Finding success, whether it’s in life or on the track, takes focus and determination above all else, according to recent Rolex 24 winner Ryan Hardwick. He and the entire team for Wright Motorsports’ 1st Phorm #16 Porsche 911 GT3 R car sped into first place during the grueling race not by chance, but after many days’ (and really months’) worth of preparation. On race day, the entire team had to be in sync: out in the field, in the pits, and most of all within their own heads.
Hardwick’s no stranger to teamwork, though. He founded what would become Mountain Motorsports with the help of childhood friend Justin Price. Together, the two grew up in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains, where all the lakes and forests were their playground. Hardwick’s first great motorsports love was found on two wheels, not four. Speeding around the trails surrounding his childhood home, with his dad and friend frequently in tow, cut an unshakeable impression in his mind, and he was hooked.
Now, Hardwick tries his best to split his time between his family, his racing career, his business, his growing stable of supercars, and getting in as much practice as he can at places like Atlanta Motorsports Park’s karting track in North Georgia. His 9-year-old son is, in fact, his protégé, retracing his father’s figurative tire marks both on the kart track and the dirtbike trail.
We caught up with Hardwick, somewhat fresh off his Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona win, and asked him to share with us a bit about his journey, his love of motorsports, and what it’s like having a couple million dollars’ worth of high-performance machinery residing in his garage.
An ATL Transplant From the Hills of Tennessee With a Passion for Motors of All Sizes
Hardwick grew up in Dandridge, Tennessee, a tiny town just about an hour away from Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nearby his home were plentiful trails just ripe for exploration from the seat of a dirtbike. Hardwick says that some of his youngest and most-cherished memories involved himself and his dad out in the woods, just trail riding. His home was also right near the shore of Douglas Lake, which meant that his youth included no small amount of jet-skiing, too.
A frequent companion on his adventures was a neighbor from down the street named Justin. They grew up close, like brothers, says Hardwick. Part of that bond was shared because Price had lost his own father some time ago, making the Hardwicks part-time surrogates.
When Price and Hardwick graduated, they decided to take their adventures to new roads: that of commercial opportunity. Their shared love of dirtbikes, motorbikes, motorcycles and jetskis led them to seek approval for a Honda motorcycle franchise in 1999, right when they graduated high school. Hardwick attended business school at the University of Tennessee (Go Vols!), and soon set his sights on expanding his recreational vehicles dealership footprint down further south. He and Price both migrated to Atlanta in 2003, where they opened up a new location of Mountain Motorsports. From that moment on, the brand had its sights on growth. The dynamic duo purchased up a fair share of their local competition, including a Honda and Yamaha dealer in Conyers that would become one of their main locations.
Over the past 20 years, Mountain Motorsports has grown by leaps and bounds to encompass 9 dealerships in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. Cumulative sales across all locations would peg the Mountain Motorsports brand as the second-largest retailer of recreational vehicles in the world.
As his business took off, Hardwick was able to realize two of his childhood dreams: racing competitively, and owning many of his most sought after “poster car” exotics that bedecked his boyhood bedroom.
Building a Stable of Beautiful Sportscars
Ryan Hardwick has many accomplishments to be proud of. Perhaps that’s his default resting expression seems to be a beaming smile. From a family that includes a gorgeous, supportive wife and two handsome boys to his ever-growing business to his recent on-track triumphs, he’s got all the boxes ticked.
But some of the most-visible proofs of his accomplishments sit side-by-side in a garage in an undisclosed location in the hills north of Atlanta. There, you’ll find a
- Lamborghini Huracan Spyder
- Lamborghini Murcielago SV
- Mercedes SLS AMG Black Series
- Toyota Supra Turbo (with factory TRD widebody conversion)
- McLaren P1
- McLaren Senna
- 2005 Ford GT
- 2021 Ford GT Studio Collection (a recent addition!)
- 1981 Delorean “Time Machine” (Great scott!)
There’s also absolutely no shortage of some of the finest Porsche specimens curated from throughout German automaker’s nearly century-long history.
“I’ve just always been drawn to Porsche’s rich history, not only in racing but also for their devotion to the same formula of sports car,” expressed Hardwick, noting that the 911 hasn’t changed too dramatically since the first iterations in the early 70s.
Hardwick’s collection of 911s includes:
- 993 Gunther Werks
- 964 RS America
- 997 GT3RS 4.0
- 997 GT2RS (“widowmaker”)
- Carrera GT (in custom “Oslo Blue”)
When it comes to keeping all of these beauties in shape, there’s actually a surprising amount of paperwork involved. Hardwick and his fellow companions who share the garage space keep a running log not just of maintenance and transport but also every time each vehicle has been filled up, started up or left the garage.
Being a diligent owner also means keeping all of those pretty ponies happy, so about once per month he has to take them out on a drive to stretch their “legs”, so-to-speak, shift through the gears, and keep all the mechanicals humming. One thing many aspiring sportscar owners don’t anticipate, says Hardwick, is that these regular jaunts are essential for keeping fluids, gaskets, and other components in good condition.
“If you’re going to own a lot of cars, they need to be driven,” he advises. “They need to be ran.”
Making It to the Winner’s Circle at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona
One could easily guess that Hardwick was drawn to GT-style endurance racing because of the shared DNA between some of his favorite sportscars and their racing counterparts. Prior to joining the Wright Motorsports Porsche racing team, he ran in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo series alongside dozens of other Huracán Super Trofeo EVOs. This leg of his racing career included a 2018 win in his class while with the Dream Racing Motorsport team.
Most recently, Hardwick and his teammates nabbed a first-place win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GTD class. The win was made extra-sweet after an injury during practice in the year prior had unfortunately benched him during the 2021 Rolex 24 race. He said it was a real heartbreak to watch the race on TV from a hospital bed across the street from the track. But, after diligent rehabilitation and practice, he was back on his feet and in the driver’s seat ready to take on new challenges.
The work of Hardwick and the entire 1st Phorm #16 Porsche team paid off in the form of a steady, maintained lead during the last phase of the race.
“It’s called the Rolex 24, but we jokingly say ‘it’s really the Rolex 36’ because of all the work that goes in the night before and that morning and into the next day, when the pit crews have to pack everything up.”
One thing that sets this style of racing apart, says Hardwick, is that it requires unflinching focus not just on the technicals but also on your overarching strategy, on your vehicle’s metrics, and on the laps that lie ahead. Every single pit stop has to be perfect, because a single mistake can throw away not just your advantage but your vehicle’s ability to even make it the full 24 hours. Each driver has to be prepared to follow the agreed-upon tactics, to make moves when they need to, but not take any unnecessary risks. A winning advantage is achieved in increments, as each lap and each pit stop keeps the vehicle performing and keeps you from sliding behind in the pack.
“There’s always lots of strategy, lots of team management that goes on,” says Hardwick.
He pointed out that the big challenge this year was that the weather got uncharacteristically cold for a Florida beachside town. While engines tend to appreciate the chill, other parts of the race car struggle, especially the tires.
“A big part of this year’s race was so many cars had accidents leaving the pits on new, cold tires,” Hardwick remembers. “It becomes a testing of the extreme patience and skills of the drivers, who need to take their time as their tires heat up.”
Understanding these concerns — and about a million others — Hardwick proudly remembers that the “team never had a big issue throughout the race on the cold tires; we remained calm, and never made a mistake.”
As the drivers swapped places all throughout the nights and the pit crews stayed ready for each stop, the team’s patience and focus paid off in the form of a relatively decisive win.
Getting in Practice at the AMP Kart Track
When asked about his experiences at AMP, Hardwick confesses that it’s his son, not him, who’s the real AMP enthusiast. At nine years old, he’s an avid dirtbike and kart racer.
Papa Hardwick is impressed at the lad’s abilities, saying he seems to understand the importance of footwork and other fundamentals. The elder Hardwick takes to the track, himself, whenever he can, as well.
“I really enjoy just going to drive, but it’s also really really good practice. You get to check up with your hand-eye skills and your footwork.”
Hardwick even did a karting version of an endurance race, although that was a few years back. Others on the Mountain Motorsports team keep karts up at AMP, as well, and the track is a frequent choice for the dealer networks’ corporate events.
As a professional racer, Hardwick says he’s more excited to run the AMP kart track compared to many of the raceways he frequents.
“Elevation change is the name of the game at the karting track at AMP,” he reflects. “You’re quite often airborne, which is an odd feeling.”
The course is super challenging and very technical, say Hardwick, but in a way that makes him feel wholly engaged.
“I really wish I could get up there more, but I don’t always have the time. I’m most often there to help out with my son during practice or events or just days when he wants to go ride.”
Come Ride the Courses Where Champions Practice at AMP
One recurring theme in Hardwick’s observations is that focus and perseverance matters. Just like an endurance race, every little moment matters, whether in your professional career and in your journey to improve your driving skills. You also need to take time to check in from time to time, which can mean taking your favorite collectible cars out for a spin or taking a day at the track to work on the most-important driving skills. During every step of the way, Atlanta Motorsports Park can help. We offer driver training at our racing school, trackside support services that can include arrive and drive, private events to wow clients and colleagues, and of course karting near Atlanta nearly every day of the week. Contact us, call, or come in to enjoy all the motorsports passion you can wrap your heartstrings around, and ride the same courses that help the pros make it to the winner’s circle.