NASCAR Cup Series
Deconstructing the Cup Series Finish at Talladega
Apr 25, 2022
Not that winning ever gets old, but Ty Norris had earned a bit of a reprieve following 45 minutes of hat dancing with Ross Chastain, Phil Surgen and their No. 1 Trackhouse Racing team in victory lane at Talladega Superspeedway.
Oh, and Kid Rock was there, too.
The team president was on his way back to the garage when he received a very important phone call from the boss. No, not that one as Justin Marks was still in the media center in the midst of a lengthy post victory interview session.
The other one.
Armando Christian Pérez.
"How cool is this?"
Mr. Worldwide thanked the veteran Cup Series executive for his efforts this season and congratulated him on winning the GEICO 500 while expressing remorse that he couldn’t be there in person. The enthusiasm in his voice was palpable.
"This is only the beginning."
"Keep kicking ass and taking names."
Oh, and of course, because Pitbull doesn't simply say 'goodbye,' or 'later' like a mere mortal …
Norris put the call on speaker so a host of Trackhouse partners and employees could listen. They cheered emphatically at the closing salutation.
"Sorry, I had to take that one," Norris said as the call actually came in the middle of an interview about the early season success and his place in it all.
Pitbull vowed to attend every race this season, and he’s actually attended quite a few but a touring and recording schedule denied the pop culture icon from enjoying both Chastain victories in person. But don’t mistake that for a lack of investment or enthusiasm.
"He’s paying attention and he’s watching all the time," Norris told Racing America after the call. "He keeps track of what we’re doing. He and I talk all the time and he’s engaged on the business side. He’s really an all-around incredible human being."
Marks, while understanding, is also prepared to give his partner the business for missing both of their inaugural wins.
"When Armando said, 'I'm going to be at every race,' that was an expression of passion, not scheduling, right?" Marks said in the media center. "Look, I mean, it's Pitbull, right? He's touring, recording songs, releasing a song in two weeks, they're doing a bunch of press around that.
"I promise you that I will call him again this week and give him a bunch of shit for missing a race because he needs to be in Victory Lane with us."
I mean, if Kid Rock can make it to victory lane at Talladega, why not Pitbull?
"He just hangs out because he likes to go to the races," said Marks before adding a playful jab. "He's just riding our coattails. I'm kidding."
Kid Rock previously partnered with Marks in a Super Late Model for the All-American 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and has a relationship with Tootsies Orchid Lounge in Downtown Music City – another Trackhouse sponsor on the No. 99 car.
"He's a major hospitality powerhouse in Nashville," Marks said. "So being able to be partnered with somebody like him really brings the Nashville connection to what we're doing. Bob is a huge supporter and friend of what we're doing. Obviously, him and Steve (Smith) have Kid Rock's Honky Tonk Bar and Grill on Broadway.
"It's the power of Trackhouse in that town a little bit. People just love it and want to be a part of it."
Pitbull and Marks earn much of the spotlight and press surrounding Trackhouse Racing, at least when Chastain isn’t winning races, but there is a reason the multimillionaire rapper was calling Norris as soon as he was free from hat dance duties.
The 56-year-old, with a 30-year resume that includes working for Dale Earnhardt Sr., Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Michael Waltrip Racing is the backbone of the organization. Marks said Norris was the first person he ever called about what would become Trackhouse.
"I needed to bounce it off of somebody that's seen the highs, the lows, people come and go," Marks said. "How many times have we seen in this sport, somebody comes in, they're going to be the next great thing, it ends up not working out. I was business partners with Harry Scott for four years, right?
"When I called Ty, I said, 'Look, I have this idea about this new car, and I need like a real bullshit meter. I need somebody to tell me this is a bad idea' and Ty saw it really, really quickly."
Norris, who presided over a similar concept in the early days of Michael Waltrip Racing, saw exactly what Marks had in mind.
"He's been instrumental because he knows so much about how this garage works, about how this business works," Marks said. "He continues to contribute so much to this company because he just has such a great understanding of how everything works.
"But he's also at a point in his life where he's not getting any younger. He's about to be 57. He sees Trackhouse as his swan song in the sport. He worked for Dale Earnhardt, MWR, and Toyota. I think he gets really excited about this Trackhouse project really challenging him. Everything that he's done in his life, that final kind of thing in his career that he really makes an impact in this sport.
"He's a soldier, super loyal. The guy works way harder than I ask him to work. He's super, super vital to us."
From Dale to dale as it were.
Norris worked with Earnhardt and Earnhardt Jr. at the height of both fandoms and relived it to a degree earlier in the weekend when Jeffrey Earnhardt took the Richard Childress Racing No. 3 to a runner-up finish in the Xfinity Series race on Saturday afternoon.
For decades, Norris was at the epicenter of the glory years of the National Association, which makes how he feels about Trackhouse all the more fascinating.
"People want to talk about the good old days, these are the good old days for us," Norris said. "I have been around a long, long time and there is something really special going on here. All we can do is hope to keep the momentum going because the success so far is mind boggling."
Hearing that meant the world to Marks too.
"I love hearing that," Marks said. "I want everybody that works for this company to feel like they've got a great job and feel like they're doing important work."
That culture begins with Pitbull and Marks but is evident in Chastain and Daniel Suárez, runs through Surgen and Travis Mack, their engineers, mechanics and every employee associated with The House. Photographer Daylon Barr figuratively lives and dies with every lap. He loves his job and feels like he's doing important work.
Marks has always said Trackhouse is more than a race team -- a cultural collaboration of sorts -- which is a point he underscored again on Sunday.
"It's a brand in which we're trying to inspire," Marks said. "We're trying to activate in the intersection point between entertainment and motorsports."
He still wants the team to have a presence in Downtown Nashville alongside Kid Rock, even if it doesn’t make sense to host the entire shop in Music City, as per his original vision.
Obviously, Chastain has been a massive asset too, and not only because he is starting to win with regularity but also because he is one of the most entertaining drivers behind the wheel. If he can’t win the show, Chastain is frequently the star of the show on Sundays.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for the eighth-generation watermelon farmer, who was never a highly touted development driver or prospect in his blue-collar racing days, who managed to defy the odds to become a bonafide Cup Series championship threat.
His first two victories followed a decade of racing for whatever team would have him behind the wheel, and typically those not expected to contend for wins. For so long Chastain was a quintessential underdog.
Back in January, Chastain said he still viewed himself as something of an underdog with Chip Ganassi Racing until getting the call from Marks to drive for Trackhouse.
From a January conversation prior to the Coliseum Clash in Los Angeles:
"No, because Justin told me to stop thinking that way. He says 'you're not an underdog anymore. Stop thinking that way. He's a two-car owner in the Cup Series who has a deal with Chevrolet and I'm one of his drivers. He said 'leave the past there and move on to what we're building and what we hope to accomplish. Coming into 2022, I'm viewing myself as a real contender, and someone you're going to have to go through to race for wins. We can say that all we want, but we're going to prove it this season."
Did he ever doubt it?
"It's impossible to listen to Justin Marks speak and not buy in. It's incredible. I knew Justin as the racer, my buddy, and the guy I bought aluminum seats from 10 years ago, and he's not that guy anymore. He's evolved and matured into this larger than life guy. He's my team owner and boss but one that I can talk race craft and life with. That's a really special component."
Marks doesn't remember any one specific conversation with Chastain to that point but conceded that conviction was at the heart of his messaging to Pitbull, Norris, Suarez and everyone within the Trackhouse sphere.
The Next Gen car, while a cultural lightning rod for his vision, was also the impetus for his belief that his team could immediately take the fight to Hendrick, Penske, Gibbs and Stewart-Haas.
"We're not an underdog in the sense that I feel like we can go to any (race track) and win," Marks said.
He also knows that staying on top of the mountain is always harder than getting there in the first place.
"I have so much respect for these organizations that race in the Cup Series," Marks added "We can't come in here and say, We're better than Hendrick or Gibbs. These teams have so much talent and engineering depth. At any point they could find momentum and we can get knocked back a little bit and have to find our way out.
"But I do believe that Trackhouse is here to stay. We've arrived and what we're doing is investing a lot of money, time, and resources into establishing ourselves as a championship-contending team for decades to come."