Trackhouse owner and founder Justin Marks is never afraid to swing for the fences when it comes to the continued development of his racing and entertainment company.
That bold vision has helped Trackhouse grow from a single-car, non-charter operation in 2021 to one of the power teams in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2023.
But Marks latest move is being made with a precision plan.
It’s the expansion to three cars and the addition of 2022 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion Zane Smith and an alliance with Spire Motorsports that will begin in 2024.
Trackhouse will have three, full-time NASCAR Cup Series cars on the grid beginning in 2025.
This came just days after Trackhouse announced a multi-platform, full-season effort for Shane van Gisbergen, the three-time Supercars Champion from Australia who became the first driver in 60 years to drive to victory in his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series race. That was in the July 2 Grant Park 220 Chicago Street Race, which was also the first time the NASCAR Cup Series competed on the streets of a city instead of an oval or road course.
Both deals begin in 2024, but both are vastly different.
In 2024, Smith will race full time in the NASCAR Cup Series, driving a Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports in an alliance with Trackhouse.
“Expansion is not something to be taken lightly, but we feel Trackhouse is commercially and technically positioned for growth,” Marks said. “You need good timing, very good partners, and great drivers.
“Adding Zane is like signing the No. 1 draft pick and we are proud that he is now a member of the Trackhouse family.”
Smith is a nine-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series winner completing his fourth full-time season this year.
Trackhouse has agreed to build a 2024 program that will put the 34-year-old van Gisbergen in select races in NASCAR’s Cup, Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series plus some late model and other races.
That will give the driver from Auckland, New Zealand a chance to learn, adapt and develop the skills needed for a potential full-season NASCAR Cup Series effort in his career.
“Shane’s (van Gisbergen) program is about 2024,” Marks said. “There are a lot of unknowns around Shane and how he’s going to do on the ovals, if he’s even going to enjoy it. There are so many unknowns around him, but I’m really excited about that program but that’s one where we’re going to have to see how things play out and see how things go.
“We’ll be able to make some more announcements and talk about that, but I’m just really excited about what we’ve got with Zane (Smith).”
The key principle involved in two of Trackhouse’s biggest announcements that were made within days of each other is Marks’ ability to take a big swing, combined with meticulous, precision in the decision.
“I think it depends on the opportunity and what we’re trying to do,” Marks explained. “Every project or development scenario within the company is unique, and the players and what we’re trying to do.
“Growth and expansion in this sport is difficult. There are a lot of moving pieces and there’s a lot of different ways to envision what growth looks like. I think it’s no small feat to grow to a third team. We have to be very methodical and cerebral about how we approach all of the elements to get something like this.
“All I know is we didn’t want to get all that stuff put together and then go, ‘Okay, who is our driver? Who’s at the end of a contract?’”
That is where Marks’ strong business acumen and management style played a key role in the equation.
It had to make business senses, before it would become part of the business.
“To me, it’s the driver that has been the most important part of the puzzle,” Marks continued. “And at the end of the day, it’s always been about the 147 people working in the shop.
“It’s one guy holding a steering wheel at the end of the race. So that has to be the tip of the spear, and I wanted to make sure we started this journey knowing who our driver is going to be and then filling in kind of everything around it.
“We were able to do it with great friends at Spire (Motorsports), to be looking at experience next year as we work intelligently and methodically about growing the business.”
For this expansion plan to work, Trackhouse needed a partner and found it at Spire Motorsports.
Bill Anthony is the President of Spire Motorsports, and the team will be fully invested in the effort to help transition Smith to the Trackhouse NASCAR Cup Series ride in 2025 through Spire’s efforts I 2024.
“There are a lot of ties,” Anthony said of the two organizations. “It’s actually pretty interesting how close we’ve been over the years, and that makes this a special moment.
“When Justin was a driver, we had a close relationship with him as a management agency. Ty (Norris, Trackhouse President) actually worked with us for a couple of years. We also had a connection through Ross (Chastain). You think of all those connections and ties and being members of the Chevy family, a lot of this made sense.
“It’s unique in many regards. You don’t see this type of alliance and collaboration. We’ve had the great fortune of being affiliated with some pretty special companies and people over the years. Hendrick Motorsports and all they’ve done for us… We really relish this opportunity to offer support to someone in the garage that is important.
“Our ability to offer support tells a lot about our organization. TJ (Puchyr) and Jeff (Dickerson) have made some bold decisions to stay the least. They’ve taken some big swings. I think that they’ve proven step after step that they are willing to take the chances and make the decisions that you need to progress in this sport. This collaboration and affiliation shows everybody’s commitment to the sport. It shows that we’re optimistic about the future of NASCAR and what it can be and what we can be in it.”
Spire has proven to be a NASCAR Cup Series team that helps find young talent and develop that talent into competitive racers.
Trackhouse is a team that rewards young talent and innovation.
“There’s no doubt that Trackhouse has set the standard for coming out of the block as a new competitive team,” Anthony continued. “It challenges people like us, and we accept that challenge and we embrace that challenge.
“In fact, we want to be a part of that challenge as well. It speaks very well to our ownership, the willingness and transparency to do that. I will say that the ties for Spire also really go back to their driver management days. It means a lot to help very talented drivers and to help them progress in the sport and do things that help push the sport forward. Part of this also is giving a little bit of a nod to Zane and allowing him to move up and achieve his dream. I know that’s important to us as well.”
Smith is a talented, 24-year-old from Huntington Beach, California who has impressed the NASCAR community with his outstanding run through the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in the No. 38 Ford F-150 for Front Row Motorsports.
The Californian was overcome with emotion when the plan was announced at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 16.
“Obviously it’s a huge day,” Smith said. “I can’t thank both you guys enough. It’s been a crazy road… I had held it together during the championship speech, but I thought I was all good today.
“This just means the world to me. I almost didn’t have anything a couple of years ago. This is the place I want to be.
“Three hundred sixty-five days ago, I sat at Bob Evans with a very close friend, and he had asked me where I want to race someday. I think he expected maybe some different answer, but my answer was Trackhouse.
“Almost 365 days later, I’ve signed a contract with them. It means the world to me. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do to. The sacrifices that have been made are where the emotion comes from and how bad I want it… I’ll do whatever it takes to win on Sunday, and I have that chance thanks to Justin Marks. I’m just so, so thankful for the people that are around me.
“I’m ready to go compete on Sunday. It’s crazy to say.”
In 2021, Trackhouse was a one-car team with Daniel Suarez as the driver. Midway through that season, Marks struck a deal with NASCAR Cup Series owner Chip Ganassi to purchase the team and its two NASCAR Charters. One of Ganassi’s drivers from Ross Chastain, who was added to the team.
In 2022, both Suarez and Chastain made the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff field with Chastain finishing second in the standings to champion Joey Logano of Team Penske.
In 2023, Chastain made the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, van Gisbergen had his historic victory in his first-ever Cup Series race and Marks has announced his plans for the team’s future.
All of this has come through a well-thought-out effort and plan. That is why a deal with Spire Motorsports made much more sense than Trackhouse creating a third car in 2024 on short notice.
“Because of where we are at, with expanding to a third team, it takes time and a lot of money,” Marks explained. “We have to be strategic in how we capitalize that third team.
“It sounds stupid, but Featherlite Trailers are eight months out and there’s none in the used market. We have to take our time in doing this stuff. Where it makes sense for us, is putting Zane (Smith) in an established team where he can focus on the driving, and we can focus on everything we can to support him and that car over there while we expand over the course of the year.
“We can’t rush it, and we didn’t want to throw it together late. It’s a process that’s going to have to take course over time.”