Motorsports can have some of the most romanticized perspectives from fans and press compared to other sports. Drivers are often idolized by their supporters either because of their style and swagger on the track to the very fact that they are common folks whose profession can be viewed as extraordinary.
Racing is a sport of inches in terms of drivers trying to find that limit between a conservative approach to an all out aggressive style that captivates the audiences and even their fellow rivals on the track. Ross Chastain of Alva, FL has an approach that’s quite resonant to everyday folks who put in their honest 40 hours a week while trying to live a meaningful life.
This young man is candid and refreshing with his take on friendships within NASCAR, outreach with the younger fans of our sport, and most of all, just in general. Chastain’s answers in Part 2 were perhaps the most unique to some of our standard repertoire of questions fielded in the past but nevertheless offer some genuinely hilarious and enlightening moments during our New Hampshire Motor Speedway race weekend.
In Part 1, we got to know Chastain as a racer and it was not the standard answer about the racing season or the origin of his career. Instead, it was an educational experience in learning more about this talented racer who has a lot of pride with his roots, his JD Motorsports team, and his teammates in Garrett Smithley and Ryan Preece. To say the least, this is a racer who appreciates and understands how his career got on track.
If we got to know Chastain’s racing background and story, in the conclusion of our in-depth interview, we’re getting to know more about what makes him click and how he thinks. Chastain wrapped up final XFINITY Series practice in his No. 4 Dream Water Chevrolet Camaro and he was nonetheless pleased with the progress made on the car. However, this was more about getting to know about the driver himself and not so much the typical cookie cutter interview.
Have you ever been curious about Chastain’s “Welcome to NASCAR” moment? What’s some of the things this 23-year-old racer does to combat the heat and humidity during the summer races? Find out the answers to those and perhaps a lot of revealing details about this remarkable racer, particularly with how a tough moment in his life has humbled him with his outreach.
This wasn’t about finding out how Chastain felt about making the Chase although that was asked in Part 1. This time, it’s about knowing this Floridian and to say the least, stock car racing is better for having this racer as a valuable part of the sport at the track and away from it. Let’s get to it and conclude our trip around the track by getting “In the Fast Lane with Ross Chastain!”
Rob Tiongson : Who are some drivers that you enjoy hanging out with during some down time at the track or even away from it during the season?
Ross Chastain : None of the drivers, man. I mean, my teammates are pretty cool. Other than that, being that I’m in Mooresville 90 percent of the time these days, unless we’re traveling, when I don’t have something to do, I try to stay in Mooresville so that I’m close to the shop and stuff.
My friends, it’s a short list, I pretty much keep to myself. Guys that are in racing, as far as pit crew guys or mechanics that work on other teams…there are no drivers that hang out at our house very often. I don’t need all that.
RT : None of the Blaney and Bubba Wallace kind of camaraderie?
RC : Well, Blaney’s not far. He lives just right down the street. OK, he might be the only one I hang out. (laughs) The biggest reason is that we don’t race each other anymore. We did when we were together with Brad Keselowski Racing. We had some heated moments and got into some things and positions that I put myself in. I didn’t get the good end of the deal, that’s for sure.
Blaney came over when he unfortunately missed the All-Star Race. We hung out. One of my roommates…there’s me and two other guys, three of us live in a house north of Mooresville and right across the street from Blaney…one of my roommates is the gasman on Blaney’s team. Obviously, they missed the All-Star Race so Andrew invited Blaney over and we hung out by the pool to watch the All-Star Race. It wasn’t the exactly the best of circumstances but it was fun.
RT : I was going to say, if you and Blaney are having a little tiff, I know him, I can straighten that situation out for you! (laughter)
RC : No no! We’re good! (laughter) We’re all good. He’s the only one I hang out with. Any other guys, as long as I don’t race with them, I don’t mind hanging out with them. I don’t come all the way up to a place like New Hampshire to ride around and be your friend. Guys get upset but I’m trying to do the best that I can for my team and everybody is putting their heart and soul, and a whole lot of money into this deal. I’m just trying to get the 4 car as far to the front as I can.
RT : I respect that approach because some people will say, “I’m friends with so and so” when they’re not.
RC : I don’t know. They want you to stay behind them, follow them, and give them 20 feet of room. I know I’m not going to wreck. I know they’re not going to wreck. I don’t put anybody in a bad position. I don’t know that they know well enough if they can handle it. So far, it’s worked out and I’m still here. I don’t know how. (laughter) I sure as heck didn’t wake up at 3:30 in the morning to fly up to New Hampshire to ride around.
RT : That’s a good approach. We should call you Ross “The Truth” Chastain! You can’t handle the truth! Ross “Fastain” the Truth! No more watermelons. One of my fellow writers on TPF wanted to ask you, if you had the power to do so, aside from your current teammates, which drivers would you hire to your organization, retire with when your career winds down, and ignore because of their quirks or antics?
RC : That’s a whole lot of questions. Who would I hire to the team? Shoot, man, I don’t know. (laughs) I’d like…I’d like to learn some of the car control that Kyle Busch has. If he was a teammate, I could possibly learn something there with him driving the same cars as me. I would love for somebody like that to come drive my car.
When Landon Cassill was here, I begged Johnny and Landon for him to get him in my car. Any week in practice, I’d be like, “Take it out one time and tell me what you feel compared to what I feel so I can get better.” Nobody ever wants to do it. When I wanted Brad to get into the truck I drove, he wouldn’t get in. I had Blaney get in at a road course one time and he kicked my butt. I learned a lot from it. I immediately picked up half a second around MoSport.
I don’t know, probably Kyle Busch…it’d be cool for him to drive the same car as I’m driving and see what he can do and try to learn. Right off the bat, he’s going to be faster, but then, with me trying to bridge the gap and try to get better…and try to drive like he does.
Who would I want to retire with? Shoot, I don’t know. I don’t plan to ever retire. When the racing stops, the watermelon farm is getting bigger and bigger and there’s plenty of room to grow more acres. With an ever growing population, they need to eat. In our lifetime, there’s going to be double digit…billions of people, so that’s a lot of mouths to feed. Plenty of land across the country and other countries, like South of here, to grow watermelons. I don’t plan on ever retiring.
Who would I ignore? I wasn’t around NASCAR before 2011 so I don’t really know anybody. When I ran my first race, that was that year I went to a few races with Todd Bodine. Just watching him and listening…he kind of helped me. He was the first NASCAR driver that I ever met him up close and talked to me. He kind of told me a few things. He helped me get my license and submit everything to NASCAR. He helped me get in touch with Bobby Dotter in my second year.
I don’t try to ignore anybody. Even right now, I told you a minute ago that I don’t hang out with anybody. It’s not that I do it on purpose. I just don’t want to hang out with them. I guess I don’t purposely ignore them but probably 20 years later, they’ll be like, you never called me…
RT : Or play Pokemon Go with me…
RC : Oh man. (laughs)
RT : I had to go there.
RC : Do y’all do that?
RT : No, I don’t and I used to like Pokemon.
RC : Do you, Alex (Tauras, Ross’ Public Relations representative)?
Alex Tauras : There’s a Pokestore at the start/finish line.
RC : It’s called a Pokestop. (awkward silence)
AT : Whatever.
RC : Yea, I’m not about that life. I never did growing up. I don’t understand it. I don’t see the point. Preece was doing it the other day in the racecar so I don’t know. He was sitting still so that’s pretty diehard right there. (laughs)
RT : As the summer progresses, the heat and humidity soars at these race locations starting here at Loudon. What are some things that you do to keep mentally and physically focused in these grueling conditions besides having watermelons?
RC : I was going to say, man, you were leaving that one out for me! (laughs) Of course, we need more watermelon! Just a lot of water and Gatorade throughout the week. Pretty much all I drink is water. I had a Coca-Cola two days ago for the first time in a long time and it tastes really good but I don’t really do it very often. I drink a lot of water. I do quite a bit of cardio and running.
I’m fortunate to be renting a house that’s got some land so you can run through the woods and stay off the roads and not stay in the gym to run on a treadmill. You can run through the woods and some trails and stuff back in there, all to myself, so nobody can mess with me. It’s pretty quiet back there away from the road.
RT : No KFC?
RC : Oh yea! I don’t eat good. I just run a lot and I drink a lot of water and eat watermelon. I do not eat a healthy diet by any means. I just have a very fast metabolism and I’m keeping it working these days, that’s for sure. We try to eat healthy for dinner but once you’re running around, heading to Gaffney, it’s hard to eat healthy on the road. It’s a two hour drive down to Gaffney for me from where I live. There’s a lot of Chick-fil-A…
RT : We don’t have a lot of that here.
RC : No? There’s a lot of those there. Do you have Zaxby’s?
RT : No we don’t.
RC : Oh my gosh!
RT : But one place I do miss is Jim and Nick’s! Ever been there?
RC : Yea! I haven’t been there in a while though.
RT : The one by Charlotte Motor Speedway is pretty good. Church’s….
RC : Not as good as Zaxby’s or Chick-fil-A.
RT : Interesting because my parents mentioned how Church’s Chicken was in Boston so they’d be like, “Rob, that’s the best kind of fried chicken!” I always retort and say “I love KFC.” Interesting to hear that Church’s is eh…
RC : In my opinion at least.
AT : Church’s was never big where I lived. Never. It was just KFC and Popeyes.
RT : Popeyes! We should have some later on. With dinner on our minds, let’s think about racing. With NASCAR transitioning towards an era welcoming the younger racers like yourself and your peers in the top three series, how important is it for someone like you to resonate and connect not only with the longtime fans but with the newer ones who are getting into this sport for the first time?
RC : The social media side has been tough. I’m not outgoing like Bubba and some of these guys. I don’t feel like people want to know what I’m doing day in and day out, every night and every morning. Some people do and I’ve realized that. To a certain degree, I still don’t post as much as I should. (laughs) They’re always getting on me and saying that I’ve got to post more. You’ve got to say something. I just don’t know what to write.
A tweet for me, like if it’s something that they tell me to do, a tweet will take me like the whole 30 minute ride back to the hotel. I’ll be sitting in the backseat, I’m typing, I’ll erase…I’ll type it…and then I’ll take into the phone and it’ll type what I’ll say and see if that sounds better. Finally, I just hit send. Whatever it is, it is.
You’ve probably come across some of the older fans. The kids that don’t have social media yet, I feel like I’m more on their level in a good way. I’ve gotten the chance over the last couple of years to visit some children’s hospitals and stuff. That’s probably been the coolest thing I’ve done as far as this whole racing deal is concerned.
Seeing kids that are sick and you’re trying to brighten their day…not doing anything crazy, just putting the firesuit on, walk into the room…give them a hug if you can. Sometimes, they can’t get out of bed and that’s pretty tough to see. That’s the coolest thing. I feel like I’ve got quite the following on the kids’ side.
It’s been told to me that I’m probably more on their level, more than they know. That’s pretty cool to have that connection with them. I phone some of them when they get well and when they’re out of the hospital. I keep up with them as much as we can. They send stuff in like pictures and stuff of them rooting me on. So that’s really cool to see.
They remember it. Whether it’s their parents helping them remember or not, that’s still cool to see them holding up the hero card in front of the TV. I get tagged in those moments on social media. Sometimes, we have each other’s numbers and their parents will text them to me. It’s pretty cool.
RT : I think that’s a neat thing. Like I said to a driver recently, some fans might view their favorite racers like someone from The Matrix. They’ll be like, “Oh my God, you’re like a rockstar to me!” And some are cool and just realize ultimately, you’re just doing something extraordinary.
RC : Yea it is. It’s different and it’s something that a lot of people want to do. I feel very fortunate to be a part of it. I think everybody in this garage should. I don’t always think this way. I’m pretty happy right now and we got our racecar a whole lot better. We’re still not where we want to be.
At Kentucky, I got into the wall in practice and the car, I just couldn’t drive it. Even before then, it got me in a bad spot on the track and I just ran out of talent, slowed up and hit the wall. It put us in bad spot and I gave some bad feedback in the race and made it even worse and it kept snowballing into this bad ordeal where we went four laps down. That’s terrible.
To come back to New Hampshire and be just a tenth and a half off where we want to be, that’s really good for our team. I’m upbeat and happy right now. I’m pretty up and down on the emotional side, I’d say. I get down on myself but when I’m up, I can look back and see that. When I’m down, I see nothing but the doom and gloom of “Why am I doing this? I’m not good enough.” It’s cool that I can take a minute and go to these hospitals and talk to kids.
When I was a kid, I passed out from carbon monoxide poisoning when we were on the boat. I was unconscious for about 15 minutes, just out cold and barely breathing. That was the closest that I ever came to being sick. It hung with me for a few days. They were trying to get me better and they couldn’t get all of the fumes out of me.
Every time I walk into a room and I see a little kid laying there, I flash back to the hospital room. These kids are a lot more sick than I ever was and a lot more in-depth stuff that’s just not fair. They got it. But they don’t give up so that’s pretty cool.
RT : What would you say was your “Welcome to NASCAR” moment that you’ve been able to look at with a strong sense of pride and encouragement?
RC : (long pause) I don’t get it! (laughs) Say it again.
RT : What was your “Welcome to NASCAR” moment that made you feel like you’re going forward in your career, like things were going well?
AT : Or you could “Your welcome to NASCAR” moment as something that you did that was really stupid and well, “Welcome to NASCAR?”
RC : I don’t know. What do you think? I don’t get it. Give me an example.
AT : OK, like…a rookie moment.
RC : The race weekend at Kentucky when I hit the wall?
AT : Like you’re coming down to pit road for the first time and you missed your pit stall and it was your first time down there. That’s a “Welcome to NASCAR” moment. It’s a rookie mistake everybody does.
RC : I don’t think I’ve ever driven past my pit stall…
AT : Because I’m a good sign waver! (laughs)
RC : I’ve got nothing for you, man.
RT : You have not been welcomed yet to NASCAR…
RC : No, I probably have, I just can’t remember it.
AT : Like running second at Daytona last year?
RC : And getting wrecked? We got wrecked right after we took second. I don’t know, man. I got nothing for you.
RT : That’s alright. We’ll follow up on that later this year. Maybe Alex will tell me later this year what that’ll be.
RC : I hope it’s already happened. I hope I’ve gotten past something stupid like that.
AT : Well I mean, if you spin it that way but I mean, your welcome moment can be like “Jeter came up to me and said, ‘Good job! I’ve watched you race.’”
RC : Jeff Gordon said, “Hey Ross, welcome to the garage.” We were both in street clothes.
AT : See, that’s a good one!
RT : Talk about that one.
RC : We were just walking in a crowd of people and we made eye contact and waved. I said, “Hey man!” He said, “Hey Ross!”
RT : That’s cool. He probably had his sunglasses and entourage with him, eh?
RC : No, it was just him cutting through the garage. There were just a bunch of crew guys. Nobody was flocking to him. That was the moment.
AT : See, you knew!
RC : I thought you were talking about something bad.
AT : It could’ve been either way. Like I wrecked “so and so” and he called me “blah blah.” You can take it either way but you took the good side and that was cool.
RT : That works. Now the fans can go home and sleep on this one. I was worried they’d not get any sleep tonight.
RC : I sure hope so.
RT : We have some enthusiastic readers.
RC : I think they’ll be OK.
Author’s Notes : Special thanks to JD Motorsports, Ross Chastain, and Jeremy Thompson for their great assistance and kindness for this two-part feature! Photos in this article are courtesy of Jeremy Thompson where noted (as well as the featured image).
If you’d like to learn more about Ross, “Like” his Facebook page, “Follow” him on Twitter, and “Visit“ his official website now! Be sure to also check out JD Motorsports’ official website and social media outlets on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat at jd_motorsports!