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Daniel Suarez, Justin Marks Want To Revolutionize Nascar

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Daniel Suarez will pilot the No. 99 Chevrolet for Trackhouse Racing in 2021. TRACKHOUSE RACING Photo

Justin Marks, Daniel Suarez Want To Revolutionize Nascar With Trackhouse Racing

Daniel Suarez will pilot the No. 99 Chevrolet for Trackhouse Racing in 2021.

By Joseph Wolkin

Justin Marks wants to change the landscape of team ownership in Nascar. He wants people to rethink everything, whether it be location, the business model of the sport or even the look and feel of a team.

“I believe these race shops shouldn’t be buried in the back of industrial parks in 100,000-square-foot concrete buildings,” Marks said. “You’re going to be able to race competitively with a much smaller footprint with this new car and a smaller square footage. You can completely rethink what a race team is.”

Marks formed Trackhouse Racing with veteran Nascar executive Ty Norris in late 2020, with plans to hit the track for a full-time Nascar Cup Series schedule in 2021. The No. 99 team will be led by Daniel Suarez, who is Nascar’s only Mexican driver, and they’ve already solidified an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and Chevrolet. The alliance, Marks believes, is just the start of what will be a meaningful business relationship.

Since RCR is focused on building the cars and putting the team’s pit crew together, Marks is spending his time on the business side of the organization. He doesn’t want this to be just another Nascar team that comes and goes. He wants to change the entire industry by using lessons learned from his father, Michael Marks, the former interim CEO at Tesla and founder of Katerra.

Trackhouse Racing is already stunning the Nascar world before even hitting the track. The team brought rapper Pitbull (Armando Christian Pérez) on as a minority owner, giving Marks’ new venture an upper hand when it comes to securing new sponsorship deals to be placed on Suarez’s car.

“There’s a lot of people within the industry that know what our mission is as a company to transcend the sport,” Marks said. “We want to build a brand that’s active with entertainment, culture and music. That got back to him with a degree or two of separation, and a meeting was set up in Miami about a month ago.”

Within 15 minutes, Pitbull was convinced. He wanted to be part of Trackhouse Racing. And everyday, Marks sends him pictures from the team’s shop on the Richard Childress Racing campus to what’s happening.

But the challenge that is ahead for Trackhouse Racing is immense. Suarez is coming off his worst year in Nascar, competing for the underfunded Gaunt Brothers Racing, which used equipment from 2012.

A former Nascar driver himself, Marks never completed a full schedule in any of the sport’s top three divisions. However, he’s always had a keen eye for business. While racing part-time, the entrepreneur in him invested in multiple projects, whether it be the GoPro Motorplex in Charlotte or race teams in smaller divisions.

“I’ve made mistakes along the way and I’ve learned really valuable lessons,” Marks said. “If you recognize an opportunity and truly believe in it, you have to commit wholly to it.”

The coronavirus pandemic actually helped Marks’ new business venture. Instead of coming in 2021 with the Next Gen racecar, he and Norris have a year to build the organization, creating a culture of their own.

Of course, the Next Gen car and business model was Marks’ buying-in point. Similar to Spire Motorsports, which entered the sport because of the Next Gen car, Marks believes this is a “true inflection point in the history of the sport.”

The best part of all of this, Marks said, is working with a driver who knows what it’s like to race for larger, competitive organizations.

Daniel Suarez’s Rejuvenation

Suarez, who had opportunities to race with larger, well-established organizations, opted to compete for Trackhouse Racing. The idea of having the team form around him, as well as leaning on his experience as a driver, was a big selling point.

“I feel like we’re in a very unique position to have a pretty good team,” Suarez said. “We have people who have experience and have been in the sport for a while. We have good people on the team side who are thinking outside of the box, and we’re going to have a lot of good things at the racetrack. I feel like the connection of these two really made me think Trackhouse is the perfect place for me.”

Suarez failed to earn any top-10 finishes last year, a massive disappointment for a driver who was promised the team would be competitive. His average finish of 26.6 placed him 31st in the standings, by far the worst in his four years of full-time Cup racing.

Ironically enough, Suarez’s new car number pays homage to the man he replaced at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017, Carl Edwards. Now, he has a shot at redeeming his career for a team that truly believes in his ability behind the wheel.

“We wanted somebody with Cup experience and who’s hungry,” Marks said. “We wanted somebody who knows how to win races and championships, somebody who has proven they have the ability to do it when given the opportunity. Of the five or six drivers we had on our list, Daniel was the one who checked off all of those boxes for us.”

But Suarez wasn’t easily convinced. Who could blame him after his last experience? Instead of running with the other Toyota-backed teams, Suarez was raced in some of the oldest equipment on the track week-in and week-out.

No longer was Suarez battling for top 10s like he did at Joe Gibbs Racing or at Stewart-Haas Racing from 2017-19. The miserable year came just as he was starting to improve at the Cup level.

He almost made the playoffs with SHR in 2019, finishing the year with four top fives and 11 top 10s. But he got the boot in lieu of Cole Custer, who went on to be the 2020 Sunoco Rookie of the Year.

“Last year was very difficult in many different areas,” Suarez said. “It was one of those things that helped me do better mentally. It helped me work harder and be able to grow as a person in a sense and as a driver.”

Now, Suarez’s head is the right place. He understands how important it is to succeed at Trackhouse Racing. The partnership with RCR will provide him a sense of stability and encouragement, knowing the equipment is capable of running near the front of the pack.

Suarez believes that he can score his first career Cup victory with this team, and there’s no reason why it can’t come quickly.

“I want to be able to compete up front,” Marks said. “I think we’ll be able to win a race. I believe so. Hopefully, it’s early in the season because, if that happens, we can even think about more than one [win]. I think with the support of Chevy and RCR, anything could be possible.”

Marks, however, is a bit more modest. He won’t say where he thinks the team will run in its first year. He is confident, however, that there will be some weeks where team No. 99 is running near the front of the pack.

If Suarez can return to his winning ways, just like he experienced at Gibbs during his 2016 Xfinity Series championship run, he will emerge as one of the sport’s greatest comeback stories.

“I’m really excited to have him and I know he turned down some pretty big opportunities in the sport to come race for us,” Marks said. “I’ll forever be grateful for that decision.”

Justin Marks’ Vision For A New Nascar

Marks believes the Next Gen car is a symbol for something much greater. Trackhouse Racing is already unique as it is among Nascar teams because of its mission to promote STEM education.

More than that, Marks doesn’t want to just come and go like other teams. And he doesn’t want to be running near the back of the pack. That’s why his investment to align with Richard Childress Racing is just the first step of his master plan.

“People forget there are a lot of business models in NASCAR, and there a lot of ways to do it wrong,” Marks said. “That gets lost on people. They say, ‘It costs millions of dollars to start a race team.’ Well, it costs millions of dollars to start a race team if you do it a certain way. That’s not the way I’m doing it.”

So how is he doing it? Well, besides the initial startup fee, which can cost several million dollars to do it in the way he’s doing things, Pitbull’s involvement will help things out. Suarez has some sponsorship history with Coca-Cola, but it is unknown yet if the beverage company will be on his car as a primary sponsor in 2021.

Rather than just purchase equipment and a shop, Marks is leasing everything. He is using 2021 as an entry point to 2022, when the Next Gen car hits the track and his business can take off.

“One of the things I think that is a true opportunity around this new car is that you’re not going to need to rely so heavily on a local supply chain in Charlotte,” he said. “Vendors will be supplying so many parts for these cars in the future, so much so that you can have a team anywhere. My goal is to have this team — as far as where we’re located with the race shop — in a culturally relevant city center.”

Marks’ vision of having a team’s garage in the middle of a major city is essentially unheard of in Nascar. It’s never been done before in this way.

The only major team to be competitive from outside of the southeast was Furniture Row Racing, which was based in Denver, CO. The team folded up shop a year after winning the 2017 Cup title due to the rising cost of having an alliance with JGR.

But Marks sees things differently. He believes that if things are done right and the right partners team together, a Nascar team might be able to revolutionize the sport.

Marks’ eyes are set on the prize: capturing a Cup Series championship at some point with Suarez. While they believe they are getting off the ground as smoothly as possible, there will surely be bumps in the road.

With a popular driver and a entrepreneurial mindset, Trackhouse Racing could be poised to change the way Nascar itself envisions the future of American auto racing.

“From a business strategy and business development standpoint, if my race shop can be in a relevant cultural city center, we can have tens of thousands of visitors each and every year,” Marks said. “We can use that to develop our footprint to offer more diverse business offerings around the race team. That’s my ultimate goal.”

TRACKHOUSE RACING Photo

By Joseph Wolkin |January, 22-2021|Forbes

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