Justin Marks (pictured left) is a diverse driver.
He’s run in a diverse group of racing divisions, experiencing success at different levels. It comes as no surprise, then, that when you ask him about racing idols, Marks sites drivers from a diverse group of backgrounds.
“I have no modern idols,” Marks told me when I asked him who his racing idol was.
“The true heroes of our sport, in my mind, are the people that shaped it at the early stages. They are the endurance sports car drivers of the 1940's and 1950's. The guys that drove Formula 1 in the 1960's and 1970's, James Hunt, Gilles Villenueve, Jackie Stewart.
"Also, the stock-car racers of a generation ago. Racing was tough and dangerous. It doesn't feel like that so much now. The driver's now aren't tough.
"It was before HANS, soft walls, crumple zones, run-off, that the sport bred true idols and heroes. Men that risked their lives to pursue greatness.”
Like many other drivers, his love for the sport started at a young age.
“I grew up in St Louis and started going to races with my grandparents on weekends in Iowa and Missouri,” he said.
“I was exposed to it at an early age and it turned into a passion as I moved with my family to California at eight years old. I was a huge fan but never really got a chance to race in karts or anything at a young age because my immediate family wasn't into racing."
"But in high school, I went to Skip Barber Racing School and entered a few local SCCA races. When I was 19, I was offered a ride with a privateer Porsche team competing in the SPEED World Challenge Series and it just kind of grew from there.”
Since then, Marks has succeeded at a variety of different levels. His career highlights include a series-high fifth in SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship points (2004), eighth in the International BMW Sport Trophy in 2005 (highest scored American driver), a pole (Texas, 2008), two Top 10 spots in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2009.
Marks began racing in the ARCA Re/Max Series in 2007 and has continued his string of success.
In 2007, he scored a track record pole at Kansas Speedway and finished fifth in the season ending points standings. Then in 2008, he won a pole at Daytona.
He’s racing for Kevin Cywinski and the Win-Tron Race team this year on a deal that came together last year.
“I had always respected the Win-Tron team but never really knew Kevin or Nate or any of the guys that well,” Marks said.
“Last year, Nate Thiesse called me as I was on my way to run a Nationwide Series race at Richmond to see if I'd drive the 32 for them at NJ that weekend.
“After the NNS race on Friday night, I hung my suit out the window to dry out and drove to NJ to race the ARCA race. I had a great time with the team, a great experience.
“As our 2010 program came together, it was obvious that Win-Tron was the right fit for me.”
This year has worked out for Marks with Cywinski, as Marks locked down his first ARCA win at Palm Beach earlier this year.
“I felt like it was a long time coming and frankly, overdue,” he said.
“I kind of expected to be able to win on a road course, in the rain. It was good to validate our 2010 effort early with a win, but 18 of the 20 races are on ovals and that's where we need to be winning.”
Going into Michigan, he sits second in points, trailing leader Patrick Sheltra by 30 points.
“I think we've capitalized on opportunities but we've missed a couple good opportunities as well,” he said.
“I'm happy with the fact that we've run in the top-five every single race this year. I think we had a great car at Texas but battled engine issues and a failed shock all race. We had a flat tire with five laps to go at Toledo running fourth.
"Those stick out as unfortunate events but the fact that we're second in points and still squarely in the hunt and a week-in and week-out threat is a good place to be.”
With how they’ve been running, Marks said that there’s only one goal that he’s set on.
Winning the championship.
Though as far as where he’d like to be five years from now, he says he stills want to be racing, but maybe not at the premiere level.
“I want to be racing somewhere I enjoy it,” he said. “For me, that's not full-time in Nationwide or Cup. I love racing with all my heart but don't like the way it is at that level. If I can still be in ARCA and winning, I'd see it as a success.”
To those wanting to reach his level, he has some keys points of advice to share.
“It's all about funding,” he said. “Go to college, learn marketing, and work hard on relationships and opportunities. Whether you like it or not, that's just the way it is.
"And be prepared to be disappointed. It takes heartbreaks along the way to find people that believe in you and want to work hard for you.
"Don't ever take anything for granted. There are many great drivers that at one time were the next big thing that are left only with memories of what it once was like. Enjoy every minute.”
Away from the track, Marks still has his mind focused on racing—but of a different kind—go-karting.
“Me and my friend Michael McDowell are working hard on building a world-class go-kart track in Mooresville, NC called Mooresville Motorplex,” he said.
“We just won approval from the town board and now are in the early engineering and development stages."
"We will open in Spring 2011 and will be the finest outdoor karting facility on the east coast and possibly in America. It's a way to use what we've learned and the relationships we have to bring something special to the next generation of racers.”
Today, however, his mind is focused on the track.
He qualified 12th yesterday and looks to possibly win his second ARCA race.