Surging Trackhouse Racing Is No Place for NASCAR Curmudgeons

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Trackhouse Racing No Place for NASCAR CurmudgeonsJared C. Tilton - Getty Images
  • Trackhouse Racing became a team to beat last year, placing drivers Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain in the NASCAR Playoffs.

  • Today, the team operates with about 150 people. That’s at least half of those employed by the sport’s veteran mega teams.

  • A few days before the season opening Daytona 500, Trackhouse made it official, Suarez and Chastain wouldn’t be free agents any time soon.

When Trackhouse Racing emerged from its second NASCAR Cup season with three victories, 21 top-five and 34 top-10 finishes and second place in the championship standings the team’s performance underscored the importance of the sanctioning body’s new direction.

It was a direction that team co-owner and visionary Justin Marks recognized as the opportune time for him to field his own team. He knew he wanted Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain as his drivers because of their intense hunger for success. He shied away from the path of previous team owners, cutting his own trail with a game plan that would build a successful operation. It’s a blueprint that will produce more victories in 2023.

“What we’re trying to do in this sport is really establish ourselves as a consistent year-in and year-out competitor … that can win championships, that can be a great destination for partners and for the people that work here,” Marks said.

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Daniel Suarez (99) and Ross Chastain (1) have high hopes for a championship season in 2023.Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

“We’re living in an era now where the people are truly going to make this car go. It’s really the core tenant of our business and a big part of our success.”

For Trackhouse’s performance last year, the National Motorsports Press Association presented the Myers Brothers Award to Marks and its Richard Petty Driver of the Year award to Chastain. Named for stock car racing pioneers Billy and Bob Myers, Marks’ award recognizes individuals and/or groups who have provided outstanding contributions to the sport.

Chastain’s “Hail Melon” move at Martinsville Speedway gave him the edge in Driver of the Year voting. Still, Chastain said he has less confidence now because “this series is so humbling.”

“At this level, nothing is guaranteed,” Chastain continued. “I feel like I have more work to do now than I did a year ago to sustain what we were able to accomplish last year.”

A few days before the season opening Daytona 500, Trackhouse made it official, Suarez and Chastain wouldn’t be free agents any time soon. Both had signed multi-year contracts.

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Daniel Suarez, left, and Ross Chastain, right, both found victory lane and qualified for the NASCAR Cup Playoffs last year.Joe Scarnici - Getty Images

“It was incredibly important for Trackhouse to have two race car drivers that have a lot of fire because there are 36 guys that walk in this garage every week, and there aren’t 36 hot burning fires in those guys,” Marks said. “I want two guys where that fire is burning the hottest.

“I started this team and hired two guys that had never won a race before, never made the playoffs before. That didn’t matter to me because I saw that potential was there through their work ethic, their dedication and just how badly they wanted it.

“Knowing that our two guys, Daniel and Ross, are going to be with us for a long time, it really sets the tone, and it gives us some security and it lays the groundwork and infrastructure for us to truly build a great organization that’ll be around here for a long time.”

Marks describes everyone who works at Trackhouse as “dreamers.” When he purchased Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2021 season it gave him two charters and the team’s Concord, N.C., facility. Trackhouse President Ty Norris says negativity isn’t allowed. That includes the sport, the Next Gen car, the schedule, and each other.

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Justin Marks, center, has established a culture at Trackhouse that he hopes will have his team enjoying the journey. Chris Graythen - Getty Images

“It’s OK that people are curmudgeons, but they won’t work at our place,” Norris said referring to Trackhouse.

Norris is beginning his 33rd year in the NASCAR garage and he says he has never worked for a “more special group in a more special time with unreal possibility where Trackhouse can go.”

Today, the team operates with about 150 people. That’s at least half of those employed by the sport’s veteran mega teams.

“He has great ideas, and he thinks outside the box,” Suarez said about Marks.

While many have complained for the last two decades that the sport isn’t fun anymore, that’s not the culture at Trackhouse. In fact, Marks often uses unique ways to get his point across. After Chastain lost the 2022 championship by 235 feet to Joey Logano, Marks painted a 235-foot section of road in front of the team’s shop and put the numbers 2-3-5 big and bold on that roadway segment.

“Every day I drive in and out (of the shop) I have to drive across that,” Chastain said.

Marks disagrees with anyone who says the fun has disappeared from the sport. He considers that their personal problem.

“This sport is as cool as it was the day that I came here in 1996 as a guest of Stavola Brothers Racing and Hut Stricklin,” Marks said. “Every time I drive in here (Daytona) I go what’s cooler than a two-and-a-half-mile high-banked speedway where you race 200 mph around it? That’s cool. If you don’t love it anymore, you can find something else to do.”

Suarez described his experience with Trackhouse, Marks and Norris as “way different” than everything he encountered previously.

“Culture-wise, people-wise, how they care about it. It’s quite special,” Suarez said. “We’re having fun. At the end of the day that’s the most important thing. Enjoy this journey, have fun, go out there … and do what we love the most which is compete and race for wins.”

Earlier this year, the team members took to the outdoors for a paintball confrontation. Chastain said one of the paintball team captains was an engineer from his No. 1 team while the other was a mechanic from Suarez’s No. 99 team.

“They don’t like to speak in front of people, don’t like to be in the spotlight. We purposely pushed them into the spotlight, made them build up their teams,” Chastain said with a smile. “It was a mix of all the road crews from pit crews, mechanics and engineers that travel every week. It was not (No.) 1 versus (No.) 99, it was a lot of vendettas enacted on and we were able to let out a lot of anger with each other.

“I was able to shoot my engineer with a paintball and it felt so good. I also got bruises on my legs when I was pinned down on the ground in the corner by my engine tuner. There was a lot of paintball, plenty of CO2, we burned through some paint. It was a lot of fun. It was really wet and muddy, but we brought like war paint. We had our faces painted.”

Chastain said he mistakenly wore “super thin jogging pants” and he had bruises all over.

“I think more people were looking for me than I was looking for other people,” Chastain said with a laugh. “They got some of their anger out on me. It was so cool.”

Suarez said with a laugh that he “got shot a lot” in the paintball confrontation.

“I was quite aggressive with my strategy,” Suarez continued. “I don’t want to say that I won, but I was aggressive.”

Chastain, who still thinks of himself as a watermelon farmer, celebrates a victory by smashing a watermelon. Suarez cites his signature victory celebration now as breaking a taco pinata, a move he inaugurated last year when he claimed his first Cup victory at Sonoma, Calif.

Marks still owns GoPro Motorplex, a 0.7-mile, 11-turn karting facility he built in Mooresville, N.C., and opened in October 2012. Project 91, where he brings a driver in from another form of racing to compete in NASCAR, is progressing “really well” and an announcement is expected in 14 to 18 days.

Marks also plans to compete in selected Trans-Am events this year and possibly a Late Model race. During the off-season, Marks joined Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton as the new owners of the Late Model CARS Tour.

Overall, Trackhouse’s past and future successes are the result of the way it views itself.

“We always say we have to stay humble; we have to stay hungry,” Norris said. “If you keep those two things, good things will happen. Humility is a very important part of who we are.”