In the triumphant moments following his Indianapolis 500 victory in 2010, team owner Chip Ganassi made sure to stop briefly for a pair of celebrations on the track to be properly celebrated for the victory. Then – even as the crowds were still exiting the runway – he gathered his group of travelers and quickly walked over to a motorcade that drove him to a small airport nearby.
There was no hesitation as to what Ganassi wanted to do.
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As the traffic continued to pull away from the track below him, Ganassi was aloft towards the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s traditional Memorial Day event, where the current driver from Ganassi, Jamie McMurray, was chasing future Ganassi driver Kurt Busch for a win.
That would have been the truest of the Memorial Day Doubles, but McMurray was second that day. Three months earlier, however, McMurray delivered the first half of Ganassi’s historic year by winning the season opener Daytona 500.
This May afternoon in Indianapolis marked the first time in history that a team had won both the NASCAR Crown Jewel and IndyCar’s biggest race in the same year.
As he likes to say, Ganassi “loves winners”. Such is his love of racing and competition.
“It was definitely an unforgettable memory,” Ganassi said of the 2010 season. “And we’ve had a lot of other times with wins in both series on the same day. These are great days that you will never forget.
“If you could just take some of that feeling and put it in a jar and taste it every once in a while, you’d be fine.”
During a 20-year NASCAR race, Ganassi often tasted this pot.
This has given rise to a lot of thought as his esteemed NASCAR operation takes its final checkered flag in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series championship at Phoenix Raceway. The 63-year-old Pittsburgh native has sold his stock car assets to promising owner Justin Marks, who lines up the Trackhouse Racing team.
“It was kind of the right time, kind of the right offer, kind of the right person, the right buyer,” said Ganassi. “It was the right circumstance.”
Ganassi’s tone of voice still echoes the weight of the decision. However, there is a lot of comfort in feeling that this mandate has been well spent and that the legacy has been well received.
He initially bought control of the famous SABCO team in 2001, renaming it Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. And during his reign of ownership, the names of Ganassi’s teams changed shape along with his partners. For a five-year period from 2009 to 2013 it was Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and eventually he returned to Chip Ganassi Racing.
Over his 20 seasons, Ganassi has employed 18 drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series, ranging from Sterling Marlin and Jason Leffler in 2001 to Kurt Busch and Ross Chastain, who will make the team’s final starts this weekend. Some of the biggest names in motorsport have driven Ganassi cars from McMurray and Casey Mears to Jimmy Spencer and former series champion Matt Kenseth.
One of Ganassi’s most innovative aspects was his ability to challenge drivers – mixing and matching the talents of both his single-seater experience and his love of sports cars. He brought Indy 500 and Formula 1 winner Juan Pablo Montoya and three-time Indy 500 winner and four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti to NASCAR and took his NASCAR drivers to the Rolex 24 at Daytona, multiple times winning the IMSA Crown Jewel.
Kyle Larson, this year’s top NASCAR Cup Series driver, also made his debut with Team Ganassi and joins McMurray and Marlin as the only drivers to have multiple wins in a season for Ganassi.
Marlin’s third place finish in the 2001 NASCAR Cup Series championship is the best championship performance on record for the team, which in its two decades of existence achieved those 20 wins, plus 36 pole positions, 196 top five and 474 top 10.. In Larson’s four-game 2017 season, the Californian led 1,352 laps of the organization’s 8,714 laps – 15% – in that season alone. Ganassi also doubled his winning tally with 20 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins.
“It’s honesty to race to win and that’s what Chip always wanted,” said Busch of the high level of talent attracted by Ganassi cars. “That’s the best way to put it. I never felt like we got paid to do what we do. We go there just to win because he sets the tone and demands it, without even having to say what needs to happen. And we all have the same direction together.
“That’s why it was the best place for me at this point in my career, and I think that’s why McMurray was there for so many years. I think that’s why Montoya had such an allegiance to Chip. Guys like [David] Stremme and Sterling Marlin and Kyle Larson, the whole fraternity that ran for Chip had a blast but knew we were there to get that trophy. ”
Loyalty and long tenure
McMurray loved Ganassi so much that he drove for him twice, competing from 2002 to 2005, then returned to the team in 2010 when he won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 trophies.
“I think the most impressive part about Chip – whether it’s on the IndyCar side or the NASCAR side – is that there are very few successful owners where racing is their business,” said McMurray. “I know Chip has always prided himself on not owning 5,000 car dealerships. He did not own a truck rental company. Literally, the race was his business. This is how he made his living. And he had the longest-serving sponsor, Target, for 25 years. He was able to have a super successful racing team as his job.
“I think it was pretty amazing that Chip was able to survive as long as he did and not only survive but also win the biggest races. And I think his big home run was in the lead when he left. “
Ganassi almost always had the respect of his drivers and quickly gained the respect of the NASCAR titans – even those who initially saw him as an outsider. If they weren’t sure what to expect from this open wheel pillar, they quickly found out that its process worked in stock cars as well.
“I think Chip has a unique feeling for racing because he was a driver,” said Rick Hendrick, NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner. “He’s been a driver and an owner and he’s been successful in everything he’s done. I enjoyed working with him on the engine program and just being close to him as a Chevrolet team. He’s a good friend and I admire his runner mentality. He’s determined to win in everything he’s in and he’s in a lot right now. Cadillac program, all-terrain, electric and worldwide trucks.
“I hate to see Chip leave NASCAR, but when you look at the success as a driver and owner that he’s had in IndyCar and NASCAR, he’s one of the best,” Hendrick continued. “He’s building an incredible team and his track record of success in IndyCar and NASCAR has been phenomenal. “
The great irony is that for his love of cars and his immense competitive spirit, it is actually Ganassi’s affection for people that has helped him succeed.
It gave young pilots their first real chance at competitive gear and it gave veteran pilots the confidence to expand their resumes into different genres.
“If you look back over the 20 years he competed in NASCAR, he had the right people,” said Max Jones, who was general manager of NASCAR’s Chip Ganassi Racing. “He didn’t win a championship, but he’s always been a top-level team. He gave a lot of people opportunities that maybe weren’t going to have that opportunity – not just the drivers, but the team leaders, team members and business people.
“A lot of people judge success by wins and championships, but what he’s been able to do is bring a company like Target all these years and from a business perspective I think he helped NASCAR. He has been a driving force and a shaker in this sport. He won all the great races in the world. When you watch his success you put him right there next to Roger [Penske]. I am honored to have been able to work for him.
“He likes winners. I know it’s a hashtag he uses, but if you break it down, it’s really him. He doesn’t tolerate complacency or people who don’t want to give their all. And he’s a super loyal guy to everyone who works for him.
It’s a reflection of Ganassi’s personality and style that even his former pilots still speak of him with so much affection, still appreciate the difference Ganassi has made in their careers and lives.
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“I loved racing for Chip,” said Larson, who was hired by Ganassi in 2012 as a 19-year-old undercover youngster and who is now a nine-time race winner in 2021 with Hendrick Motorsports, competing this weekend. -end for his first NASCAR Cup Series championship
“He was a great team owner, a leader, a motivational speaker. I will always be grateful for what he has been able to do for me, my career and my family, taking a photo of a relatively unknown young dirt racer and propelling me to the Cup Series in no time with a great team of race and great people were amazing.
“I am very, very grateful for the friendship that I have been able to forge with him over the years that I have run for him and the success that we have been able to share and I wish him all the best for the future and I know he’s always gonna leave a huge impact on motorsport. ”
A loving farewell
It’s obvious when Ganassi talks about his NASCAR tenure that things stand out. He’s won a Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, raced in the championship, and fielded cars for some of the biggest names in the sport.
Yet, as competitive as he is, Ganassi doesn’t consider true success based solely on the number of trophies. It’s not just about the speed, the parts, the hardware, but the smiles, the triumphant thrills in Victory Lane and the constant desire to keep up the good work even when you’re not showering with confetti or champagne.
These are weekdays at the store surrounded by motivated and talented people who grasped the process and wanted more of the good feeling. He likes winners, and that description is broad.
As for his farewells, Ganassi chooses to be full of gratitude and fond memories. He took on a challenge in NASCAR, pushing his comfort level.
“Just a lot of great competitors, a lot of big wins, a lot of great relationships and overall a positive 20 year experience,” said Ganassi. “People always look for difficulty or melancholy in things, I see it a little differently. It was a very successful 20 years. I have seen families grow. There’s been a lot of success in having a 20-year-old company that never really made it to the final standings, they don’t show up in the wins and losses column. They don’t even appear in the profit-loss column. But there was still a lot of success there that we can be very proud of.
“And that’s how I see it. “