By Dustin Albino
In August of 2020, Justin Marks announced he was forming Trackhouse Racing, a new race team to the NASCAR Cup Series. Since then, he’s hit the ground running.
Marks, 40, has been involved in key management positions on race teams in the past, including co-owning a World of Outlaws Sprint Car team with Kyle Larson and a K&N Pro Series East team with Harry Scott Jr. All the while he was still competing on a part-time basis in the Xfinity Series. Now his sole focus is building Trackhouse.
"The first time I owned a race team [eight] years ago I didn’t say, ‘This is the first step in my journey towards being a Cup owner,’" Marks recently told Jayski.com "But if you asked me on that day if I ever wanted to be a Cup owner, I would say ‘Of course, but I’ve got a lot to learn, maybe the sport needs to change a little bit."
Over the past decade, many owners have come and gone at the top level of motorsports in the United States. Marks stated its his competitive drive and love for the sport that originally drew him into the thought process of possibly owning a Cup team.
And over the years, he’s thought about it, but one thing needed to change: the business model. Come 2022, NASCAR will implement the Next Gen car which will be costly off the bat, but is intended to be cost effective in the long run.
"I never really considered it until I learned about what NASCAR was planning on doing with this new car," Marks said of becoming a Cup team owner. "Then my antenna went up and I really went into a deep due diligence phase with everyone working on the project in the sport, and it became apparent that this was that window of opportunity. Because I think with the model of racecar that they’re going to implement, the cream is going to rise to the top, but success is going to come down to your culture, your processes and really building a great team. Not an engineering company, but team. I believe that I can do that.
"As we got closer and closer, I had some very candid, very open conversations with NASCAR saying, ‘Look, I want to come in but you’ve got to really tell me how you’re going to referee this, how you’re going to enforce these rules because I don’t want to make this commitment and then get beat because someone has found a way to get through tech.’ The more conversations I had with NASCAR the more I felt this was the time."
The problem was, Marks needed a charter in order to be guaranteed into every race. Last summer, he was outbid for two potential charters and said an owner shot him away at the last minute in his third attempt to acquire another. If he didn’t get one, he didn’t find it reasonable to start Trackhouse now.
Fortunately for Marks, he landed a deal with Spire Motorsports to lease one of their charters for 2021. Thus his driver Daniel Suarez will be locked into each race in 2021.
"It’s so important," Marks said. "Especially to a startup team like this where I don’t have a $20 million sponsor, I don’t have millions of dollars per year coming from the OEM and I can’t funnel capital from another business into my race team. This is a mom and pop race team right now, so it’s incredibly important to us.
"It took years off my life getting this charter thing figured out last year because it’s dirty pool. There is some dirty pool being played out there and you have to navigate a lot of people that tell you something they don’t mean. That’s been a huge educational process for me and it’s changed the way I view my relationships in the sport, I think for the better."
With the Daytona 500 three and a half weeks away, Marks noted it’s been an efficient offseason, and Ty Norris, who is running operations for Trackhouse, has been vital in keeping the team on track. In addition, Trackhouse has an operational partnership with Richard Childress Racing, which will provide the team its chassis and pit crew.
"I love where we’re at," Marks said. "I’m very confident with the risk that we’re taking. Every day, it gets closer and closer of being a very fruitful enterprise. I don’t have any stress about it at all."
When it came to driver criteria, the team owner was originally excited about the possibility of finding a rookie driver. But then Marks realized, he didn’t want to learn how to run a Cup team and have a driver that’s learning how to be competitive in Cup.
Instead, Marks went to Suarez, a driver that has four years of Cup experience and someone he believes is hungrier than ever coming off a disappointing 2020 season with Gaunt Brothers Racing. Suarez, the only foreign driver to win a championship in the top three NASCAR national touring series, also has a unique story behind him that the team can push.
Leading up to Speedweeks at Daytona, Trackhouse will announce two new partners to the sport. Marks confirmed the team is having discussions with two additional companies this week, hoping to also bring them to the NASCAR.
Marks said those companies find Suarez’s story attractive, but also the relationship with Pitbull, GRAMMY Award-winning global superstar, who was announced last week as the co-owner of Trackhouse.
Through one or two degrees of separation, Marks and Pitbull learned about each others desire over the past few months. Then, they sat up a meeting in Miami about a month ago to hash out a potential partnership. Within the first 30 minutes of the meeting, it was a done deal.
"It gives us a platform," Marks said of Pitbull. […] "It gives us an opportunity to have a voice and have brand reach to millions and millions of people that we wouldn’t otherwise have."
Self-admittedly Marks wants to have "high level" partnerships with people and personalities in other industries that have a big reach. In the end, that helps grow the newly formed team.
"One of the things I’ve told people is we really want to transcend the sport," Marks said. "I want to have partnerships, initiatives and activities that go outside of NASCAR and are in culture, entertainment, music and art and truly be a sports brand that transcends NASCAR. Not just transitional partnerships, but real partnerships."
Over the past month, Marks has been sending Pitbull videos of the team’s pit practices, as he wants to continuously stay involved with the organization.
With less than three weeks until Daytona 500 qualifying, the anticipation of the season beginning is becoming real to Marks. All the hard work his roughly 25 employees have put in over the past number of months will come to fruition in early February.
Marks said, "I just think everybody is eager to compete. We’re all competitors. We love racing and we love this sport. I think we’re eager to stop talking about Trackhouse in the conceptual sense and start talking about it in the real sense, and I think we can do that once we get a racecar on a racetrack."
As for expectations, Marks admits he has an idea on how the No. 99 team will perform in 2021, but is keeping that close to the hip. Instead, he’s focusing on the team winning the day and executing each day. Should they do that it will be a successful start.
"We’re going to have great racecars, we’re going to have great horsepower with ECR," Marks added. "I really like where Chevrolet is at in the sport and where they’re going to be over the next couple of years."