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Ganassi celebrates 25 successful years with Target
Juan Montoya carried Target livery in 2000 when the CART driver went to Indy and gave the inferior IRLers a driving lesson right before Tony George's eyes.
Chip Ganassi figured his auto racing programs someday would become as big and successful as they are. There wasn't any pretense of failure for the Fox Chapel native, one of the most accomplished owners in motor sports history.

On Friday night, a jubilant Ganassi celebrated his organization's silver anniversary during an event at The Cosmopolitan hotel and casino.

Amid the glitter and rock music that filled a jam-packed ballroom, Ganassi saluted every member of Target Chip Ganassi Racing that launched its journey in 1990 in the Championship Auto Racing Teams series.

“There are so many people and partners who are involved,” said Ganassi, whose drivers have tallied more than 100 wins across three forms of racing: NASCAR, IndyCar and Rolex 24 Grand-Am series. “These relationships mean so much to me personally and professionally.

“Obviously we've been pretty good on the racetrack over the years. Most of the people in this organization can take stock in our success.”

For Ganassi, it also was a moment to reflect on a 25-year partnership with Target. The retail giant has been an integral part of his organization, which includes four Indianapolis 500 victories and 10 IndyCar Series championships.

“Our organization and Target have had an open dialogue from Day 1,” Ganassi told a crowd that gathered in a ballroom where TGCR unveiled special 25th anniversary cars. “The program doesn't look like anything from 25 years ago, and it continues to evolve.”

Ganassi has cultivated young upstarts into superstars. Ganassi and Target have helped shape the careers of nearly 20 drivers, including Indianapolis 500 winners Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon.

“If you're in a competitive environment, everyone is going to have a competitive mindset,” said Dixon, the reigning IndyCar Series champion. “In our team, right down to the people who prepare the tires, everyone has the competitive spirit. They all want to win. I can imagine it's the same for Target in how they apply in the retail world.”

Their newest protege, Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson, faces lofty expectations as he takes over the driver's seat of the No. 42 Chevrolet. After struggling in the Daytona 500 last month, Larson hopes to steer himself back on course at Sunday's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“It means a great deal to me to have the confidence of both Chip and Target,” Larson said. “I have a lot of respect for the history of this organization. I'm confident we can win because I've been given everything to succeed.”

Jimmy Vasser, who earned TCGR its first championship in 1996, echoed Larson by adding that Ganassi never cut corners in his quest to reel in the once-seemingly unchallenged teams of Roger Penske. Team Penske owns 12 IndyCar titles, 15 Indianapolis 500 victories and one Daytona 500 win, and Brad Keselowski earned its first Sprint Cup title in 2012.

Yet in the past 10 years, Ganassi easily has had the more dominant IndyCar program. Franchitti and Dixon had a combined five championships and three Indy 500 wins. And Jamie McMurray added a Daytona 500 win in 2010 — a year in which Ganassi swept the so-called Triple Crown of racing: Daytona 500, Indy 500 and Brickyard 400.

“Chip always gave us — all the team members — all the tools we needed,” Vasser said. “One thing about Chip, racing is his only business.

“He's not in the car business or other stuff. He puts everything back into the team. He gives the drivers and engineers whatever they need to do their best.”

Ganassi acknowledged Vasser's invaluable contributions. However, he was quick to make changes when Vasser's victories became few and far between. He did not have the same patience with Vasser that he did with Montoya, who recorded only two Sprint Cup victories in seven years.

“I was a victim of slipping a little and was let go,” Vasser said. “It's about winning. You can be friends one minute, but with Chip it's all about performance.”

“Chip is one of those guys you mention along with (Rick) Hendrick and Roger Penske,” Vasser said. “It's probably why Target has stuck around for 25 years.”

“It was the best time of my life driving for Chip,” said Vasser, wearing a vintage Target shirt given to him after winning the 1996 title. “It was only a few years, but it seems like a lifetime to me. I had virtually all my success with this organization. I wasn't an invited guest, but I strong-armed my way in.”

Vasser built an IndyCar program from the ground up and was rewarded when Tony Kanaan captured the checkered flag at last year's Indianapolis 500. At year's end, Ganassi strengthened his business when he signed Kanaan to replace Franchitti.

“Chip stole my driver,” Vasser said jokingly. “It was all about business. Everything was out on the table, and I've always appreciated that about Chip. There wasn't any underhanded or behind-your-back baloney.”

Vasser said Sebastien Bourdais will replace Kanaan.

“I can assure you that Chip will be worried about us,” he said.

It was the right time to replace Montoya with Larson. However, it was emotionally challenging for Ganassi and Target when Franchitti was forced into retirement after suffering multiple injuries in a race at Houston last year.

For Ganassi, it has been win or get out of the way. While drivers, engineers and crew members have come and gone over the past 25 years, Target has been the one constant for Ganassi's teams.

“It's amazing to have a partnership like that, and I've been lucky to be with the team for 14 years,” Dixon said. “To have the same sponsor is crazy. It works for all our vendors. It's much bigger than sponsoring the car. I think Chip is proud of how he's brought that together.” Tribunelive.com

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