. “They’re toward the end of their careers, and when that happens, there needs to be a changing of the guard, and that’s Trackhouse’s opportunity, it’s Kaulig’s opportunity, it’s 23XI’s opportunity.”