The Burnout’s introduction to former race car driver, and current dirt track racing team co-owner Justin Marks and his new projects wasn’t exactly auspicious. RacingJunk.com business development guru Shawn Stewart called and said, “Why don’t you chat with Justin if you get a chance. He owns the karting track we went to when we were in Charlotte. It’s where PJ threw up.”
When Justin came on the phone, I related this story to him. He chuckled. “Yeah, that happens.” Motion sickness isn’t something most racers have to contend with from themselves, but when you own a high-speed race experience facility, a little vomit seems like par for the course. That doesn’t seem to bother Justin nuch. The young go-getter has his eyes on bigger things than a little temporary inconvenience, like translating his combination of race skills and business savvy into a race-related empire. And he’s well on his way.
Marks got his start in the racing industry in college, racing SCCA regional events. He’d always been a fan of dirt racing, having attended races in Iowa with his grandfather, but with connections in the SCCA he decided to try his hand at road racing. In 2001, he parlayed that experience and the connections he’d made into driving for a privateer Porsche team out of Danville, VA, then raced for four years for BMW doing largely endurance-based sports car racing. In 2010, he decided that while he loved to race, he wanted to utilize the business skills he’d earned in college. While Marks still races occasionally, it’s more to keep the flames stoked. He’s moved onto other sorts of thrill rides.
Due to his race career and the geography it had covered, Marks was familiar with many parts of the United States, including Charlotte, NC, a racing capital. “So much great racing was going on in Charlotte,” Marks said, “There was so much driving talent, but when they weren’t occupied during race season, there wasn’t anything for them to do, driving-wise. We wanted to change that.”
Partnering with Michael McDowell, Justin did the due diligence, getting zoning permits, developing a business plan, and finally they broke ground in 2011 to open the GoPro Motorplex. The karting track was a near instant success. It’s been embraced by the local community, and focuses on offering services for corporate and group events, a perfect fit for the race-crazed area.
But owning a successful company, DryLake Entertainment, along with the successful karting track and its offshoots including KartSport North America, wasn’t enough for Justin. He was determined to own a race team.
“The racing bug first bit when I was a kid, going to dirt races at Knoxville, Quincy, and Donaldson with my grandfather in Iowa. When I finally started to race in California, I didn’t know anyone in dirt racing, otherwise I would have started there. I’d always been interested in owning a team, and thought that a dirt team would also be a great way to learn the business,” explains Marks.
He partnered with Kyle Larson after meeting at the GoPro Motorplex, and knew that the partnership would bring expertise, connections, and help build a business. Companies, knowing Marks’ business acumen and Larson’s race savvy, would be comfortable investing, and aligning with their brand. “Basically, I asked him if he wanted to start a World of Outlaws team with me,” Marks said. “Fortunately, the answer was yes.”
To start, Larson Marks Racing, and driver Shane Stewart have deliberately campaigned a limited season while building a community, learning the cars, and developing a sound strategy for success. Next year, they’ll be in the race for the championship.
“We’re always careful not to qualify victories by points,” Marks points out. “We aren’t going to ignore the strength and history of the other teams that will be competing next year. We want to build a car that can race throughout the event, not just time trial quickly. We want a balance, and we want to discover what it will take to be competitive in the top 3 or the top 5.”
Larson Marks has had a good season so far. The team won their first WOO event, and won the qualifying event at Knoxville, as well as taking a few quick time firsts throughout the season. And Justin has some advice for others in the race community planning out their futures after they step out of the driver’s seat or out of the pits. “Make sure that you understand all of the aspects of the field, learn the business as well as the vehicle. Know the sponsors, learn the trends, read about people who are successful. It’s never enough to just understand how to drive.” These are words Marks has lived by, learning continuously from everyone around him, and applying that knowledge into a successful series of entrepreneurial opportunities. “The whole deal is relationships, “ he says. “Maintain them, those are the true investments.”