Ginn seemingly well ahead of five-year plan

Bobby Ginn bought his NASCAR team with a five-year plan in mind. With Mark Martin in the points lead, Ginn Racing appears ahead of schedule, writes David Newton.

Updated: March 16, 2007, 10:50 AM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- Bobby Ginn was wearing blue jeans, a white collared shirt and worn boots as he leaned against a cabinet inside the No. 01 hauler of Mark Martin.

Mark Martin
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIREMark Martin is leading the Nextel Cup standings, but is on the verge of taking some time off from his Ginn Racing ride.

It was hardly the look one would expect of a real-estate mogul who has made millions dealing with the so-called suits of the world.

"When corporate America said 'let's go casual,' I stripped the suits off," Ginn said with a laugh. "I very rarely put on a coat and tie anymore. I'm probably the most casual dresser you'll ever see.

"This is the look for me."

It's a good look, particularly in a Nextel Cup garage that is more "Field & Stream" than "GQ."

Ginn's latest project, Ginn Racing, also is looking good.

He has the hottest story in NASCAR in points leader Martin, who vows he'll step out of the U.S. Army Chevrolet after Sunday's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway to enjoy a few weekends with his family in Florida.

Ginn signed the 48-year-old Martin late last season to team with Sterling Marlin and Joe Nemechek and split the 2007 Cup schedule with rookie Regan Smith. Martin was to run 22-25 races, then spend his off weekends working with developmental drivers such as Ricky Carmichael.

That's still the plan, although Martin is getting pressure to make a run at the championship that he's been a runner-up to four times during his career.

OK, so most of the pressure is coming from media that can't understand why Martin wouldn't jump at the opportunity to win a title that most in the garage believe he deserves.

It's definitely not coming from Ginn or general manager Jay Frye.

While the exposure and notoriety Martin could bring Ginn Racing with a championship run would be priceless, this isn't about a short-term fix.

Ginn and Frye have a five-year plan -- albeit one that is ahead of schedule with Martin's fast start -- that they hope will put the organization in position to challenge for titles on a regular basis.

"It took us 11 years to get to here," Frye said. "We have plans that hopefully Mark becomes Penske's version of Rick Mears. He'll always be around us. He'll always have a role with us.

"Part of his role now is tutoring and mentoring young drivers we have. Him doing that will make us better long-term."

A less patient man might selfishly ask Martin to take one for the team. And there's still a chance Martin will change his mind, not necessarily because he wants to run for a championship but because he has a car that can win races.

He said after last week's fifth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that his car was better than the Roush Racing Ford he drove a year ago.

But Ginn is patient. He's not looking for overnight success in racing any more than he did in business.

A native of Hampton, S.C., Ginn began working for his father in the construction and development business. He did everything from framing roofs to digging septic tanks, growing a small-time organization that built five houses a year to one that built 700.

Regan Smith
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesRegan Smith is slated to share the No. 01 Chevy with points leader Mark Martin. Martin was brought on board in part to help train Smith.

He eventually began developing everything from apartments to shopping centers to industrial warehouses.

That ultimately led to Ginn Resorts, which has a reputation for developing some of the finest resort golf course communities in the country.

So why NASCAR? Why now?

Ginn grew up a NASCAR fan, following the career of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt. He saw the sport as a way to bring together his vast number of employees and "have them talk about something other than the day-to-day business around the water cooler."

It's worked.

Ginn received reports that his clubhouses, many in Florida, were full of employees glued to the television as Martin lost the Daytona 500 by about three feet to Kevin Harvick in mid-February.

"Tens of thousands of them," Ginn said.

Ginn actually gets more questions about his NASCAR dealings than anything else during normal business meetings or visits to resorts.

"I would recommend to any chairman that's got thousands of employees to look hard at NASCAR because of that," he said. "It gives you an ability to humanize yourself with everybody in the company."

Ginn has helped unify the race team as well. A part-owner with MB2 Motorsports last season, he bought the majority stake in July and renamed it Ginn Racing in November. His ability to write checks has allowed the organization to grow from about 90 employees to 180 in six months.

It has allowed Frye the opportunity to hire quality people such as Gary DeHart from Hendrick Motorsports and start a third Cup team, not to mention a Busch program.

It has allowed the organization to build a machine shop and the all-important seven-post machine that helps teams simulate any racing groove on any track without leaving the shop.

"Money fixes things," Marlin said.

But it's not all about money. Ginn said the key has been hiring the right people, not the dollars it took to get them.

Frye agreed.

"People forget that we've always been a competitive team," he said. "We just needed something to get over the hump to the next level. Bobby and Mark helped give us that little push. We still have a long way to go to get to the next level."

The gap, however, has closed. Martin's three-top fives already are more than Nemechek had in the 01 the past two years combined.

"We call him our Roger Clemens," Frye said. "When Roger Clemens walks in a clubhouse, it changes the clubhouse. The same thing with Mark. It's all about respect.

Joe Nemechek
Jason D. Smith/US PRESSWIREJoe Nemechek gave up his car and sponsor to Mark Martin, but Nemechek has been reaping the benefits of strong runs himself.

"When we came [to Vegas] to test, we had a debriefing between sessions. When Mark started talking, everybody else stopped. They wanted to know what his opinion was. They absorbed. That's priceless."

The numbers don't tell the whole story, but Nemechek and Marlin also have improved. Nemechek was seventh in points after the second race and had a competitive car at Las Vegas before a Lap 17 wreck ruined his day. Marlin was headed for a top-10 finish before his engine expired with 16 laps remaining.

"All the cars are driving good," Marlin said.

Morale also is good, from the shop to the track. Frye feels a sense of pride when he walks into the garage that he never felt before. He recalled how a fan went out of his way during a function in Vegas to walk up and say, "Yeah! Ginn Racing!"

"That hasn't happened very often in the past," Frye said.

It didn't hit Frye just how much things have changed until he recently sent an e-mail to a sponsor saying Martin was leading the points.

"I thought, 'That's pretty cool,' " Frye said.

So was appearing on QVC with Martin to sell diecast cars last week.

Ginn promises the best is yet to come. He says some cutting edge things are on the way that will make the organization even stronger.

"If you just have the best, in all businesses, the best in facilities, the best in attitude and the best in people, you will ultimately be successful if you go out and do it on a regular basis," he said.

Just don't ask Ginn to wear the best clothes.

"I grew up in the country and I love to hunt and fish and be a part of the outdoors," he said. "I always was casual. When corporate America said it was OK, I didn't argue a bit.

"So I'm in the right place for me."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter