Justin Marks is more than a part-time driver

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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.”

GoPro Motorplex
GoPro MotorplexStreeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images

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.”

That included the K&N team, which has five drivers, including Rico Abreu and points leader William Byron.

William Byron in his K&N Pro Series East car.
William Byron in his K&N Pro Series East car.Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images

“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.”

Harry Scott Jr.
Harry Scott Jr.Bob Leverone/NASCAR via Getty Images

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.”

John Ray, who drove patriotic big rig at Talladega, dies at 82

Photo courtesy Talladega Superspeedway
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One of Talladega Superspeedway’s most endearing and popular figures has passed away.

John “Johnny” Ray, whose diesel big rig carrying an American flag around the 2.66-mile track has been a fixture during the playing of the National Anthem at NASCAR Cup races for the past two decades, has died at the age of 82, the track announced Monday.

Ray began the tradition behind the wheel of his gold, brown and chrome-colored Peterbilt semi-tractor in 2001, with an oversized American flag flowing in the breeze behind the tractor.

The procession quickly became a significant fan favorite, eliciting loud cheers and applause from fans in the stands each time it passed by on the track’s front stretch.

“We just had the 9/11 attacks and Dale (Earnhardt) had also passed away earlier that year,” Ray, who lived down the street from the track in Eastaboga, Alabama, said in an interview three years ago. “I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back. It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.

“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it.”

Ray, who started his own trucking company in the early 1970s, and also had a brief NASCAR racing career of his own, ceded driving duties of the big rig several years ago to his late friend, Roger Haynes, and then last year to son Johnny Ray, to continue the tradition.

“National Anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” Speedway President Brian Crichton said in a media release. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated.

“He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

Funeral arrangements for John Ray are pending, according to the track.

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Ryan Blaney experienced Kobe Bryant’s ‘Mamba Mentality’ in person

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kobe Bryant didn’t ask normal questions.

Nearly two years after a 20-minute conversation in the back of a Las Vegas steakhouse, that’s what sticks out to Ryan Blaney about the five-time NBA champion.

Blaney reflected on his encounter with Bryant on Monday, roughly 24 hours after the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Laker was killed in a helicopter crash, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

MORE: NASCAR community mourns death of Kobe Bryant

The encounter between the Team Penske driver and Bryant came in October 2018 during a convention for Body Armor, a sports drink company Bryant was an investor in that sponsors Blaney in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“We went into a backroom and all of a sudden Kobe Bryant was standing there,” Blaney said during a media event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Pretty amazing that he was back there and they let me meet him.”

During their meeting, Blaney gifted Bryant the firesuit that he wore during the race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier that year.

“He was pretty excited about that,” Blaney said. “Just being able to talk to a guy like that for 20 minutes, someone who didn’t really know a lot about racing, but wanted to learn everything about it 20 minutes. Just the way he asked questions, (he) was so interested in it, to me I could see where they call it the ‘Mamba Mentality’ comes from and how he used it in basketball to become so great.

“That was the coolest moment. I don’t get star struck very often. I knew all the answers, but I was getting nervous that I would answer wrong when he was asking me questions he knew nothing about. That’s just his atmosphere.”

Bryant didn’t pepper Blaney with the cliche questions one expects from those uninitiated with auto racing.

“I just didn’t expect the amount of interest he showed, he wanted to learn everything about it,” Blaney said. “It wasn’t like the (how do you use the) bathroom question. It wasn’t ‘do you get dizzy?’ It was technical stuff and shows what kind of amazing, intellectual person that he was. That was something that really tickled me, how excited he was to learn about it.”

Blaney, who said he was a Bryant fan growing up in the ’90s before LeBron James arrived on the scene to play for his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, said it was a “shame” he was never able to get Bryant to attend a race weekend.

“For somebody who has inspired so many young boys and girls around the country for decades, the social media stuff the last day and half has been unbelievable to see people who looked up to him growing up. I did too, I ain’t lying, how can you not watch Kobe Bryant when you’re growing up as a kid? A terrible loss. I hate that for his family and the other family involved.”

Bryant didn’t forget about their steakhouse encounter. He later sent Blaney a signed copy of his book, “The Mamba Mentality.”

Blaney keeps it on display on a bookshelf.

“Just really neat,” Blaney said. “You respect other great athletes and people and their work ethic. I think that’s what impressed me the most about him was his work ethic at everything. He’d outwork you at every little bit. You’ve got to respect somebody like that, who will figure out how to beat you and if he can’t do it with talent he’s going to outwork you really hard. I don’t know, it’s just amazing to get a privilege like that. It’s hard to describe.”

Brendan Gaughan to run 4 final Cup races in 2020, including Daytona 500

Photo: Beard Motorsports' Twitter account
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Brendan Gaughan will kick off his 23rd and final season of NASCAR racing in the 62nd Daytona 500 for Beard Motorsports.

Gaughan – who is using the hashtag #NotGaughanYet to symbolize his final season — will drive the No. 62 Chevrolet at Daytona. If he qualifies, it will be his fifth time in the 500 field, with his best finish coming in 2017 when he finished 11th.

The 44-year-old Gaughan is slated to drive four races this season in NASCAR Cup for Beard Motorsports. In addition to the Daytona 500, he’ll also race April 26 at Talladega Superspeedway, August 29 back at Daytona and will make the final start of his racing career on October 4 back at Talladega.

The Las Vegas native has made 12 previous starts for Beard Motorsports, all at either Daytona and Talladega.

“I love racing, and competing with Beard Motorsports these last few years have made for some of my most enjoyable moments in NASCAR,” Gaughan said in a media release. “We do a lot with a little, so when we run up front and lead laps, it’s very satisfying because you know all the work that went into it.”

Last April, Gaughan led five laps at Talladega and gave Beard Motorsports its second top-10 finish in the Cup Series, finishing eighth. Gaughan also finished seventh at Daytona for Beard Motorsports in July 2017.

“I wouldn’t want my last races as a NASCAR driver to be with any other team,” Gaughan said. “(Team owner) Mark Beard Sr., and his entire family are passionate about racing, and NASCAR in particular. We’re all competitive and want to perform, but we’re going to have fun doing it. That’s how we all got started in the sport – because it was fun. And as I wrap up my career, I’m going to make sure it stays fun.”

Gaughan has made 62 prior starts in the Cup Series dating back to his rookie season in 2004, when he earned his best career finish in the series (fourth at Talladega).

He also has made 219 starts in the Xfinity Series with two wins, and 217 starts in the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series with eight wins.

Gaughan’s effort at Daytona will be in a chassis built by Richard Childress Racing and powered by a motor from ECR Engines. He’ll be sponsored by Beard Oil Distributing, South Point Hotel & Casino and City Lights Shine whiskey moonshine.

He begins his quest to qualify for the 40-car field with Daytona 500 qualifying on February 9. His lap will determine his starting spot in the Feb. 13 Duel – twin 150-mile heat races that set the rest of the field for the Great American Race.

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UniFirst to sponsor Chase Elliott in three Cup Series races this year

Chase Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports
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UniFirst will be a sponsor of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 Chevrolet in three Cup Series races this year, Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday.

The company will be on Elliott’s car at Phoenix Raceway (March 8), the All-Star Race (May 16) and the playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 27).

A work clothing and uniform supplier, UniFirst has been a Hendrick Motorsports sponsor since 2016. It sponsored William Byron in four races in 2018 and three last year.

UniFirst also will be featured as an associate sponsor for all races in 2020.