Race Cars and Wrenches

How Mark Darragh Went From Crew Chief To Shop Owner Working on Some of the World’s Most Exotic Vehicles

How Mark Darragh Went From Crew Chief To Shop Owner Working on Some of the World’s Most Exotic Vehicles

“Standing on the grid of the Indy 500 with 250,000 people around you and 33 cars on the grid—there’s nothing like it.”

At the age of 13 I was working on semi-trucks. And when I turned 18, I opened up my first shop in the U.K. It was mobile; just me and a set of tools. 

In 1996, I got a call from Newport Beach, California that said, “We need you to be a crew chief for the Indy Lights Team.”  With no hesitation, I said yes. I was the crew chief for a two-car team for about a year. 

After moving from the U.K. to the U.S., I hopped around a bit. I lived in Oregon, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. I went from being a crew chief to replacing rear tires and fixing exotics. 

In 1999, I worked my first Indy 500 race. And let me tell you: standing on the grid of the Indy 500 with 250,000 people around you and 33 cars on the grid—there’s nothing like it. 

As you’re waiting for the car to drive up, your adrenaline will start pumping. Everyone is in their position, and you’re in charge of changing the outside rear tire. Formula One guys can do it in 2 to 2.5 seconds because they have a group of 20 individuals, but when you’re the only one on a tire, and everyone’s counting on you, you do it in 5 to 7 seconds. I remember they put a heart rate monitor on me when I was changing tires at the Long Beach Grand Prix. My heart rate went from 180 to 230 during that wheel change. 

In 2007, I was asked to come to Houston, Texas to run an exotic repair shop down the road. So, I turned that place around and decided to open up a shop of my own. Because I started off traveling the world when I was focusing on race cars, and the world’s a sphere, I named my shop Sphere Motorsports. 

I started off contracting with race teams, and in 2009 I made the switch to exotic vehicle repairs. I knew the cars, and people knew I could work on them. So, within two hours of being open, I was already booking work.

“...they put a heart rate monitor on me when I was changing tires at the Long Beach Grand Prix. My heart rate went from 180 to 230 during that wheel change.”

But opening my own shop wasn’t easy. My learning curve wasn’t a “curve”; it went straight up. I struggled to manage the scope of repair time and the shop’s schedule as we started to grow. And it’s impossible to prepare yourself for the amount of money you will invest as a shop owner. 

But you have to go above and beyond for your shop’s equipment. You need a high-quality welder, compressor, tire machine, and lift. Investing in high-quality equipment will help your shop tenfold. 

You have to take quality control (QC) seriously, too. Every car that enters the garage, it doesn’t matter what repairs we’ve done, gets a QC check. We check the lug nuts, torque, and tire pressure before any customer hits the road.  

“Investing in high-quality equipment will help your shop tenfold.” 

Prepare to think about your shop more than anything else, but give yourself the ability to step away. Turn your gears off work-mode when you get the chance. At Sphere, we never work weekends.

And remind yourself, mistakes are inevitable. Sometimes we miss things because we are human. I made mistakes but I learned a ton and I’d go back and do it all again. It got me across the finish line to where I am now. 

Visit Sphere Motorsports for more info.