How NASCAR's Trackhouse is helping MotoGP crack the U.S.

Daniel Suárez winning the third-closest NASCAR race in history. Shane van Gisbergen becoming the first driver to win on their Cup Series debut in 60 years. Ross Chastain stealing a place in the Championship 4 with his rulebook-bending wall ride at Martinsville.

Three of the most viral, genre-defying moments in recent NASCAR history, all tied together by one common thread: all were accomplished by drivers for Trackhouse Racing.

The team founded by Justin Marks and co-owned by Pitbull has a knack for making headlines, either by winning races (only NASCAR behemoths Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have more victories in the past three-plus seasons than Trackhouse's seven), by employing drivers who make any given event must-see TV (see: van Gisbergen's win on the streets of Chicago last summer or 2007 Formula One world champion Kimi Räikkönen contesting rounds at Watkins Glen and Circuit of the Americas), or by having its Grammy-winning co-owner headline concerts corresponding with major dates on the NASCAR calendar.

Trackhouse is a marketer's dream, boasting a unique combination of on-track success with off-track intrigue. The team's headquarters in Concord, North Carolina is filled to the brim with knowledge of the American racing landscape.

"[Marks] is an exceptionally open-minded person. He's always looking for opportunities, but not opportunities to do things like other people do them, for opportunities for him to do things the way he wants to do them," former NASCAR Cup Series race winner and Marks' CARS Tour co-owner Jeff Burton said to ESPN. "He's very innovative, creative. Over there in the Cup team, they talk about being disruptive and trying to do things differently, and that's the experience that I've had."

You can understand, then, why Trackhouse would be attractive to MotoGP, whose teams are all owned by outfits based in Western Europe and Japan. While F1 continues to enjoy its boom in popularity in the U.S. and NASCAR continues to deliver dependable ratings (even if they aren't what they were during stock car racing's height of popularity 25 years ago), the two-wheeled equivalent of Formula One is still waiting for its "Drive to Survive" moment, the pop-culture crossover from niche audience to water-cooler conversation.

When the sport announced in November that it was not selecting CryptoData RNF Aprilia to participate in the 2024 championship, it didn't take long for confirmation to arrive that Trackhouse would take its places on the grid.

"There is probably some pressure on us to deliver some value for MotoGP in the North American market, but I think it's something that we're uniquely positioned to be able to do just because of the voice that we already have in motorsports in North America," Marks told ESPN. "There's a lot of people that are already paying attention to us because of Project 91 (the operation that brought Räikkönen and Van Gisbergen to the Cup Series), because of the moments that we've had in NASCAR, because of Pitbull and all the things that we do. So we've already got a voice, and being able to introduce MotoGP into that conversation, I think we've got endemic followers and fans that are going to automatically maybe tune into MotoGP because Trackhouse is there."

Converting even a fraction of those Trackhouse fans would be a boon for motorcycle grand prix racing. While the series enjoyed record in-person attendance in 2023, up 17% from the previous year, that hasn't necessarily translated to success in the United States. Live broadcasts for the Saturday Sprint and Sunday grand prix from the second round in Portugal last month were seen by 182,000 American viewers, while the NASCAR Cup Series circulated Circuit of the Americas that same weekend in front of a television audience of 3.31 million.

MotoGP's new broadcast rights deal in the U.S. with Warner Brothers Discovery will undoubtedly help, with 30 GPs and Sprints airing live in 2024 compared with zero last season, but Trackhouse's ability to tap into an existing audience of American race fans holds enormous potential for the sport.

How will Marks' team do that? For starters, cross-promotion.

Trackhouse brought one of its Aprilia RS-GP show bikes to Daytona International Speedway in February, on display for everyone wandering through the hospitality area of the Daytona 500. Marks helped organize a NASCAR demonstration lap when MotoGP visits Circuit of the Americas in Austin this weekend. Ahead of Trackhouse Aprilia's arrival in the Texas capital, it stopped in North Carolina to visit the NASCAR shop, where riders Miguel Oliveira and Raúl Fernández got behind the wheel of a stock car.

All of it captured on camera, curated for social media. This is the second, and arguably biggest, tenet of Trackhouse's ability to attract new fans.

The 2024 MotoGP season is just two races (and two preseason tests) old, but already the content that the Trackhouse Aprilia team has produced has stood out from its rivals. There is a polish to its video edits that is unrivaled in the paddock, fans are being introduced to the personalities behind Oliveira and Fernández, there is an attention to detail that comes from an organization dedicated to the craft.

"We've really leaned into that on the NASCAR side and built a very strong content team. It's one of the strongest divisions in the company on the NASCAR side, and that's something that we want to grow on the MotoGP side," Marks said. "We want to be able to tell the stories of our riders and the stories of our executives and our mechanics going down the road and flying all over the world. Right now we basically have one content guy that goes around the world with the MotoGP team but has the support of our content team here in North America, but I think that we will grow that over time.

"The broadcast of the races, that's really telling the story of what happens on the race track, but social media is where you tell all the ancillary stories around what happens on the race track. So that's where we've made big investments and continue to make big investments, and I think we have a massive opportunity on the MotoGP side to really establish our voice and our personality and work to bring content and behind-the-scenes stories to the MotoGP fans that they haven't seen yet."

There's much more to winning over the American audience and new fans of MotoGP, though. The production quality of the team's content can be worthy of an Academy Award, but if Trackhouse Aprilia doesn't deliver on track, it will count for little.

Talk to anyone who knows Marks, though, and, yes, they will rave about his creativity and his innovation and his vision, but they will also bring up how competitive he is.

"I don't think [Marks is] in this to just show up," Dan Rossomondo, chief commercial officer of Dorna Sports, the commercial rights holder of MotoGP, said to ESPN. "I think he's in this to compete.

"I think that if you give them time, they're going to invest in the right -- when I say 'invest,' I just don't mean money. I think they're going to spend the right amount of time and the right amount of resources and the right amount of ideation on getting to the top of the grid."

Trackhouse Racing was winless with Suárez in its first season in the NASCAR Cup Series. When it expanded to become a two-car operation in 2022, the team claimed three victories. Marks thinks it will take a year for his MotoGP operation, which largely absorbed the now-defunct CryptoData RNF team, to fully embrace the Trackhouse way of doing business. When it does, though, he has a clear vision for his outfit.

"What we really want, and this is where [former Yamaha, Suzuki and Alpine F1 boss and newly appointed Trackhouse Aprilia team principal Davide Brivio] is going to be very instrumental for us, is we want to be the strongest independent team in the sport," Marks said.

In 2023, Pramac Ducati became the first independent team in the history of MotoGP to win the teams' championship. If Trackhouse can replicate that feat in the years to come, you can bet that Marks' team will have won over a few fans -- in the U.S. and beyond -- along the way.