by John Zimmermann
Hall of Fame recognition is regularly reserved for those who’ve been successful throughout their chosen careers, acknowledgment of a lifetime’s body of work well done. This is not always the case, however, as on occasion those still active in the sport are honored on the sheer strength of their accomplishments.
So it is with Chip Ganassi, Class of 2016, but “active” is an entirely insufficient adjective to describe the Pittsburgh native who presently fields 14 cars for 18 drivers in six different professional series. After his promising driving career was redirected by a nasty Indycar crash, Ganassi moved into an ownership role that enabled him to continue pursuing a passion sparked when his late father Floyd brought home a film of the 1963 Indy 500.
The Duquense University business school graduate will tell you that standard business principles guide that passion, with decisions based on his four corporate cornerstones of integrity, innovation, partnership and performance. Since Ganassi first became a car owner a quarter-century ago, those tenets have yielded an enviable record of more than 170 individual race wins and 18 championships -- including four Indy 500 triumphs, six overall victories in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and single wins in the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. In 2010 he bagged an as yet unmatched trifecta with victories in the 500s at Daytona and Indianapolis and the Brickyard 400.
Everything emanates from a trio of state-of-the-art race shops in Indiana and North Carolina, as well as corporate offices back home in Pittsburgh. In each location Ganassi is known for giving those in his employ the tools they need to win.
Mike Hull, long-time managing director of Ganassi’s Indycar and sports car programs, says his boss provides “a quality of helping us find, in ourselves, what it takes to win every day and to win on Sunday. He never looks back, he’s always looking forward.”
Ganassi believes another key to success is employing the best people, and that by doing so his organization will attract others of similar caliber. Evidence of this is seen in the drivers he’s hired, with Indycar championships for Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti, Indy 500 wins with Montoya, Dixon and Franchitti, sports car crowns from Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Max Papis, as well as the Daytona and Brickyard stock car wins for Jamie McMurray.
“Chip focuses everything on his race team and puts everything he has into it,” offers Vasser, now a rival team owner. “I respect the fact that the only thing that matters to Chip when it comes to the team is winning.”
Ganassi has carefully managed continuing relationships with a string of auto makers and commercial partners such as long-time sponsor Target. His present partnership with Ford is taking the automaker back to Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of its landmark 1966 victory. By tackling sports car racing’s hotly contested Grand Touring category, Ganassi is showing he knows racing rarely lets anyone rest on their laurels, no matter how sturdy they may seem. He prefers new opportunities and fresh challenges.
Now an associate editor with Vintage Racecar, John Zimmermann has written about racing since 1980, first as managing editor of RACECAR, then as founding editor for On Track and RACER, with time as Autoweek’s motorsports editor in between. He also authored the book “Dan Gurney’s Eagle Racing Cars.”