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February 28, 2024

Analysis: Beyond being disruptors, Trackhouse Racing happens to be great on the track, too


Ross Chastain, Justin Marks and Daniel Suárez pose with the trophy after Suárez's win at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Todd Kirkland
Getty Images

One question remained Sunday night for the team owner who has turned the NASCAR world on its ear.

And after a post-race media center session sprinkled with some of his now familiar musings about the Next Big Idea, Justin Marks seemed giddy and relieved to steer the subject matter to much humbler beginnings.

“You’re my last interview tonight, and you know what, I think you were the first interview that I ever did in stock-car racing at Kentucky in ARCA in 2005,” Marks told Catchfence.com’s Chris Knight. “I finished like 38th.”

Actually, it was a 36th in that July 7, 2006 race at Kentucky Speedway — one of many inauspicious finishes in a relatively nondescript stock-car career. Marks won in ARCA and Xfinity, and he enjoyed even more success in sports cars with a Rolex 24 class win among victories at several prestigious tracks.

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He is, by many definitions, a racer, but behind the wheel is not how he made his fame.

Marks is most recognizable as the founder of Trackhouse Entertainment Group, a burgeoning sports and entertainment conglomerate whose racing division has established a strong foothold in the Cup Series since 2021 and will expand overseas into MotoGP this season.

The success generally is viewed through the prism of Silicon Valley upstart. His stunning and steep trajectory into the team ownership stratosphere smacks of a venture capitalist playing four-dimensional chess. Marks deftly has executed eight-figure power plays to acquire charters, drivers and real estate.

It’s an impressive portfolio, and it sometimes obscures what underpins it all — results.

RELATED: Relive Suárez’s dramatic win at Atlanta

Give this NASCAR disruptor his due: His race team is far more than just a startup trying to move fast, break stuff and sell out for the big payday.

Marks always is clear on the primary objective. “Trackhouse is a winning company,” he said matter of fact Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway after his team’s seventh Cup victory in less than two years.

But when your partner is an internationally renowned recording artist named Pitbull whose latest album is named after your team, it’s easier for the general public to overlook how well your finishes are backing up your already grandiose plans for transforming global motorsports.

Daniel Suárez’s exhilarating three-wide victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway finally might have been a tipping point.

It now seems reasonable to suggest Trackhouse’s dynamism on the track somehow is exceeding its ambitious vision for overhauling how teams do business in NASCAR’s premier series.

As Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it,” and Trackhouse has made a habit recently of delivering its biggest flourishes when the NASCAR spotlight is at its brightest:

— The astounding “Hail Melon” was concocted and accomplished by Ross Chastain at Martinsville Speedway, the unbelievably brave and violent wall ride heard around the world that catapulted the No. 1 Chevrolet into the 2022 championship round.

— Capping the first street course in the series’ 75-year history, New Zealand’s Shane van Gisbergen (hand-picked by Marks as part of the Project 91 initiative) became the first driver to win his Cup debut in more than 40 years — giving NASCAR the indelible and improbable visual of a Kiwi celebrating in the heart of downtown Chicago as dusk fell on the Fourth of July weekend last season.

— Chastain stole the show by outdueling champion Ryan Blaney to win the 2023 season finale at Phoenix Raceway and mark himself as a trendy 2024 championship favorite as the first non-title contender to win the championship round.

— And now Suárez’s mesmerizing victory — the third closest in NASCAR history — has become another viral sensation for a team accustomed to life in the racing zeitgeist.

With the installation of each new eye-popping LED screen brightly illuminating the pits and garage, Trackhouse has become a trendsetter. Its VIP areas aim to set new standards of at-track hospitality. Live entertainment is a staple of its marketing activations.

The case can be made that Trackhouse Racing’s on-track exploits actually have been undersold and overshadowed because the team has tried so hard to change the game with an aggressively creative and unconventional approach off the track.

“We want to be the people that come in and try to do different things,” Marks said. “This is a sport that needs big brands and teams that are motivated to be ambassadors of an entertainment property and to give the fans something to get excited about. If we’re leaders in that, then great. We’re kind of doing our thing, but this is an amazing sport, and more people need to see it. So we feel like we’re ambassadors of that.”

But along with that flash and sizzle, don’t overlook the team also is doing the blocking and tackling necessary to become a formidable and perennial championship contender. It’s excelling in major moments while stockpiling an enviable stable of young talent with the long-term contours of possibly expanding into a four-car dynasty.

“I think there’s a big opportunity in this sport,” Marks said. “I have a certain belief about what’s possible in this sport, and it’s just the way I do things.”

That eventually could become the way for NASCAR.

Not bad for a one-time also-ran.

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