NASCAR: Marks and Ganassi discuss sale of Ganassi Cup team

Justin Marks, Founder of Trackhouse Entertainment Group, announced the purchase of Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR operation. The transfer of all CGR NASCAR assets to Trackhouse Racing will take place following the NASCAR Cup Series final race of the 2021 season on November 7, 2021. Trackhouse Racing will field two full-time NASCAR Cup Series entries in 2022. Daniel Suarez, driver of the Trackhouse Racing No. 99 Chevrolet, will continue with the organization, with the second driver to be named at a later date.

THE MODERATOR: Justin, thank you so much for taking some time with us. Big announcement, big day. I know most of us were watching on the social media channels as well as We have a ton of questions for you. We’re going to get right into those.

Q: I’m curious, did you just cold call Chip? What was that first conversation? Were you just fishing?

JUSTIN MARKS: Well, I thought about it for a few weeks before I worked up the courage to just do it. I mean, I think sometimes I think there’s a lesson here, and sometimes you’ve just got to make the call. That’s what I did. I called him and I said, look, I’m in the process right now or at a point right now where I’m trying to identify opportunities to grow in this space and to create a great future for Trackhouse, and I just asked, that includes charters, that includes a potential acquisition of an entire operation, and if that’s a conversation you’d be interested in having, then I’ll come to Pittsburgh and we’ll have an adult conversation about it.

Q: Was he interested in the conversation right away or did further talks have to ‑‑

JUSTIN MARKS: Yeah, I think he was interested in hearing what I had to say. We’ve known each other for some time now, and obviously I raced for them, and we have a great relationship. We always got along. I said, if you’re willing to talk, I’ll fly up there and we’ll sit in your office and talk, and he was very willing to do that. I think maybe he didn’t know how serious it was, but I was going to come to him and he was interested in learning. We had a great conversation that day and started the process.

Q: I’ve got to ask how much did you pay?

JUSTIN MARKS: I can’t talk about that. These are a transaction between two private companies and obviously confidentiality in the agreement.

Q: Justin, Ross Chastain and Kurt Busch, are they among the potential drivers or are they kind of considered free agents even more now? What are you kind of looking for in that second driver?

JUSTIN MARKS: Yeah, we have to obviously go through that process and have that conversation, but at the onset those two are the top two that would be under consideration. Like I said, it’s not just drivers, the fact that there’s a lot of great people there, and we want to try to retain as much of that talent as we can moving into the Next‑Gen era. I think when it comes to the discussion of drivers that’s certainly where we’re going to start is with those two.

Q: Will you have any sort of alliance with anybody? You use the Hendrick ECR package now; would there be any change to engines going forward?

JUSTIN MARKS: I don’t anticipate a change at all. A lot of the work that has to be done from here over the next couple months is understanding very intimately the Chip Ganassi Racing operations and how they manage different business units within the company and how that stacks up with where Trackhouse is at right now. Obviously, the relationship with Chevrolet is very important. We have a great working relationship with RCR. We have to give them the respect first of exploring with them what a partnership moving into the future looks like, but those are all things we’re going to be considering in short order.

Q: During the last two months was there ever a time where you thought this wasn’t going to happen?

JUSTIN MARKS: I mean, I was hopeful. But you never know. You never really know. There was a lot of things to work through, a lot of details to work through and a lot of conversations to have with Chip. I felt confident because Chip’s enthusiasm, I believe, grew through the process, and I felt like we were just continuing to get to a better and better place that was going to work for both of us. This process started early enough in the year that I was pretty committed to seeing it through and not really working on anything else until I knew if this was a go or not.

Q: Obviously, a big day; would this have worked as well as it seems it is without your prior relationship with Chip? And to follow up on that, is this an opportunity for you because you’ve worked with him in the past to really be able to carry on the legacy that he started over the last 20 years?

JUSTIN MARKS: I would agree with both those sentiments. I think that he was willing to listen to what I had to say because we’ve worked together in the past and because we’ve had a great working relationship. It helps in anything you do in life with Chip to have run for him, which I was lucky enough to be able to do, so I think that obviously is a part of it, and yeah, like I said just a few minutes ago, my career and his career, my life as a fan has been linked in a way to CGR off and on for 20 years. I think this is a great motorsports story, I think the narrative here is great, and I think it makes a lot of sense that this is the point we’re at today.

Q: When you look at kind of the path that you’ve taken with Trackhouse, this has all happened relatively quickly over about the last 18 months. Was that always your plan from a business standpoint or is this kind of an escalation compared to what your original plan was?

JUSTIN MARKS: This is a condensing of the time frame for sure, but I always did anticipate this being the trajectory of the company in some cadence. But as the landscape ‑‑ as the charter landscape kind of heated up a little bit, it obviously was important from day one of the year to explore these options because we were leasing our charter. While this is much more than just the acquisition of a charter, it certainly was something that’s been important to be pursuing the whole time. But yeah, this happened very quickly, but I’m happy it happened quickly because now we can just focus on building for the future.

Q: You’ve been very vocal in your frustration about the charter market and missing out on some others, and recently it seemed like you were trying to drive the price down with some of your comments. Were you just bluffing at that point? What was behind all that?

JUSTIN MARKS: No, I mean, I’ve probably been a little too vocal maybe on that. I think the only reason why I had some of those comments was because some frustration because I was a bidder on no less than four charters before this point, and I know what those charters traded at. But things are changing quickly in the economy of this sport.

This deal was not really done and papered until a week ago, so I felt confident that we were going to get it done. There was no strategy or bluffing on my part. It just was me trying to get a handle on what is the charter worth, and I think where I ended up is that a charter is worth what people are willing ‑‑ what an individual is willing to pay for, and every transaction is different and works differently for both sides.

No gamesmanship on my side, really. I think I probably just had some frustration that I was working so hard and investing so much of my time into Trackhouse and was continually losing out these charters, so it’s nice to get one closed.

Q: Now that you do have a pair of charters, your other comments about how it was maybe potentially possible to run without one, do you still feel that way or would teams be wary to try something like that?

JUSTIN MARKS: No, I do. I think it’s possible. I think you’re obviously it’s more expensive to run without one and you’re taking the risk of missing a marquee race like the Daytona 500. I spoke from our perspective in that I’ve got too many positive things happening and too much belief in Trackhouse that if I was not able to get something like this done, I was going to pack it up and go home. That just was not an option for me. I think every owner is different. I think that every enterprise is set up differently and everybody has different risk tolerances. For me I was willing to race without one, and I believe there are people out there that might still believe that way, too.

Q: This original idea of going to Chip, with the way the market was and the way the situation was with looking at charters and growing Trackhouse, did you view this as like a Hail Mary, or is this just a very precise and sharp business venture that any capital venture would look at at an organization to potentially work a deal or take over?

JUSTIN MARKS: I don’t consider it a Hail Mary because the Hail Mary you throw the ball and you pray and you don’t have a lot of control after that point. I believe that there were a lot of parts of this transaction for both sides that made a lot of sense for both sides. Ambitious, yes, 100 percent; very, very ambitious. But Hail Mary is suggesting that there’s things that are out of your control, and Chip and I did work very, very hard together over the past eight weeks to try to get to a place that worked for both of us, and we did. It was calculated, but it was ambitious for sure.

Q: Obviously two cars now ‑‑ look, you can have as many as four, so are you done, or is there a hope of expansion and growing to four, three or four cars by next year or within the next couple years?

JUSTIN MARKS: Yeah, I think growth needs to be managed. I know that might sound weird in this moment because we’re only 19 races in and announcing this transaction, but I don’t want to get over my skis, either. I think that 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 car successfully, and 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.

Q: As you noted you’ve come in in a short time. We’ve seen what Denny Hamlin has done with Michael Jordan, and also Matt Kaulig, so there’s certainly a lot of new ownership group. Is it a case the new kids on the block are changing the sport? I’d say Matt came in with a really bold thing, you’ve done something very bold here today that’s making a major change throughout the sport. How are new owners impacting the sport in a different way than the old guard?

JUSTIN MARKS: 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. 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.

But I think the promise of the new car and the model of the new car is that opportunity for a lot of owners. Denny and I talk about this, and I think it’s a common theme among a number of the new owners in that this is the opportunity to come in when the sport is in a big transition, period of transition, and I think the days ahead for the sport and for new ownership and these new teams are really, really bright, and I’m very fortunate to be a part of it.

Q: I have some nuts‑and‑bolts questions. From the RCR perspective I know that they kind of consider you guys like a third car. Are you anticipating that there will be ‑‑ I guess first of all, did they know that this was a possibility? How did they find out?

JUSTIN MARKS: We notified them today. 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 just out of respect and obviously everything that we’ve been working on together. So yeah, I think that there’s a lot of paths forward with an RCR relationship. I think this shouldn’t be viewed as well, 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 that looks like in the future, and I anticipate there certainly being a relationship in some form that carries forward.

Q: So, a chance that you would absorb some RCR employees and Ganassi employees? How do you envision that working?

JUSTIN MARKS: Look, the 99 team is running really well right now and building some cohesiveness. I think it would be important for us to try to keep that group together. There’s also a lot of really, really talented and passionate people at Chip Ganassi Racing today, and it would be our goal to try to retain as many of those people as possible moving forward. With that being said, CGR has two cars to try to get into the playoffs this year, and we have one, too, so we wouldn’t be a minimal transaction as we work in the background on this.

Q: Will you be taking any Chip Ganassi management as part of this?

JUSTIN MARKS: Like I said, there’s a lot of really great people that have been working there for a long time that know how that place operates, and I’m looking forward to learning from them. We’ll go through that process, but I’m looking to ‑‑ it is my hope to retain as many people as possible for sure.

Q: You said that next year for sure you’d be operating out of Concord, but it sounds like is the possibility open that you guys could move competition operations to Nashville in ’23?

JUSTIN MARKS: I think anything is possible, yeah. I think there’s a lot of opportunity in that town. I think that we certainly want to have some sort of a presence there. We’ve got a lot of momentum in the market right now, we see with our Tootsies sponsorship from Nashville and a lot of stakeholders that I’ve been getting to know well, and the INDYCAR Grand Prix that’s coming. There is a lot of opportunity for our company there, but it is for sure the anticipation we’re going to operate out of the existing Concord building, headquarters for 2022 and then we’ll start looking to the future beyond that.

Q: Obviously Chip said a couple of times that you made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse. I’m wondering how many counteroffers did that take? Was it the opening negotiation was like right in the ballpark and he took it or was it a lot of back and forth?

JUSTIN MARKS: Yeah, it would be inappropriate I think for me to comment on exactly how that went just out of respect for Chip and out of respect for the process. Obviously, these are two business owners that negotiated with each other and got to a place that worked for both of us. I’m going to leave it at that.

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Chip Ganassi. Big announcement today for you and your team as well as Justin, so we’re going to get right into questions for you.

Q: Chip, can you characterize what it was like when you sold it Justin said maybe a week ago? Was it emotional? Was it a happy day, a sad day? Just another day of being a business owner?

CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, good question. I think it was all of the above. You reflect on 20 years of being in a particular business, in a particular sport, and there’s good things and bad things when you look back on all of it. But I’d say it was generally a positive thing. I felt best about what Justin was saying about our team and our people going forward, and that’s important to us. I think that made it a little more palatable, sure.

Q: Curious, I know that there have already been some changes in property and things of that nature of where the shop is physically located at. How does that work with Justin keeping the shop for next year and then possibly moving on to another location permanent for them?

CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I think that’s all way up in the air yet, to talk to Justin about that. I think he’s taken over the lease there, so that’ll be up to him what he wants to do. You’ll have to ask him that.

Q: With your drivers that you currently have now, how did that conversation go?

CHIP GANASSI: Both of our drivers, Kurt and Ross, were professionals and have been very professional about the whole process.

Q: I’m curious when Justin called you out of the blue and said he was interested in buying your team, what was your reaction?

CHIP GANASSI: You know, at first it surprised me a little bit, but I have to say that after thinking about it for a while, it was very much ‑‑ it reminded me of about 20 years ago when I was talking to Felix Sabates about getting involved in NASCAR. I felt like there was a lot of young, energetic thought being put into what Justin was saying, and I think, like I said, with all the new blood that seems to be coming into the sport now with Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin and maybe Keselowski and Tony Stewart has got a team and Jeff Gordon getting back involved and all these sort of things, the sport is ready for some new young blood and a new group of ‑‑ we always talk about a they 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.

Q: This new blood, aren’t you a little young to be moving out for new blood?

CHIP GANASSI: I’m 63 years old. I’ve been doing this for –

Q: The other guys are 83 and 81.

CHIP GANASSI: You’ll have to ask them that.

Q: This charter market, it just seems to be going bonkers even compared to what it was a few years ago. Has that surprised you at all? Did you see this coming?

CHIP GANASSI: Not really. I didn’t talk to anybody else about the sale of charters or the sale of our business. I only spoke to Justin. You hear a lot of talk around the charters, but I wasn’t really listening to much of that. Yeah, I mean, I think it’s ‑‑ 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. I think the system is working like it’s supposed to.

Q: Why now? The new car, everybody is saying, hey, it’s going to be more affordable for teams. If that’s the case, why not try to stick around and see what happens or something?

CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve been sticking around for a long time. I enjoy the sport. I am not getting out of the sport. I’m still in motor racing with three other teams and in IMSA and in INDYCARs and Extreme E. So I’m still heavily involved in motorsports. I’m not getting out of anything.

Q: I’m sure you might have heard Justin talking about it, but he’s got the relationship with RCR and it sounds like he’s going to probably bring some employees from there and then absorb some of yours. Do you understand or do you have an agreement with Justin how many of your employees he’ll keep or about how many will stay on?

CHIP GANASSI: I think he’s said it all, but he wants to interview everybody at our race shop and talk to them and hopes to retain a lot of those people.

Q: As far as your management team, I know Doug Duchardt kind of oversees everything that’s based there. Will the hierarchy of your executive team sort of remain the same ‑‑

CHIP GANASSI: Yes, I think the hierarchy of our team is going to remain the same, yes. There’s a group of people that are not leaving Chip Ganassi Racing.

Q: While I understand financial specifics can’t be revealed, could this sale have been completed in the same clean process without the charter system or does this prove how valuable this system has become?

CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, again, I don’t think the charter system is the main thrust of the sale. I mean, I think, sure, it’s a piece of it, but it’s also ‑‑ it was also making sure that this business gets put in the right hands for somebody that had ‑‑ somebody that has a vision and has an idea what they want to do going forward and has a plan and has the money to do that. That’s probably first and foremost of what brought the deal together.

Q: Justin Marks is a guy who raced for you in the Xfinity Series; what has your relationship been like him starting with that period? What did you see in him as a driver that maybe helped you want to ‑‑ convinced you to maybe do this, sell a team to him?

CHIP GANASSI: Well, I don’t know that anything I saw in him as a driver translates into I want to sell the business to him or not. In a driver we saw a guy that could obviously win races, and that’s what he did. I think we had an ongoing rapport that opened the door to this transaction.

Q: You talked about the new generation of owners, kind of like the new generation of drivers. I’m just curious, how do you see this new generation of owners making an impact in the sport now, and how do you think they might make an impact in the future moving forward?

CHIP GANASSI: Well, I think anytime you bring a new group of people in with new fresh ideas, some of those things will get implemented and some won’t. But it’s fresh blood, and fresh blood is good for any industry. I think NASCAR positioned itself well to have fresh blood and all the things that come along with that.

Q: How do you look back at the 20 years you’ve been in NASCAR? How do you look back and reflect on them? How would you like to be remembered in NASCAR for your accomplishment?

CHIP GANASSI: Like I said, we won some big races. We lost some big runs, too, you know, so it’s unfortunate when you’ve been in this business so long, you more remember the ones you lost than the ones you won. But we’ve had our ups and downs, like any other business and like any other team, and I think we’ve come through it with our head held high, so we’re fine. As we go forward, we’re still in racing and I’m out of NASCAR now. I’ve been in and out of the series before; you never know. The right opportunity comes along, I might be back in. For right now, we’re going to turn things over to Justin here at the end of the season and then let him run with it, and I look forward to helping him make it a success.

Q: You mentioned how Kurt and Ross have been professional about this. When were you able to tell them and the team that you had sold it?

CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, today.

Q: You seem very at peace with this decision. I’m curious if this were to happen two or three years ago, if Justin or anybody would have come to you at that point, would you have been as comfortable selling the team or was this just the right time?

CHIP GANASSI: Good question. I don’t even know that I have an answer for that one. Like I said, the team wasn’t for sale, and it’s just someone called and wanted to buy it, and I had to take a look at it. I don’t think there’s any right time or wrong time in terms of what was going on. I can tell you I wasn’t thinking about selling the team three years ago and I wasn’t thinking about selling the team three months ago. It’s just kind of the way things happened.

Q: Do you feel that going forward obviously the business transaction is one thing, but as far as the legacy this team has and that you leave, do you feel that Justin is the right person to kind of carry that forward and build on it considering the past relationship that you guys have had together over the years in racing?

CHIP GANASSI: I think Justin ‑‑ I don’t think it’s important for Justin to carry on the Chip Ganassi legacy. I think it’s important for Justin to develop his own legacy. I’m not going to feel one way or the other about him carrying on the legacy of our team. I hope he keeps an eye on some of our great people we have. Outside of that, he should build a legacy of Trackhouse Racing. The legacy of Chip Ganassi Racing in NASCAR is what it is, and I don’t think Justin has anything to do with that. I think he needs to build his own brand, and I think he will.

Q: Are you content with that legacy that you’re leaving in NASCAR?

CHIP GANASSI: Absolutely.

Q: I want to ask a little bit further details of what was in the purchase. Does it include your affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports because right now Trackhouse has an affiliation with RCR?

CHIP GANASSI: I hate to tell you this but I’m not going to discuss any deal points. Sorry.

Q: You’re one that’s known for your message of I like winners, and with the way Trackhouse has performed in their first season, including the capability of leading laps, is this a move that can put Trackhouse in Victory Lane next season with the new Next‑Gen car?

CHIP GANASSI: I sure hope so. I sure hope so.

Q: When you were giving the speech during the press conference earlier you mentioned the weekly grind that is required to pretty much take part in NASCAR. How much of a factor did that play into you making this decision?

CHIP GANASSI: I don’t know. I just think that the weekly grind is what it is. I signed up for that 20 years ago. Certainly 20 years of doing that, when you look at the schedule, I’m only going to be freed up a couple three, four weekends more, so it’s not like a big change in my life. We still have plenty of races to be involved in. But I think ‑‑ I do like the idea of maybe not having to think about changing over to the new car and all that goes along with that. It’s certainly a relief in some sense, but I’ll certainly miss it, as well.

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