Justin Marks is an American racer – and a versatile one at that. From cutthroat Speed World Challenge sprint racing to the annual survival contest of the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the paint-swapping stock car insanity of Talladega Superspeedway, Justin’s a seriously talented and versatile professional racer.
Hailing from Northern California, Justin’s laid-back demeanor masks a serious competitive streak that enables him to tangle with the world’s best and most aggressive drivers – and increasingly often, he’s come out on top.
Mecca of Speed: A casual race fan may consider running the PTG BMW in the ALMS series and a stock car in the ARCA series like comparing apples to oranges. How would you compare and contrast the experience of racing in these series?
Justin Marks: They are completely different. The cars are so different and require a completely different approach. You have a 3300 pound car with over 800 horsepower and a small hard tire in ARCA. In ALMS the car is 2500 pounds with 430 hp and tons of racing systems like ABS, traction control, no-lift shift and advanced, and high-grip Yokohama tires.
The way you go racing in each series is also unique. In sports car racing you spend three days setting the car up for the race. Then you race what you have, as hard as you can and see what you come up with. In stockcar racing you have one, maybe two, practice sessions and then spend the entire race improving the car on every pit stop, essentially setting yourself up for the last run to the checkered flag.
Mecca of Speed: You starting racing late in life compared to some drivers. However, you have advanced your professional driving career rather quickly. Do you feel there was a race or turning point that vaulted you to the professional level?
Justin Marks: So much of success is a result of the people you surround yourself with. From day one, I have always tried to surround myself with people that I could learn from and who’s skills were among the best in the business. I tried to emulate the approach, technique and strengths of guys like Johannes van Overbeek, Hans Stuck, Boris Said and Bill Auberlen. They have all been teammates of mine at some point. My 2005 season in the Rolex series was the first year I felt like a valuable, positive contribution was being made on my part towards a competitive, race-winning effort with both PTG and Turner Motorsport teams. However, racing is one of those things in which you are always learning, improving and transcending yourself. The competition you face requires constant improvement and dedication. I feel that I still have a long way to go before accomplishing what I am capable of.
Mecca of Speed: A Datsun 510, BMW GT2 and ARCA stockcar are three very different types of racecars. Is there a similar approach you use when driving a new car to sort things out and find out what driving techniques will work best to get the most out of the car?
Justin Marks: I have always tried to learn about a car before I drive it for the first time. My most recent challenge was driving the ARCA stockcar. After being used to a car that instantly reacted to my input and was very quick in its movement, I found myself having to take a step back. I had to realize that it wouldn’t handle or stop nearly as efficiently as what I was used to. Until that point, from the 510 to the ALMS M3, it’s always been a small improvement of the vehicle I previously drove.
Mecca of Speed: You are given an option to do one endurance race in Europe in 2006. You are allowed to take 3 people with you for a week of vacation after the race. Which race would you choose, and where would you vacation afterwards?
Justin Marks: I would drive the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring. I would probably take 3 of my closest friends to Italy. I had a chance to spend three weeks there last summer and it was an amazing experience. Its tough to beat seeing thousands of years of history in front of you from civilizations that had a profound effect on shaping the world as it is today. As long as we’re fantasying, we’d all cap the trip off on a boat in the Mediterranean.
Mecca of Speed: You traveled a fair amount growing up. How do you think this has help you in your racing and professional career?
Justin Marks: Being able to experience the world at a young age can have a big effect on someone. Interacting with so many different cultures at a young age has given me the ability to adapt to many different situations and environments. I think it has allowed me to be able to identify and connect with all kinds of people, a valuable skill for any person, in any profession.
Mecca of Speed: You can break down the majority of guitar players into two basic groups, those that like Fender Stratocaster styled guitars and those that prefer a Gibson Les Paul. Which side do you fall into?
Justin Marks: I love all kinds of music. I have always been fascinated by the many forms of art exists in the world today. I own a Fender Roadhouse Stratocaster, but one day would love to have a classic sunburst Les Paul Standard.
Mecca of Speed: Have you taken formal instructional music lessons, or spent time in the wood shed following the self-taught path?
Justin Marks: I have always had help learning the techniques and fundamentals of playing. My style has developed from many hours of listening and playing on my own.
Mecca of Speed: Life on the track as a GT driver in an ALMS race can be an intense experience. How would you describe an average three hour sprint race from a driver’s perspective?
Justin Marks: It’s obviously the best part of the weekend because it’s the point at which the team gets to showcase its hard work over the previous days. The practical application, preparation, strategizing, and work done throughout the weekend is evident when the car is on the track for the race.
From a driver’s perspective its fantastic because you are focused more on your driving than at any other point during the weekend. The set-up is done, qualifying is over and you get to enjoy the pure exhilaration of driving as hard as possible, lap after lap, pushing yourself to be the best you can be. I always start the races, so I try to stay as relaxed as possible before the race. Joking around, having some laughs on the grid helps to clear my mind and prepare me for the focus that will be required for the next hour and a half. I think of nothing but driving until its time to go to the reserve fuel tank and pit for the driver change.
Mecca of Speed: You are currently co-driving with Bryan Sellers in GT2. How does the qualifying system work in ALMS when you have co-drivers for a race?
Justin Marks: Since I almost always start the race, it is my responsibility to qualify the car. To me, qualifying is important but not a top priority for the weekend. I always race better than I qualify, so it’s a matter of putting down the best time possible and move on.
Mecca of Speed: During your pre-race team meetings, does Team PTG set out a team strategy for both cars, or does each car focus separately on the race once qualifying is over?
Justin Marks: Obviously, the main focus is for an M3 to win the race. This means that we don’t risk the team’s chances by racing each other too hard in the race. Most multi-car teams are situated so that one car is deemed a “lead car” and therefore given pit stop priority and strategic priority. Each car focuses on its own race, but one can find themselves at a disadvantage once its time for pit stops. That prioritizing takes place from the top of the pit box, so we just run our race and do the best with our given situation.
Mecca of Speed: How often during a season do you get to go out and race go-karts or ride motocross?
Justin Marks: When I was living in Sacramento, I karted a lot with my fellow BMW racer, Joey Hand. There are many fantastic tracks in Northern California and I tried to take advantage of that. In North Carolina it’s a lot more difficult and I’m missing it.
Mecca of Speed: Are you into street bikes, and if so what do you ride?
Justin Marks: I’d love to own an Italian sport bike one day but I think I’d end up displaying it more than riding it. I wouldn’t want to pull a Roethlisberger and have to sit out a race, or worse.
Mecca of Speed: As a professional driver you study vehicle dynamics and driving habits more then the average driver on the street. What is one area you think the average street driver should work on to be a better over all motorist?
Justin Marks: You have got to pay attention to what is going on all around you and always be anticipating in difficult driving conditions. I was driving from Charlotte to Winchester VA a few weeks ago when it started to rain heavily. All of the sudden I saw brake lights in front of me and realized an accident was taking place. I had to hit the brakes very hard. Knowing the roads were wet, I looked in my mirror to see if someone behind me wasn’t paying attention and saw a truck with its brakes locked up. I drove to the shoulder and it slid past almost into the car that was in front of me. It’s important to always be paying attention.
Mecca of Speed: When and where did you win your first professional race?
Justin Marks: My first win was the 2004 Paul Revere 250 at Daytona. It was great to be in victory lane but I was carried to it a bit. I have had much more meaningful wins following that first one.
Mecca of Speed: Whom would you consider the unsung hero of motorsports?
Justin Marks: The unsung heroes of motorsports are the men and women that spend countless hours at the shops, on the road and at the track building and maintaining the racecars. We get all the notoriety for all of their hard work. It’s important to remember that.
Mecca of Speed: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Justin Marks: I would love to be married, have a family and be doing something I love and feel passionate about, whether its driving racecars or not.
Mecca of Speed: It’s 2036 and I’m in the biography section of a bookstore looking at the Justin Marks biography. What would the title be and the two-sentence teaser located on the inside of the dust cover?
Justin Marks: I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to spending the next 30 years of my life making something that people would want to read about.
Mecca of Speed: If someone picked up your iPod in the paddock and pulled up Justin’s Top Ten play list, what would they find?
Justin Marks: 1. Avenged Sevenfold 2. AFI 3. Marilyn Manson 4. HIM 5. Motley Crue 6. Seether 7. Sublime 8. Tommy Lee 9. Stevie Ray Vaughn 10. Tool
Content credit Justin Marks and John Vatne. Photo credit Justin Marks