Justin Marks is more than a part-time driver
For Justin Marks, no two weeks are the same.
One week, the 34-year-old is in Knoxville, Iowa, with the World of Outlaws team he co-owns with Sprint Cup driver Kyle Larson.
The next, he’s in Mid-Ohio, driving the No. 42 Chevrolet for HScott Motorsports with Chip Ganassi. His second Xfinity Series race of the year, he finishes 15th.
Then it’s on to Virginia International Raceway. Competing for a Lamborghini team, he and a teammate both earn podium finishes. The race ends under caution, the leader rolling across the finish line with a flat tire.
“We didn’t get lucky there, but two podium finishes is all right,” Marks told NASCAR Talk in a phone interview, later saying, “All seat time is good seat time.”
Marks says this on Monday, five days before once again driving the No. 42 car at Road America. It will be his fifth Xfinity Series race in two years.
“I probably get more excited and focused on these races more so than I have traditionally the last few years when I’ve been running full-time or close to full-time,” Marks says. “Because it’s only a couple a year and it’s at tracks that are sort of my specialty, road racing.”
The Other Job
When not doing all of the above at the track, Marks “plays accountant.”
Marks can be found at his office at the GoPro Motorplex, a go-kart facility in Mooresville, N.C. There, instead of dealing with terms like “loose,” “tight” or “off-throttle time,” Marks works with “auditing expenses,” “doing the books” and “accounts payable.”
It’s the terminology that comes with operating the Drylake Group, “an investor and a creator of businesses in sports entertainment,” which owns the Motorplex. It also owns Kartsport North America, an importer and distributor for the largest go-kart engine manufacturer in the world out of Italy.
In December, Marks, who has 50 career starts in NASCAR’s top three series, added another bullet to his resume: co-owner of HScott Motorsports’ K&N Pro Series East team. He’s the co-owner with Harry Scott Jr., who also owns two Sprint Cup cars and the No. 42 Xfinity car.
HScott Motorsports’ current form came out of the remains of Phoenix Racing in 2013, but Scott had previously been co-owner of Turner Scott Motorsports with Steve Turner. Marks drove for the team in two Xfinity races in 2014.
“When Harry came in, getting to meet him and getting to know about his approach to the sport, I ended up having a lot of respect for that,’' Marks said. “When Steve Turner exited the sport, that created an opportunity there at a number of different levels.”
“I started talking about seeing if there was an opportunity for me to get involved in the ownership side to start learning more about what it takes to run an effective business in the sport and it was just a good level to come in and get involved.
“Racing is fairly simple at that level. You don’t have big, multi-million dollar sponsors and contracts and huge personnel and work forces and all that. And it’s just a good group of guys who worked together and had been working together efficiently, so it was kind of plug-and-play for me.”
Marks was once a young, aspiring driver like his five K&N charges. He caught the bug while living in St. Louis when his grandfather, who lived near Fort Madison, Iowa, took him to dirt tracks.
Marks’ setting changed in 1989 when he was 8. His father, Michael Marks, had been working at a small phone company when he answered the call of the wild west.
“In much the same way aspiring country singers move to Nashville or aspiring actors move to Los Angeles, my father recognized very early on that Northern California and Silicone Valley was sort of the next place to be a hotbed of innovation and growth,” Marks recalls.
Without a job waiting for him, the elder Marks packed his family into a Volvo and drove more than 2,0oo miles to Menlo Park, Calif. There, he bought a “tiny house” and began looking for a job.
Over the next 20 years his father helped grow multiple companies in the technology industry. For much of the last decade, the Marks’ family business has been investing in private equity.
It was in California, after exposure to NASCAR at Sonoma and IndyCar at Laguna Seca, that Marks jumped into racing. At 16, his first ride was a 1969 Dotsus 510 in the Sports Car Club of America, a long ways from the dirt track racing he saw in Iowa.
“It was really, really slow ... but it was really cheap to go run,” Marks said.
It was in college, halfway through his third year at California State University, that he chose to commit to the racing life, signing as a BMW factory driver.
“I decided I was going to just focus on that and college would always be there,’' said Marks, 14 credits shy of graduating. “I ended up racing for 10 years after that and then building these businesses and never went back.
“I don’t have a degree on my wall, but I don’t regret it either,” he says.
Now Marks’ part-time racing career helps build the foundation for his business ventures, including the K&N team.
“It brings, I guess, a fresh perspective or a relevant perspective to the competition side of those businesses because I’m in the seat and I’m involved with the sport at that level,” Marks says. “From an experiential standpoint, I have the opportunity to coach the kids a little bit and kind of share my experiences in the car and try to impart a little bit of advice.”
As a young team owner, veteran driver and a business owner, he watched as Michael Waltrip Racing announced it won’t field a full-time Sprint Cup team next year.
Marks says he would love to own a competitive Cup team, but not if that involves sacrificing everything he’s built in his career.
“It can be a very fickle sport,” Marks says. “Everybody has to be on the same page and realize that there is a small group of people that are making the finances available for us to run this company and we all understand if that changes, if they find different partners or find different ways to spend their marketing money, we could be in a position where it’s difficult to keep our doors open.
“You learn a lot about the person from spending the time with them, knowing how they speak about people, how they treat their employees and what about their personality has made them successful and I think that’s all you can do.”