Joe Gibbs Racing Headquarters One of Premier Shops in NASCAR
If you’re driving on Interstate 77 north of Charlotte, N.C., and exit onto Gilead Road (Exit 23, as the locals call it), when you head west, you’ll see a shopping center on the right and Presbyterian Hospital on the left. Just past the hospital on the left is an entrance for Huntersville Business Park. Once you turn onto Reece Boulevard and head south for bit, you’ll travel just slightly to the right on Reece Boulevard West.
Travel less than a mile, just past Julian Clark Avenue, and you’ll see nestled in a beautiful wooded area the 240,000-square-foot headquarters of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). If you drove past it and didn’t see the sign out front, you would never know the building housed one of premier teams in NASCAR. The massive building looks like it could house a Fortune 500 company or serve as a medical complex.
And that’s exactly how Todd Meredith, vice president of operations for JGR, envisioned things in 1997 when he began scouting locations for JGR’s third and final headquarters.
“We wanted something that looked nice and was in a pleasant environment, so when we brought corporations in to talk about sponsorship, it didn’t look like an industrial park,” said Meredith, who has been with JGR since 1991. “We wanted something a little bit nicer that looked like a business park.”
But the look of the building was far from the reason to pull up stakes and move to the current shop. After spending its first three seasons in a shop on Harris Boulevard in north Charlotte, JGR built its second headquarters in Twin Lakes Business Park, also in north Charlotte, just north of Harris Boulevard, and moved there in November 1994.
“We pretty much outgrew our second shop the day we moved into it,” Meredith said. “But, once we decided to do the 20 car, we knew we had to move.”
From 1992 through 1998, JGR fielded only the No. 18 Interstate Batteries entry, first for Dale Jarrett and then for Bobby Labonte, who took over for Jarrett in 1995. With space already tight in the shop and multi-car teams becoming more and more common in NASCAR, JGR officials began the process of adding a second car while also looking for a new place to call home.
By the time Tony Stewart was announced as the driver of JGR’s second car, the No. 20 Home Depot machine, the organization was just three months away from moving to its current location in Huntersville.
And what a challenge it was.
Meredith spent months searching parcels of land that would house the new shop before settling on Huntersville – the last piece of land he looked at during the process. He was then heavily involved with the design process, along with architects from LS3P Associates Ltd. Meredith was there when Shelco Inc., which constructed the building, broke ground in late 1997, and then oversaw the move from the old shop to the new shop in December 1998.
“It’s a huge challenge and a lot of hard work,” Meredith said. “The year we moved to the current shop, I worked seven months without a day off, and then worked all day Thanksgiving day just because it was so much work to get moved in. You don’t have a lot of downtime to get ready for the next season, so you have to do it quickly.”
When employees moved in, they were greeted by a 130,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art complex which gave them all the tools – and more importantly – space to work in.
“It was a massive ‘wow’ factor,” said Jimmy Makar, vice president of racing operations for JGR and Labonte’s crew chief at the time of the move. “Even when we were building it, you couldn’t believe the size of it. Everyone was just really proud of the place that Joe had built for us. It was like buying a new home. Everyone was just proud and happy to have a place like our shop to come to everyday to go to work.”
Labonte was equally impressed.
“I thought the other shop was pretty big,” Labonte said. “Of course, there were only 18 people working there. Fortunately, I was able to be involved and I wanted to be involved. I’ll never forget looking at the plans for that shop in Todd’s office, and then we went over the woods where the shop is now. It was me, Joe (Gibbs), J.D. (Gibbs), Jimmy (Makar), Todd (Meredith) and Mac (Steve McMillan, facilities supervisor) and I remember just thinking, ‘There’s a lot of woods here.’ So, for me to have walked through the woods and see the plans from Todd and get the updates throughout the process from Todd and Mac – to then see it finished was an incredible feeling.”
In 2005, JGR added a third entity to its stable – the No. 11 FedEx team. In turn, JGR officials constructed a 110,000-square-foot addition to the shop to bring the total square-footage to 240,000.
“One of the things we did originally with the shop was design it so we could grow,” Makar said. “Nobody knew at that time how quickly the sport was going to grow and what we were going to need. The seven-post room was planned for even before we built it. The ground was going to be laid and the foundation was laid for that. The engine room was designed for expansion. The machine shop, which was originally in the engine room and something that we thought we weren’t going to outgrow, turned out to grow out of its area, so we moved that to what used to be the fabrication room. But, we had the ability and we had rooms to grow into. We have had, and still have, the ability to expand and change as we need to, and that’s what’s great about our shop.”
Even more than a decade after the shop opened, Meredith and Makar can’t believe how far JGR has come in 20 years.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Makar said. “The industry has grown leaps and bounds since the early ’90s and the shops are much more phenomenal than they were back then. To have even been able to envision a shop of this size and magnatiude, with the amount of people we have working and the technology we have within the walls – it’s something you never would’ve thought about. You never would’ve dreamed that you’d be doing the things we’re able to do at our shop.”
“It’s been quite a ride,” Meredith said. “It’s obviously slowed down in the last three years, but for the first 17 years it was just everything you could do to keep up. You couldn’t hire enough people, you couldn’t buy enough space and you couldn’t buy enough equipment. It was just all you could do to keep up. And there are days I walk around and am still amazed at how far we’ve come.”
And Meredith, like everyone at JGR, knows the gamble by Norm Miller, chairman of Interstate Batteries, to align with JGR in 1991, paved the way for the team’s success.
“Obviously, without Interstate Batteries, we wouldn’t be here today,” Meredith said. “They’ve been with us for all 20 seasons and they’re a huge part of history and our culture. Norm Miller is a huge friend to all of us. He’s not just a sponsor. It’s a deeper relationship than that. When you see Norm, you give him a hug, and he and Joe are very good friends. They’re just a huge part of our history.”