It was a few days before arriving in Phoenix for the NASCAR Championship Race and Trackhouse had gone viral on an international scale.
From Formula One and IndyCar drivers, to professional athletes in other sports; from entertainers to social media influencers, they reacted to something they had previously never witnessed.
It was Ross Chastain’s last lap move at Martinsville Speedway that got him into the Championship Four for NASCAR’s final race of the 2022 season at Phoenix Raceway.
By heading straight into the Turn 3 wall, taking his hands off the wheel of his No. 1 Moose Lodge Chevrolet, and flooring the accelerator pedal, Chastain was able to combine the laws of physics with a large dose of bravery and rocket his way past the cars in front of him to nip Denny Hamlin’s Toyota for fourth place.
More importantly, it was just enough to gain the final position into the Championship Four.
It was a move borne from a video game but put into action by the 31-year-old Watermelon Farmer from Alva, Florida.
It looked like a rocket car while the other racing machines appeared in slow motion. Chastain completed the fastest lap in the history of Martinsville Speedway, and it came on the last lap of a race, not in qualifications.
All that was missing was the late Jack Buck’s famous call, “I don’t believe what I just saw” following a hobbling Kirk Gibson’s famous pinch-hit home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Trackhouse move by Chastain was No. 1 on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 and was the lead topic at Barstool and the Pat McAfee podcast.
It was this generation’s 1979 Daytona 500 and the fight in Turn 3, or the “Pass in the Grass” battle between Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott at Charlotte Motor Speedway in The Winston in 1987.
These were seminal moments that helped launch NASCAR into the mainstream of sporting consciousness, key moments in the 75-year history of the American sports league.
Trackhouse creator and owner Justin Marks could see the impact of that moment at the racing facility in Concord, North Carolina. Fans began arriving at the shop early, showing their support for the operation and hoping to see Chastain’s rocket car for themselves.
Trackhouse was not only the talk of NASCAR, but it had also left the realm of motorsports into the world of celebrity.
Even before heading to Phoenix for the final race, Marks continued to think forward.
At 41 years old, Marks is the youngest team owner in the NASCAR Cup Series and brings fresh, innovative thinking to a sport that is tied to the past but wants to break out into the future.
Before heading to Phoenix, Marks knew that Trackhouse needed to manage expectations in 2023.
Trackhouse had shaken up NASCAR in 2022, and that created even higher expectations for 2023. Marks met with Trackhouse President Ty Norris, to create a proper way to manage those expectations as the season begins in 2023.
“It’s really an exercise in controlling what we can control and investing in the things we have influence in,” Marks explained. “Expectations for us this early in our life, and it’s a philosophy that exists forever, is not really establishing our key performance indicators as results on the race track as much as it is in the work, preparation, and execution of what we do.
“To me, a really big theme in the company making sure our goals are in how we prepare, how we analyze data, how we work together as a cohesive group and move the whole thing forward as a team.
“Being invested in those things, the results take care of themselves.”
As the NASCAR Cup Series begins a new season, the 75th season in NASCAR history, teams set intrinsic goals that can be measured in race victories and championships.
As the most successful team owner in American racing history, Roger Penske calls it, “putting numbers on the board.”
In racing, it’s the results on the timesheets and box scores that often signify success.
Marks, however, believes success is outside of those statistical parameters.
“Competitive enterprises can get in trouble sometimes when they establish goals that are race track results oriented,” Marks explained. “Like ‘We want to win this many races, we want to contend for the championship, be at Phoenix for the Final Four.’ Then, you are focused on the outcome and not the process.
“When I talk about managing expectations, it’s about where can we improve? Where did work well together and preserve that? How can we make improvements on how we work together?Justin Marks
“The results will take care of itself.”
Marks understands that NASCAR and auto racing is a completely different type of competition. A race driver can be at the top of his game. A team can be properly prepared. The strategy can be flawless.
But the outcome is often outside of that race team’s control.
“This is the most competitive time in the history of the sport and there is a lot of luck and circumstances involved,” Marks said. “There are a lot of things that are outside of your control. If we really invest and focus on the things we can control, the results will take care of themselves.
“I’m being careful to say ‘We got one car in the Final Four and as an organization we won three races in 2022. In 2023, we want to win five races and get both cars in the Final Four.’
“That’s not how we are focused on goal setting. It’s what type of tracks do we improve on? Where can we get better on strategy? Where can we get better on preparation and simulation?
“All of that stuff is the important place to be focused on and the results present themselves to you. At least the opportunity to get those results, you find yourself in that opportunity.”
There is a very real possibility that Trackhouse could perform better in 2023 than it did in 2022, and not have the same accomplishments.
Chastain won three races in 2022 and finished second in the NASCAR Cup Series championship. Daniel Suarez of Monterrey, Mexico scored one victory and finished 10th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings.
Suarez appeared to be safely in NASCAR’s “Round of Eight” in the cutoff race at The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway before his power-steering failed early in the contest. Suarez heroically manhandled his Chevrolet for the rest of the race, but without power steering, his car could not match the speed and lap times of the competition.
That is a classic example of how a situation outside of the team’s control was a major detriment to the outcome of the driver.
“It goes back to being really thoughtful about preseason goal setting,” Marks continued. “We can execute a lot better and bring better speed to some of the race tracks in 2023 and not have the same results because luck and circumstances are a big part of this game.
“That’s exactly why we don’t want to be a race track results oriented enterprise; we want to be a process-oriented enterprise just because there are things you can’t control. But if we are well-prepared and we execute well, that is the most important part of this whole thing.”
While Marks tries to manage the lofty expectations others may expect for Trackhouse, it’s easy to see why fans and the media expect even more from the team in 2023.
Chastain was voted “Driver of the Year” by the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) for 2022. Although Joey Logano won his second NASCAR Cup Series Championship last season, and Team Penske won the entrant title, Chastain and Trackhouse had the biggest impact on the season.
“It depends on what your definition of ‘Driver of the Year’ was,” Marks said. “Ross made the biggest impact on the sport of any driver. This was Ross’s second full-time season in the Cup Series. He had been around for a long time, but he didn’t really arrive on the scene in a way that had changed the course of the sport, ever before.
“We all knew what kind of talent Ross has. We have known that for a long time. You put him in a position where he has race cars underneath him that are really fast and put him on a team that is performing at a high level. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, you have this week-in and week-out contender from a driver who is a real force to be reckoned with for a long time going into the future.
“That award was well-deserved. If it is going to a driver that makes the biggest impact on the sport in a lot of different areas, I think the only choice was Ross.”
Marks also has extreme optimism in the continued development and success of Suarez, a 31-year-old driver who has proven he is a winner in the NASCAR Cup Series with his first career victory at Sonoma in 2022.
“Daniel is a talent that has yet to be fully on display in this sport,” Marks said. “I’ve raced against Daniel. I’ve known him for a long time. He is a very elite talent. The group he is with now is fairly new compared to the group on the No. 1 car. They are still learning each other and there are some places where that team needs to make some improvement.
“Ross and the No. 1 team were so dominating in the storyline this year; it gets a little bit lost that Daniel had the best year of his career by a lot and was right on the precipice of getting into the Round of Eight which would have been a tremendous accomplishment for him.
“There are great things in the future for that team. I’ve got two drivers and two teams that are championship contending units for the business. I’m really excited about his future. Daniel is very hungry. I’ve never seen somebody prepare with the level of focus that he prepares with. This isn’t one team is a championship contender and another team is just there, it’s very much two championship contending organizations.
“The 99 is in its life cycle where it is developing, and Travis and Daniel are still learning each other. There are a lot of changes on the 99 crew from 2021 to 2022. I think there is an immensely bright future for that team ahead.”
As Marks continues to guide Trackhouse into the future, NASCAR celebrates its history in 2023.
The story of Trackhouse includes the history of one of the most successful team owners in American racing – Chip Ganassi.
Marks began the team with Grammy Award winning entertainer “Pitbull” – Armando Perez in 2020.
They originally tried to purchase the assets of Levine Family Racing, but Spire Motorsports had the winning bid.
So, Marks and Perez formed a team themselves.
The next step was acquiring a NASCAR Charter. That is when Marks made a call to Ganassi, who owned a NASCAR Cup Series team since 2001.
Marks approached Ganassi in 2021 with the ambitious plan to take Trackhouse to the next level.
Marks asked Ganassi if he were willing to sell. The two began to negotiate and the sale was announced on June 30, 2021.
Marks believes Ganassi provided him with the foundation for Trackhouse. Now, it’s time to build a program that will reach for the sky.
“Chip and I talk every couple of months,” Marks said. “He congratulated me after every win. He is excited about passing what he has built to that next generation owner. He sees a lot of himself in me and can take a little bit of ownership in Trackhouse’s success, which he should.
“So much of the infrastructure and what Trackhouse is comes from Chip Ganassi Racing and what he spent 20 years building. It gave Trackhouse an opportunity to be successful right off the bat. We wouldn’t be able to be in this position without all his work he did over the last two decades.
“I have a lot of respect for him. We communicate regularly.
“It was the perfect way to pass the torch.”
Marks is charting a bright future for Trackhouse, both on the race track and in business. He has some extremely ambitious ideas where racing, business, entertainment, and celebrity converge.
What happens at the “Track” can be celebrated and shared in the “House.”
The story of that brand identity is unique.
Marks met with a branding agency in Oregon called Watson Creative. He spent time with Watson diving into these ideas and concepts what success looks like.
“Ultimately, we ended up with Trackhouse because it’s the convergence of two philosophies,” Marks explained. “One is the fact that we compete on the race track and that is where the ‘Track’ comes from. But we are also building a community of fans, of followers, of partners and our family where people will get together, where families will get together to have experiences, share dreams and spend quality time together. That’s the ‘House.’
“We want to build this community of followers. Ending up with ‘Trackhouse’ is the convergence of those two things.
“We compete with race cars on the race track, but we are building our community, we are building our following and we are going to engage with them in deeply meaningful ways.”