5 Minutes With Chip Ganassi
In 1963, Chip Ganassi’s father took a bus tour to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and brought home an 8mm film of a race for a then-five-year-old Chip to watch. He, of course, had no idea that the race footage would set his son on the path to become one of the most successful and winningest race car team owners of all time.
“I must have watched Parnelli win that race [on the footage] 100 times,” Ganassi remembers. “After that, I was hooked!”
Soon, Ganassi was racing go-karts and dirt bikes, and by high school graduation, he was ready to climb into the driver’s seat of a racecar. “I got to go to the [Bob] Bondurant Driving School as my high school graduation gift,” he said. “I certainly wanted to race, but at that age, it’s hard to say that will actually happen. There are still a lot of things that have to go in your favor for that to happen.”
Ganassi was one of the lucky ones who had everything go in his favor for him to live his dream of being a racer, and later a team owner. The Pittsburgh native – who is the owner and CEO of Chip Ganassi Racing – has gone on to become the only team owner in history who has won six of the biggest races in the world: the Indianapolis 500, the Brickyard 400, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Daytona 500, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
We talked to Ganassi about how he deals with passionate fans, what he misses most about driving racecars, and how he’s been able to navigate a nearly 30-year career in the ever-changing racing industry.
Goodguys Gazette: You’ve been a part of so many different types of racing: Indy Car, NASCAR, sports car, etc. Which have you enjoyed the most?
Chip Ganassi: I think my racing career has been an extension of what I was when I was a youth; I wasn’t nailed down to one type of car or race or vehicle. I can appreciate them all. [In my youth] I was all over the map; I didn’t get settled on one vehicle or formula. I even raced snowmobiles at one time. Anything I could get my hands on, we raced or enjoyed, so I think I have an appreciation for a lot of types of racing even today.
GG: If you hadn’t gotten involved in the automotive industry, what career do you think you’d have chosen?
Ganassi: I like aviation a lot, so maybe I would have been a pilot or something. It’s hard to say [because] I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and I did it and I’m doing it. I have been fortunate to do that.
GG: Over the last 30 years, there have been a lot of changes in the way fans connect to their favorite drivers and teams. How has social media affected what you do?
Ganassi: Today’s fans say things on social media about you, and as soon as you respond [to them], they get defensive. I think it’s funny that fans say certain things. It’s good that they are passionate and have differing opinions. Now, though, you have to be more aware of what you say and how you say it. There’s a fine line between being politically correct and telling the truth. You have to be cognizant of certain things now, because you are connecting with people at a personal level, which you couldn’t really do before.
GG: What do you miss most about driving racecars?
Ganassi: The one thing you miss is that fleeting moment that every racecar driver has when the car is perfect and you do that perfect lap…when you get the most out of your equipment and you’ve run just about everything out of it. You run that perfect lap and then you want to go faster. But any time it feels really good, you question whether you’ve left something on the table.
But I just miss that feeling of having the perfect grip, the right amount of speed, power, cornering, shifting, and all that stuff coming together to make the perfect lap. Getting the most out of the tires without abusing them, that’s what I miss about driving. You can’t get that by driving a street car or sports car. All of the people who have sports cars think they can, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.
GG: What’s your favorite TV show? Do you watch a lot of car-themed shows?
Ganassi: Outside of news and sports, I don’t watch much TV. I have seen all the [automotive] shows, and a lot of them [feel like] the same show. Danny Koker is a friend of mine, though, so I do watch ‘Count’s Kustoms.’
GG: Which of your career accomplishments are you most proud of?
Ganassi: I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve been able to weather the ebbs and flows of the motorsports business. That’s my biggest accomplishment. I’ve been able to stomach all of the ups and downs – and there have been more ups than downs, luckily. I’ve had some great partners and sponsors over the years.
GG: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Ganassi: My dad once told me, ‘Do what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it.’
GG: What’s the hardest part about your job?
Ganassi: We’re racing cars for a living – nothing about that is hard! I’m very fortunate to be able to do that. I’m a lucky guy because my vocation and my avocation are the same thing. There are certainly things that are difficult about this business, but I’m not going to tell you anything is really hard.
GG: What’s one thing your fans would be surprised to learn about you?
Ganassi: They’d probably be surprised to find out that I’m a foodie! I love to cook. And, in this business, you end up going to every restaurant on the planet, which is great.
GG: You’re the only team owner who has won six of the biggest races in the world. How the heck can you top that?
Ganassi: Good question! There’s a race this weekend that we’re going to try to win. There are still more races to win. I wish I could put in a jar that feeling you have when you win a race. You can’t touch it, you can’t save it and you can’t spend it, but, boy, does it feel good.