From the moment Justin Marks launched Trackhouse Racing last summer, the 40-year-old entrepreneur and racer turned his attention to acquiring at least two ownership charters to compete in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Long term, his vision could not be implemented without it, and Marks spent countless hours each day working to pave that foundation.

The first potential setback emerged earlier this month when he learned without advance notice that Spire Motorsports had sold the charter that he was leasing for his No. 99 team to Kaulig Motorsports for 2022 and beyond.

The initial charter period ran from 2016 to 2020 and was extended from 2021 to 2024 and runs through the current NASCAR TV rights agreement with FOX Sports and NBC Sports. Understand that charters can only be leased once per agreement period, and Marks had hoped to acquire one or several of the three held by that organization.

Prior to that, he had made a bid for the charters sold by Germain Racing to 23XI Racing and for the one acquired by Spire when Leavine Family Racing closed shop.

Marks conceded he was frustrated at the evolving market.

“I think the only reason why I had some of those comments was born of frustration because I was a bidder on no less than four charters before this point,” Marks said. “I know what those charters traded at.”

Simultaneous to the Spire – Kaulig transaction was that Marks had already approached Chip Ganassi about the availability of his charters, but those conversations very rapidly evolved into so much more. Ganassi sold his entire NASCAR team to Marks in a deal that includes his two ownership charters, the race shop and all the equipment within it.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it did not include the Ganassi IndyCar, IMSA or Extreme E programs — something that will keep Chip Ganassi occupied moving forward.

At 63-years-old, Ganassi wasn’t in a position where he absolutely needed to begin addressing an exit plan, but ultimately decided the time was right. While his IndyCar and IMSA programs remain at a championship caliber level, the NASCAR team had started to fall closer to the mid-pack over the past half-decade.

While Marks presented a financially viable plan to Ganassi, it was actually the vision that convinced him to proceed with the agreement.

“I don’t think the charter system is the main thrust of the sale,” Ganassi said. “I mean, sure, it’s a piece of it.

“It’s also making sure that this business gets put in the right hands for somebody that has a vision and an idea for what they want to do going forward — and has a plan and the money to do that. That’s probably first and foremost of what brought the deal together.”

Marks, who brought pop culture icon Pitbull in as a team partner in January, first reached out to Ganassi in May before the Kualig, Spire transaction came to a head. It accelerated after that agreement was finalized but Ganassi was adamant that the vision of Trackhouse was more compelling than the financial benefits of cashing out.

“I don’t think the financial component was nearly as important as just his vision about where he wanted to go, what he wanted to do, how he wanted to handle it,” Ganassi said. “Basically, the way he wanted to do it was maybe more compelling than the financial component.”

Marks has spent the majority of his life in motorsports as both a racer and team owner. He previously drove for Ganassi and was a partner in his Xfinity Series program. He won a race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the No. 42 back in 2016.

Before that, Marks had also co-launched Kyle Larson’s Sprint Car team and also served as a partner in Harry Scott’s K&N Pro Series development operation.

Ganassi says he saw a little bit of himself in the businessman racer hybrid that Marks had become.

“It reminded me of about 20 years ago when I was talking to Felix Sabates about getting involved in NASCAR,” Ganassi said. “I felt like there was a lot of young, energetic thought being put into what Justin was saying.”

Marks is amongst a new generation of team owners that includes BL McLeod and Matt Tifft of Live Fast. Jeff Gordon will officially become part of Hendrick Motorsports’ ownership group in January. Brad Keselowski is rumored to have accepted a deal to make him a co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing next season.

Denny Hamlin encouraged Michael Jordan to join him at 23XI in the same way Marks was able to entice Pitbull. Ganassi says Marks’s vision aligned with this new generation of NASCAR team ownership. The fact it would begin with a new racing platform next year in the Next-Gen only increased the amount of business sense it make

“The sport is ready for some new young blood and a new group,” Ganassi said. “We always talk about a new generation of drivers, and I think you’re going to see a new generation of owners now, and I think it’s a great thing for the sport.”

So, what is this vision that Marks has established leading up to his acquisition of Chip Ganassi Racing?

For one, the team was founded on the principles of diversity, inclusion and STEM education through the NASCAR sports and entertainment prism. Of course, this is a team that wants to contend and believes Daniel Suarez is poised to win championships in Cup just like he did in the Xfinity Series and Mexico Series.

Suarez will remain with the team next year and beyond, but his teammate is to be decided. Current Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Kurt Busch and Ross Chastain are both candidates to transition over to Trackhouse.

Marks’ vision includes a long-term goal to move the shop to Nashville, an emerging sports and entertainment hub for the United States and one of NASCAR’s most enthusiastic markets. Marks wants his team to exist at the epicenter of sports and entertainment.

With that vision comes diligence.

Marks has all these long-term goals, but the acquisition of an established team is actually well ahead of where he reasonably expected to be 19 races into Trackhouse’s first campaign, so don’t expect a third or fourth charter anytime soon.

“I don’t want to get over my skis,” Marks said. “I think there’s a lot of unknowns coming around this new car. We have to learn a lot about what operationally it’s going to take to field the Next‑Gen successfully.

“I have a lot of ambition and a lot of passion and vision for this company, but I’m not going to risk the momentum we have right now and so many good things ahead of us by trying to do too much too quickly. I think we can grow beyond two, but that’s by no means the imminent plans for the company.”

NASCAR Next-Gen is so much more than a car — but rather a philosophy and a marketing platform for teams beyond what transpires from flag-to-flag. The sanctioning body had hoped to create a means for outgoing team owners to receive a return on their decades’ long investment and appears to have succeeded.

Based on the rumored asking price of $10 million per charter, not to mention the value of the property the equipment was housed in, Ganassi leaves NASCAR after 20 years with significant capital to invest in his other racing platforms.

“I am not getting out of the sport,” Ganassi said. “I’m still in motor racing with three other teams and in IMSA and in INDYCAR and Extreme E. So, I’m still heavily involved in motorsports.”

Meanwhile, team owners who are in their 30s and 40s are now taking the reigns in shaping what NASCAR becomes over the next generation.

The charter system — and the supply and demand surrounding it — is creating value to participate in the sport alongside a new car designed to be more cost-effective than anything that came before it.

“Well, I listen to all that, and I think where my mind goes is this is proof of concept for NASCAR’s vision for the future,” Marks said. “It’s proof of concept for the new car. This is exactly what they were trying to do with this new car. The business model of the sport made the barrier of entry for new ownership just higher and higher and higher every single year and it was going to take something like this to ignite a movement like this.

“I think we’re proving that there’s a lot of desire to get into this sport, just the mechanism to do that has just been too high of a mountain for a lot of people to climb.”

The mountain isn’t quite a mole hill, but it’s not Everest either.

“I think in some sense the charter is doing what it was meant to do, and in terms of helping the ownership value their businesses a little differently or better, I think it’s working,” Ganassi said. “I think the system is working like it’s supposed to.”

That system will give Marks and Pitbull the keys to what is now Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of the year. Marks can also begin exploring a stronger relationship with Chevrolet and the Richard Childress Racing alliance. Perhaps it seek an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports.

With a new car, Marks could go anywhere with his new team, and that was always the point. A vision needs runway and now Marks can begin building on top of this newly-acquired foundation.

“We notified (RCR) today,” Marks said. “It was very important for Chip and I both to keep this as quiet as possible but make sure that we notified our close partners before they read about it on the internet. … Trackhouse is now fully autonomous and on our own because these companies have developed some very valuable intellectual property and engineering resources and data sets and things like that.

“We’re going to be having those discussions over the next few weeks to sort of see what (everything) looks like in the future, and I anticipate there certainly being a relationship in some form that carries forward.”


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