In a move that required multiple layers to facilitate, Trackhouse Racing has signed reigning NASCAR Truck Series champion Zane Smith to a multiyear agreement to compete in the Cup Series next year but that journey will begin with Spire Motorsports.
That’s because, in a semi-related move, Spire Motorsports has purchased the ownership charter from the Live Fast Motorsports No. 78 car and will use it to race Smith under a technical alliance with Trackhouse in 2024. Long term, Spire will become a three-car organization with Trackhouse seeking a third charter for 2025 in beyond in which it could run Smith on its own.
For now, the agreement ensures that Smith, a highly touted prospect will have a place to continue his NASCAR career after Front Row Motorsports decided it would continue forward in the Cup Series with drivers Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland.
It’s a fortuitous turn of events because Smith has wanted to drive for team owners Justin Marks and Pitbull ever since it debuted in 2020 and purchased the assets of Chip Ganassi Racing prior to the 2022 season. Smith was a former Ganassi development driver.
“It just means the world to me,” said Smith during a Saturday press conference at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I almost didn’t have anything a couple of years ago. This is the place I want to be. Three hundred sixty-five days ago, I sat at a Bob Evans with a very close friend and he asked me where I wanted to race one day. I think he expected maybe some different answer. My answer was Trackhouse. Almost 365 days later I signed a contract with them.”
The 24-year-old from Huntington Beach, California has been racing since he was four years old and has collected wins at every level along the way. In 89 Truck Series starts, Smith has tallied nine victories, 35 top-5s and 57 top-10s with three poles.
Smith also has 12 Xfinity Series starts with a best finish of fifth with JR Motorsports in 2019.
“I will do whatever it takes to win on Sunday, and I have that chance thanks to Justin Marks,” Smith said.
This is yet another wrinkle added to the driver and charter market. For one, Spire purchased the charter from Live Fast for a reported $40 million according to a report in the Athletic. Ownership charters are effectively the NASCAR Cup Series equivalent of a franchise, like the New York Yankees or New England Patriots.
At the start of 2016, NASCAR issued 36 charters, giving those 36 cars a guaranteed spot in each race and a guaranteed base amount of revenue for the season. The decreased supply of teams with guaranteed revenue has created demand for the tokens with the asking price surging from the single digit of millions to $40 million.
Trackhouse might be in the market for an additional charter in the years to come as it looks for room to field a car from Shane Van Gisbergen, who will enroll in a multi-discipline transition to NASCAR from Supercars next season, but could be in the mix for a full-time Trackhouse ride by 2025 too.
“There’s a lot of unknowns around Shane and his development, how he’s going to do on the ovals, is he going to enjoy it,” Marks said. “There’s so many unknowns around him. I’m really excited about that program, but that’s one that we’re just going to have to see how it plays out.”
For now, Smith is a bonafide commitment into the team’s longterm future, says Marks.
“Expansion is not something to be taken lightly, but we feel Trackhouse is commercially and technically positioned for growth, Marks said. “You need good timing, very good partners, and great drivers. Adding Zane is like signing the No. 1 draft pick, and we are proud that he is now a member of the Trackhouse family.”
Spire, which currently fields cars for Corey Lajoie and Ty Dillon, is not expected to retain the latter next season. That team is expected to begin heavily investing in its future due to the influx of capital thanks to a partnership with Gainbridge Financial.
As for Live Fast, that team is a collaboration between industry mainstays BJ McLeod, Matt Tifft and Joe Falk. McLeod also operates and Xfinity Series program. In a statement, the team confirmed the sale and said it intended to race next season as an ‘open team.’ That means the team will not earn the same financial benefits as those under the charter agreement.