As Trackhouse arrives at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the “Cathedral of Speed” – for this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200, Trackhouse owner Justin Marks returns to where his love of racing began as a youngster.
It was May 28, 1995, and young Justin and his father were in the massive grandstands as spectators at the 79th Indianapolis 500.
What Marks witnessed that day charted the path of his career and his life.
“I went there in 1995 with my father to the Indianapolis 500 as a fan and experienced that amazing day,” Marks recalled. “Jacques Villeneuve won the race, and it was really one of those moments in my development that planted the seed that the race track was where I wanted to be for the rest of my life.”
Twenty-eight years later, Marks returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Trackhouse featuring NASCAR Cup Series Playoff-bound Ross Chastain in the No. 1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet.
Daniel Suarez dramatically improved his chances at making the playoffs with his performance in the rain-delayed Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway on Monday, August 7. Suarez will showcase his road racing skills in the Verizon 200 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course driving the No. 99 Freeway.com Chevrolet.
Suarez is just five points outside of the cutoff point for the sixth position with three races remaining in NASCAR Sprint Cup’s regular season.
"We just have to be smart,” Suarez said. “We need to do what we do and stay out of trouble and get good finishes. When we are in sync, we are a team that is hard to beat.
"Our goal at Michigan was to have a good execution race and build some momentum heading into Indianapolis where we know we are going to be good. I think we did that and are in a pretty good spot.
"You have to keep in mind, with two road courses and a superspeedway, anything can happen. Sometimes with the strategy and the way people push and move around at the end of these races on road courses it can be a wild card. Obviously, anything can happen at Daytona as well. We just have to maximize every day and continue to work.”
New Zealand Supercars sensation Shane van Gisbergen, who became the first driver in 60 years to win his NASCAR Cup Series debut race when he drove to victory on the streets of Chicago in the July 2 Grant Park 220, makes an encore performance in the PROJECT91 Chevrolet. He will drive the No. 91 Enhance Health Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Van Gisbergen will also compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series T-SPORT 200 race at Lucas Oil Raceway Park on Friday night, August 11.
It will be van Gisbergen’s first ever start on an oval and it will help him be approved for oval competition on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 2024.
It’s an important race on the track for any team in the NASCAR Cup Series. It’s also a valuable event for Trackhouse to be racing at one of the world’s greatest and most famous racing venues.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909 and has been the host of the famed Indianapolis 500 since 1911.
History was made on August 6, 1994, when the NASCAR Cup Series staged the first non-IndyCar race in the Inaugural Brickyard 400 on the 2.5-mile oval.
“It’s valuable for everybody that participates because of how historic race course is,” Marks explained. “Everybody wants to win at the Brickyard and ‘Kiss the Bricks.’
“It’s a tentpole event for all of motorsports to be able to win at that Speedway.
“I didn’t go the first year for Trackhouse, but I went last year, just and driving into the place, it feels different. It’s one of those special places like Daytona, where you drive through the tunnel and you are inside that Speedway, it really feels like hallowed ground. The air feels different in that place.
“It’s a dream everybody has to win there. NASCAR has been going there for 30 years now. It’s an event everybody wants to win. We are taking three cars this year. I think we’ll have a good shot at it.
“Any professional racing series in America would want to race there and we are fortunate that we get to in NASCAR.”
The Brickyard 400 was contested on the famed oval from 1994-2020. Since 2021, NASCAR has competed on the road course, putting on some exciting races in the Verizon 200.
Although it hasn’t been decided, there is a growing movement to return the race to its roots in 2024 by switching back to the oval for a true Brickyard 400.
“The migration to the road courses really started before the Next Gen car came because some of the bigger tracks struggled with the old car to put on a compelling show,” Marks said. “But what the Next Gen car has delivered is really compelling racing at the big tracks.
“Now is a time that we need to look at going back to the Brickyard 400 because we have a series and a race car right now that can put on a really compelling event.
“I’m generally a fan of being on the oval because that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That is what was originally built. The optics of coming off Turn 4 and down the front straightaway to take the checkered flag is one of the things that makes Indy special. I’m a fan of it and hope they do go back to the oval.”
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a special place where the love of racing is discovered by many, including a 14-year-old boy from Northern California in 1995 who was in the massive crowd of 400,000 fans.
What Marks witnessed that day was memorable to say the least. It was a field comprised mainly of teams and drivers from CART featuring four different engine manufacturers including Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, and Buick, two different chassis including Reynard and Lola and two different tire companies – Goodyear and Chevrolet.
Scott Brayton won the pole that year with a four-laps average of 231.604 miles per hour. The race featured an incredible 24 lead changes among nine drivers.
Villeneuve was penalized two laps for twice passing the pace car under caution but battled back to line up second behind race-leader Scott Goodyear for the final restart of the race with five laps remaining.
Amazingly, Goodyear passed the pace car before it pulled onto the apron for the restart and the race leader was black-flagged.
That put Villeneuve into the lead, and he won the Indianapolis 500 by completing 505 miles after he made up his two-lap penalty.
Although Goodyear was the first to finish the race, United States Auto Club (USAC) officials stopped scoring him after he failed to pull into pit lane after he was black-flagged and finished 14th.
Meantime, Villeneuve celebrated in Victory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He would go on to win the 1995 CART Championship before heading to Formula One.
Two years later, he would become the 1997 Formula One World Champion.
As for the 14-year-old in the grandstands at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he would go on to begin a major racing career in 2001 in the NASCAR Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series. Marks won six races over six years that spanned from 2001 to 2011.
Marks also had a productive NASCAR career, first in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2007, then onto the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2008 and the NASCAR Cup Series in 2013.
From behind the wheel, to the owner’s chair, Marks created Trackhouse, which began competition in 2021 and hit its stride in 2022.
As Trackhouse and its innovative approach are part of NASCAR’s and racing’s future, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway represent racing’s glorious past.
This is no time for reflection, however, as Trackhouse is determined to get Suarez into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs along with riding van Gisbergen’s international popularity after his win in the Chicago Street Race.
“The easy answer is we are bringing back Project91 with Shane van Gisbergen,” Marks said. “There is going to be a lot of anticipation around his return to the series after his win at Chicago.
“It’s another bullet in the gun. We have a third car on the race track and a 33 percent more chance to win the race. That’s going to be the big one for us.
“Daniel is super motivated right now. He wants to point one into the victory lane and change the season around for the 99 team. That’s what I’m excited about.
“As we get closer and closer to the playoffs it really becomes more about the racing and making sure we are organized as a business to make a run at the championship.”
The road to the NASCAR Playoffs includes bricks – the famed “Yard of Bricks” that make up the start/finish line at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the famed “Brickyard.”