It’s another important weekend for Trackhouse owner Justin Marks as a major motorsports event hits the streets of downtown Nashville August 4-6.
It’s the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville as the NTT IndyCar Series is the headline act in this entertainment destination city.
Trackhouse is an ownership partner of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix and Marks has been involved with the famed street race since its inception in 2020 and the first race in 2021.
In addition to serving as host and ownership partner in the event, Marks will also be competing in the Trans-Am race on the tight 11-turn, 2.1-mile temporary street course.
Nashville is the home to Trackhouse Entertainment and Marks believes the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix is an important part of the company’s portfolio.
He is fully involved in the success of the IndyCar Series street race, even though he is a NASCAR Cup Series team owner.
“For me, it’s making strategic investments in different racing properties in America that I think have the potential to be really valuable cornerstones of the sport,” Marks explained. “At this stage, it’s really about learning.
“Running a race team is a very different exercise than promoting an event, but the events are what it’s all about.
“Investing in the Music City Grand Prix was a way for Trackhouse to be vested in motorsports in the Nashville community, start to build our portfolio of assets in the community and get plugged into the ecosystem of motorsports here, the supporters of motorsports, the city, the visitors and convention bureau. And also, just to learn what it takes to put on a successful event like that.
“It checks a couple of boxes for us and is going to serve as a great springboard for us to expand the portfolio from time to time.”
When Marks moved to Nashville to take the next step in his career, he knew a few of the business leaders in town. One of them was Matt Crews, the Founder and President of the Music City Grand Prix.
Marks raced for Crews when he was involved with Baker Curb Racing in what was then the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
“I went to him to get a little bit of a lay of the land in Nashville and meet some people,” Marks explained. “In that conversation, he said, ‘We’ve got this grand prix we are trying to bring here.’
“I didn’t know they were as far along as they were. I went and met with him and looked through the investor deck and immediately made a decision to be a part of it.
“It was an existing relationship where the investment in the Grand Prix happened right after I moved to Nashville.”
Although Marks career took him to NASCAR, he is a follower of all motorsports and has a deep appreciation for various forms of racing, including IndyCar.
He believes the success of all forms of motorsports is essential.
“I’m a huge fan of IndyCar,” Marks said. “I grew up going to IndyCar races right along with NASCAR races. I’ve been a huge fan of Open Wheel.
“In America, it’s great that we have this quintessential American race like the Indianapolis 500 that is one of the biggest races in the world. What is unique about IndyCar is it has an element in it that is aspirational. The cars are very exotic. They are very fast. And, it has an international flare.
“You have drivers from all over the world. The first year, the Music City Grand Prix was won by a Swede and last year it was won by a New Zealander. We have some great American talent in the series with Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta and Conor Daly and some of those guys.
“It’s really compelling from an aspirational and international standpoint.”
By helping tell the story in an exciting and vibrant city, IndyCar has gained new fans. According to Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles, Nashville has some of the highest ratings for IndyCar telecasts on NBC.
“A lot of the people I know that went to the Music City Grand Prix they didn’t really know much about the history of the IndyCar Series or what the cars were all about, but they were absolutely floored by the sound and the speed and that fact something like that was on the streets of their city,” Marks recalled. “That was incredibly compelling for them.
“That is what IndyCar delivers in Nashville and what NASCAR delivered in Chicago.
“On the pace laps of the Xfinity race down that back straightaway, I was looking through the fence at all the fans and you could see on their faces they were completely amazed that something like this was happening in their city.
“That’s what this is all about.”
Trackhouse and its PROJECT91 car featuring Shane van Gisbergen won the first-ever street race in NASCAR Cup Series history on July 2 in the Grant Park 220 Chicago Street Race.
Marks competed the day before in the NASCAR Xfinity Series The Loop 121.
Despite some unexpected major weather events that affected the Chicago Street Race, it turned into an epic event that was widely loved by the spectators that saw the action on the streets of Chicago.
That is similar to how Nashville has embraced IndyCar in the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.
Nashville isn’t just country music – it’s much, much more than that.
“Country Music is endemic to the cultural history of the city, but Nashville is so much more than just country music,” Marks said. “It is really one of the great even cities in America alongside Las Vegas and Austin, Texas. It’s becoming a real hub of commerce and a real hub of professional sports. There are a lot of companies moving here.
“The fact Nashville really prides itself on being an event town, some of the greatest sports and entertainment events in America take place in downtown Nashville. They are already wired to really be open to all different kinds of events that bring people to the city that allow companies to activate and promote in their cities.
“The fact it is IndyCar and not NASCAR doesn’t matter that much because Nashville continues to diversify more and more every year. The Music City Grand Prix is a great addition to their event slate.
“And the city is very, very much behind it. They love it. They have worked hard with IndyCar and the Grand Prix business to make it happen. They come out to the vent. They love it and it’s one that I think will be here for a long time.”
Marks and Trackhouse will be part of the action both on and off the track. In addition to racing a Tootsies Orchid Lounge branded Chevrolet in the Trans-Am race, Trackhouse will be activating that partnership with Tootsies this weekend.
The car will be parked in front of Tootsies and will also be a part of Fan Fest.
“For me, at this stage of the game, it’s more about networking and hosting,” Marks said. “We’ve got a lot of great people that in Nashville that are very connected to the business community that are investors in the race. It’s a great opportunity for Trackhouse to be amplified among that business community in Nashville.
“Who knows what the future will bring, but it’s a great ecosystem for Trackhouse to be part of.
IndyCar has a long history of street races. The NASCAR Cup Series held its first street race in July.
Marks was able to use IndyCar as a resource to help NASCAR with the Chicago Street Race.
“For sure,” he said. “I spent some time with Ben Kennedy (NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Racing Development and Strategy) and walked him through the challenges we had in the first year and some of the successes that we had in the first year. We tried to help them avoid any potential pitfalls and be thinking about how to deploy their event in Chicago with some intel about how we did it in Nashville as a first-time event.
“A lot of it was our relationship with the city. How emergency services got set up. How we improved infrastructure and improved the roads – ingress and egress.
“They looked at it, did a site visit and looked at how the business was run and used it as an opportunity for them to learn and build something great in Chicago.
“It was an asset to them.”
Holding a street race requires a lot of overhead and significant planning and execution. The race course are actual city streets used by passenger cars on a daily basis.
The temporary barriers and grandstands are constructed, safety fences erected, and parts of the racing service have to be prepared to take care of bumps and dips that have developed over the past year.
“Street races, you have constraints,” Marks explained. “You can’t move streets. You are constrained, not by your creativity, but by the infrastructure you have to work with in the city. There will always be challenges around that. Every street course has those types of challenges. Obviously, you can’t control the weather.
“As the series get more comfortable with the way the event and the track is laid out, then the races will have a tendency to get better over time.
“Nashville was a challenge for the Indy cars because there were parts of the track that were just so narrow. Seeing how that played out in the first year in the IndyCar race implemented some changes to mitigate some of the risk around crashes and red flags because the most important thing is to keep the action green on the race track for the fans.”
In NASCAR, it was the first time many of the drivers in the series had ever driven on a street course. That meant a quick learning process, especially how to race on a wet track on city streets through tight turns.
“I would expect that event to get better over time,” Marks continued. “At the end of the day, the teams and the drivers have to find a way to operate within the constraints of the city streets. That is a challenge that has been there since the first time they ever did a street race. It’s part of the challenge of street racing.”
Marks believes IndyCar President Jay Frye, as well as Penske Entertainment President and CEO Mark Miles and Penske Corporation Chairman Roger Penske – the owner of IndyCar, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500 – have been tremendous assets for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.
“It’s not like they have never done it before and we have to educate them on how a street race works, which was the case with NASCAR because they had never done one before,” Marks said. “Whether it’s Long Beach or St. Petersburg or Detroit, these guys in IndyCar know how to do this and they have been doing it for a long time.
“It’s a great partnership in that we can sit down and say here is the vision for the event and what the execution looks like and they have the wealth of experience and knowledge to look at it, not as one side educating the other, but as two sides partnering together with the ultimate goal of sell as many tickets as we can, create the best experience that we can and get as many people tuning in on television as we can.
“Jay has been a big part of that, all the staff at IndyCar has been a big part of that and it has been a really great relationship since Day One.”
Another unique aspect of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix is the fastest qualifier for the NTT IndyCar Series race will be given the Bryan Clauson Pole Award.
Clauson was a very popular and talented driver in the United States Auto Club (USAC) driving everything from USAC Midgets, Sprints and Silver Crown cars to high-speed Indy cars in three Indianapolis 500 starts.
Clauson was killed in a crash in the Belleville Nationals midget car race on August 6, 2016.
Clauson’s death gave life to five people. He was a registered organ donor and contributed to five lives being saved because his organs were used in transplants.
The irony of the Bryan Clauson Pole Award – it goes to a pole winner on a street course. Clauson, himself, never competed in a street race.
“A big part of that goes back to Matt Crews,” Marks explained. “He was a big fan of Bryan’s and has a relationship with the family and he wanted to honor Bryan’s family having him forever be a part of an IndyCar race.
“Obviously, the Indy 500 is big, and they have a lot of stuff going on, but this was an opportunity to honor his memory because of how revered he was and is in the racing community to put something in place in an IndyCar event that honors his participating in IndyCar. Even though it was limited, it was short, but it was still very impactful.
“To Matt, the property he controls is the Music City Grand Prix. It made sense to do that.
“Bryan was a friend of mine. I’m friends with the family. I raced in the Trans Am race and put a throwback scheme of his USAC Midget car on there. I was able to hang out with the family.
“It was an opportunity to pay tribute to someone who was very important to all of us at a place where we have some control to do that.”
The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix has become a blockbuster event from the start. The event will become an even more important part of the NTT IndyCar Series schedule in 2024 when it becomes the final race of the season.
The IndyCar champion will be crowned on the streets of Nashville as the race moves from August to September 13-15, 2024.
A new race course will feature Broadway Avenue in Nashville, as the speeding Indy cars will race directly in front of Tootsies.
“I think it’s great,” Marks said. “Nashville is a party city. It’s an event city and it is quickly becoming one of the most compelling racing events in the series. Being able to run an ‘All Roads Lead to Nashville’ campaign and crown the champion there at an event that is so embraced by the community in such an ‘it’ city in America, it makes perfect sense.
“It’s very exciting for our company, for the Music City Grand Prix, because we have a narrative and a campaign, we get to activate all season long and build drama and build excitement as the year goes on.
“Not only is it a great and compelling event like it is every single year, but the fact we get to crown a champion is extra icing on the cake for all the fans to come out and understand how important the event is for the sport, it adds some drama and anticipation to it.”