The old joke about owning a winery could also apply to owning an motorsport racing team: "How do you make a small fortune? 

"Start with a large fortune... and buy a race team." 

That's why some of the most successful race teams are owned by people for whom racing is an extension of an already thriving business foundation.

Roger Penske of Penske Racing also owns own over 300 auto dealerships, a truck leasing company that operates over 250,000 vehicles, and has interests in a variety of manufacturing firms. Rick Hendrick of Hendrick Motorsports also owns Hendrick Automotive Group, the largest privately held dealership group in the country.For years, Barney Visser's company, Furniture Row, underwrote a chunk of the expenses of his NASCAR championship-winning racing team. 

And then there's Chip Ganassi.

When his driving career ended, Chip cobbled together enough money to buy a part-interest in an IndyCar team. Two years later he founded his own team. 

Fast-forward almost 30 years and today Chip runs a number of teams from facilities in Indianapolis, Charlotte, and Pittsburgh. He owns two IndyCar teams. Two NASCAR Cup teams and one XFINITY team. Two factory Ford GTs apiece in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship.

In total, Chip Ganassi Racing has won 19 championships and amassed over 200 wins, including victories at iconic races like the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the Rolex 24, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.... 

Chip is one of the most successful race team owners in the world. That alone make him exceptional... but then there's this: Racing is his only business. Racing isn't a side line.  

It's the line.

Simple question: How have you pulled this off?

I don't know. (Laughs.)

Okay, maybe I do. I work at it every day. It's my passion. 

When people come in the door, I tell them, "This is a real business. It's not my hobby. It's not some billionaire's sideline. It's not my avocation, it's my vocation."

So it all starts there. I'm not an independently wealthy billionaire. It has to work for me. 

Which means you can't just throw money at problems.

Well, I do occasionally throw money at problems (laughs), but yes: I have to think about my nickels and dimes.

Sometimes that means I miss out on deals because I need to think about them for a day or two.

Of course that means I sometimes look back and think, "Wow, we're lucky we missed out on that one." (Laughs.)

Every entrepreneur knows that feeling. Sometimes hesitating means missing out, but sometimes an extra day of thought and analysis helps you avoid making a bad decision.

When people come to you from other teams, do they struggle to embrace what might be a more disciplined fiscal approach?

That's all over the map. Some people see it as a struggle. Others see certain constraints as an opportunity to really use their ideas and creativity. 

This is how I look at it: Everyone has a toolbox. In our business, those tools are everything from wrenches to software to machinery to education... 

Tell me what you need and I'll give you those tools. That's my job. Then I'll stay out of your way and let you do your job. 

I'm not a micromanager. With all the different teams we have, spread across the country and the world... I can't be a micromanager. Our employees know that if I'm micromanaging them, there must be a misunderstanding in terms of what they need to be doing. 

You grew from one team to multiple teams. How did you come up with the resources you needed to expand?

When we expand, money isn't the hardest thing to come up with. Neither is the equipment. The hardest thing to find is great people.

In no way does that make us unique. A lot of businesses face that problem, especially in times of low unemployment.

Simple example: Truck drivers. Between Uber, Lyft, all the different delivery services... there isn't necessarily a shortage of truck drivers, but many now doing other things. That means a truck driver can get a job where he or she can be home every night, making similar pay, instead of being on the road 90 or 100 days a year. That's just one real-world example of how hard it is to get great talent.

Anyone can buy the "stuff." Finding great people is always the biggest challenge for a growing business.

In a business where movement is common, you tend to keep people longer than many. Is that because you have a variety of paths people can take?

To a certain degree. More than that, though, tenure rewards you in this business. Time and experience helps you build a base of knowledge about the sport that is invaluable.

I like to think we're the Pittsburgh Steelers of racing: We don't spend the most money, but we work really hard. Maybe that's because I'm from Pittsburgh. It's a blue-collar town built on hard work.  

We may not out-spend you, but we sure will try to out-work you.

Many kids dream of being a race car driver. Not too many dream of owning a race team. 

When I was a kid we had slot cars, go-karts, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles... I had a fossil fuel-fired youth. (Laughs.) 

I was always looking for something to dig into, always putzing around with things with wheels and engines... and that's reflected today in how I approach my business.

I'm not just a one-trick pony. My greatest accomplishment is winning the Indy 500. But it's also winning the Daytona 500. And it's also winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And the 12 hours of Sebring. They're all my greatest accomplishment. (Laughs.)

I love being involved with different cars, different engineering aspects, different people... I started out putzing around, and I'm still doing that.

Which makes me a very lucky guy.

With over 200 wins under your belt... have you gotten used to winning?

Winning never gets old. The day it does is the day I'll quit. When we finish second, it's like like someone died. (Laughs.) It's a bad thing when we finish second.

Then again, it does depend. There's a big difference between losing a race and not winning a race. When you've dominated all day and then lose the race at the end... you lost the race, and that feels awful. But if you were running tenth all day and manage to finish third... you didn't win the race, but that result doesn't feel as bad.

On a larger level, I don't know how I'll feel if we start to run poorly at some of the events we're used to dominating. Hopefully I won't have to find out. 

What's funny is that with so many teams running in so many series... I can have a good day and a bad day, all in the same day. (Laughs.)

That's one of the things I love about what I do. There's always another race and another challenge. And that never gets old.

Published on: Dec 12, 2018
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