Justin Marks didn’t hint to anyone that he was looking to expand Trackhouse Racing to three cars in 2024. Even with the signing of Chicago Street Course winner Shane van Gisbergen to a developmental deal, the idea was to enter Project 91 in more events and work with other teams to get him experience on ovals.
Now, Marks has signed prospect Zane Smith — a Ford driver for the last two years — to pilot a third entry in 2024. Smith’s entry for his rookie season in the Nascar Cup Series will be fielded by Spire Motorsports, which just purchased a charter from Live Fast Motorsports for a reported $40 million. Trackhouse will provide personnel to work with Smith in his one-year stop at Spire.
Smith’s signing means Trackhouse is in the beginning stages of a long-term expansion, and Spire Motorsports is positioning itself to align with what Marks labels as a “challenger team.”
“Expansion is something that has been important to us since we first got on the racetrack, getting to a place where we felt like we could be the most competitive organization as possible,” Marks said in a press conference at Bristol last weekend. “Expansion can look a lot of different ways. Our alliance with Spire and the opportunity to have Zane drive over there next year gives us the ability to grow in 2024 to an organization where we can put three cars on the racetrack full-time in 2025 and beyond.”
Spire currently fields two entries in the Cup Series, and it has already re-signed lead driver Corey LaJoie for a multi-year deal. It is unknown who will pilot Spire’s No. 77 car in 2024, but current Craftsman Truck Series driver Carson Hocevar is the top candidate to replace Ty Dillon.
“This collaboration and affiliation shows everybody’s commitment to the sport,” Spire Motorsports President Bill Anthony said during the press conference. “It shows that we’re optimistic about the future of Nascar and what it can be and what we can be in it. There’s no doubt that Trackhouse has set the standard for coming out of the block as a new competitive team.
“It challenges people like us, and we accept that challenge and we embrace that challenge. In fact, we want to be a part of that challenge as well. It speaks very well to our ownership, the willingness and transparency to do that. I will say that the ties for Spire also really go back to their driver management days.”
Smith, the reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion, had several options on the table for the 2024 season. It was unlikely that he would remain in the Truck Series with Front Row Motorsports, and the team already inked deals to have current drivers Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland return in 2024. With that announcement last month, Front Row allowed Smith to seek opportunities elsewhere.
“Three hundred sixty-five days ago, I sat at Bob Evans with a very close friend, and he had asked me where I want to race someday,” an emotional Smith said during his press conference. “I think he expected maybe some different answer, but my answer was Trackhouse. Almost 365 days later, I’ve signed a contract with them. It means the world to me. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to win on Sunday and I have that chance thanks to Justin Marks. I’m just so, so thankful for the people that are around me. I’m ready to go compete on Sunday. It’s crazy to say.”
Smith has made six Cup starts in 2023 with Front Row Motorsports, with a best finish of 10th in Nascar’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600. He will bypass the Xfinity Series — he’s made 12 starts there — in lieu of competing for Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series next year. In the Truck Series this year, Smith has a pair of wins and sits fifth in the playoff standings.
With Live Fast Motorsports’ sale of its charter, team co-owners BJ McLeod and Matt Tifft, a member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2022, announced they will scale back to field a part-time open car in 2024.
It is unknown at this time if Spire will keep the charter in 2025 or if it will sell or lease the charter to Trackhouse. If Spire keeps its third charter, Trackhouse will have to look elsewhere to acquire a third charter.
Spire is reported to be a potential partner for Michael Andretti’s Andretti Autosport, which has been contemplating a move to Nascar in addition to its programs in other divisions like the NTT IndyCar Series. Gainbridge, an Andretti sponsor, signed a multi-year deal with Spire, including sponsoring 16 of the final 18 Cup races this year. It also included a Truck Series race for Marco Andretti earlier this season at Mid-Ohio.
As Smith prepares for his rookie year in the Cup Series, expectations will be modest as he settles in before becoming a full-fledged Trackhouse driver in 2025.