Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: Racing’s Elite Owner Is Probably Not Who You Think

CONCORD, N.C. – Ask people who the most successful car owner in NASCAR is these days and it’s likely that the name Rick Hendrick will top that list, perhaps followed closely by Jack Roush or Joe Gibbs. And if you’re only taking NASCAR credentials into account, well, that might be correct. But the real elite team owner right now in racing isn’t included within that first-mentioned group, left out despite multiple wins compiled across each of his two Sprint Cup teams. That’s right; the real elite owner in the mix isn’t named Hendrick or Roush or Gibbs, or even Penske.

It’s Chip Ganassi.

Consider this factoid: in 2010, Ganassi enjoyed winning race teams across NASCAR, IndyCar and sports car racing. Rick Hendrick sent just one team to victory lane in that span, that of 2010 Cup champ Jimmie Johnson. Roush and Gibbs did a little better, each sending two cars to the top spot in 2010 Sprint Cup races. Ganassi? He matched that, while capturing auto racing’s three biggest events – the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and the Indy 500 – with two different drivers, becoming the first to accomplish such a feat in the same year.

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Only Roger Penske, another cross-division powerhouse, came close to Ganassi’s success: he had four winning teams at the highest levels of NASCAR and IndyCar (three in IndyCar), also winning a Nationwide Series championship with a fifth. However, a comparison to Ganassi quickly proves the latter’s ownership of winners across American auto racing – all at the highest levels of three different respective divisions – is a far more remarkable feat in this world of racing parity.

In the NASCAR ranks, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (and make no mistake about it, that team is Ganassi’s deal) started last season making a statement. Jamie McMurray, in his second stint with the team, won the Daytona 500. McMurray also took the Cup series’ second most prestigious race of the year at Indianapolis, and won again in Charlotte in October, finding a level of success he was never afforded with Roush Racing despite supposedly superior equipment.

Juan Pablo Montoya, a Formula 1 convert, won at Watkins Glen to give Ganassi a pair of winning NASCAR organizations, rewarded with multi-year sponsorship renewals for 2011. In a world where finances are hard to come by, winning for this outfit leads to not only support from big companies – Bass Pro Shops, Target and McDonald’s are on the list, their signing defining Monday’s NASCAR Media Tour visit – but the attraction of new supporters like WIDIA and LiftMasters for the coming year showcase stability and growth in a world where contraction, concern, and cost-cutting take center stage.

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New Sponsors Signaling NASCAR Turnaround?

In the big picture, of course, that stock car success was just the tip of the iceberg. Ganassi’s sports car teams took the Rolex Series by storm, winning at Miami, Birmingham, Virginia, Watkins Glen’s long course, Mid-Ohio, Daytona, Watkins Glen’s short course, Montreal and Miller Motorsports Park – nine of the 12 races on the schedule. Their team, led by Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, waltzed to the title, their fourth in the last seven seasons on the circuit.

The best, though, was saved for open wheel, a program that produced a record-setting year. Ganassi’s IndyCar teams each won a trifecta of events (just over one-third of the series schedule) including the Indianapolis 500 with driver Dario Franchitti, who also won the championship, while teammate Scott Dixon finished third in the final standings. And now, with a GM contract in hand for 2012 Ganassi will spearhead the sport’s transition back to successful American mechanical support.

It’s always the quiet ones who sneak to the top, right?

That’s because you won’t hear Chip Ganassi talk much about his own accomplishments. Oh, he’ll talk about success all right, but he doesn’t take the credit, putting his confidence in his vast team of personnel to get it done on the racetrack. It’s their dedication he admires, both publicly and privately when, like clockwork, they do it – again and again and again. Good people, to Ganassi, have always been the key, both finding the right ones and managing them through providing the ultimate motivation – complete confidence in their ability to perform.

By his own admission, Ganassi rarely gets angry and when he does, it evaporates quickly. People, even racecar drivers and mechanics at the top of their game, are still human. They make mistakes and the good ones learn from them and redouble their efforts armed with new knowledge to keep those missteps to a minimum.

Sure, Ganassi’s people are exceptionally talented – he makes sure of that. They win because they are expected to win. But by putting that expectation on them quietly, Ganassi makes sure that motivation becomes from within as well – it’s not his alone. And that, possibly above all, is what makes them dangerous to the competition.

Racing isn’t one of Ganassi’s businesses, as it is some other owners. It is his business. Period. The Pittsburgh native wants nothing more, or less, than that. It’s not about selling cars or building an empire off the racetrack, but rather about creating a dynasty on it that matters most.

Gasnassi is a multiple champion car owner with titles in the top divisions of nearly every major form of American motorsports. NASCAR is the final frontier for Ganassi to conquer, and if 2010 was a building year, then 2011 could well see either Montoya or McMurray – perhaps both – among the players when it boils down to the final run of the year. Make no mistake about it – this is the owner in racing today. Ganassi is as good as everyone else hopes to be.

Congratulations to our Amy Henderson, winning a second-place award among daily/internet columnists in the 2011 NMPA Awards held this past weekend in Charlotte!

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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