Ross Chastain has been racing for “Team Watermelon” for several years now, but he’s nearing the end of his first full season on the NASCAR Xfinity Series circuit.
For those who don’t know, the Xfinity Series is a step below the NASCAR Sprint Cup, but if Ross keeps racing the way he’s been racing (which is fast and consistent), he’ll be tradin’ red, green and white paint with the big boys in no time.
As a professional racer, Chastain is busy — way busier than most 22-year-olds — but he was nice enough to chat with me recently for a quick interview.
YOU GREW UP ON A WATERMELON FARM IN FLORIDA. WHAT’S YOUR FONDEST MEMORY FROM THOSE DAYS?
Harvest time! Seeing those field trucks pull into the packing house was so cool! Plus, we loaded a few bulk trailers so that meant bales of hay. We dug tunnels through them and would climb on that mountain all day long.
YOU STARTED RACING WHEN YOU WERE 12 YEARS OLD, AT AN AGE WHEN MOST KIDS ARE STILL RACING THEIR FRIENDS ON THEIR BICYCLES. WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT THIS WAS SOMETHING YOU COULD DO AT THE NASCAR LEVEL?
I started when I was 12 but it was definitely just a hobby. I guess I didn’t ever think about NASCAR until I was about 18 and we ran the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway. Basically it is a week of racing every night (technically 8 nights) which is unheard of in local asphalt racing.
Racing locally in Florida, everyone always said if you really wanted to prove something you had to win there. Well, long story short we won three out of the eight races and the championship that week and that’s where we talked to the first team owner in NASCAR.
A LOT OF PEOPLE THINK NASCAR DRIVERS ARE PRETTY CUTTHROAT WHEN IT COMES TO OTHER DRIVERS — ESPECIALLY IF THEY’RE NOT ON YOUR TEAM — BUT HAVE THERE BEEN ANY DRIVERS THAT HAVE HELPED YOU OUT OR THAT YOU’VE LEARNED FROM?
Ha! You’re pretty spot on with that assessment. I don’t have many friends that race in the same series I do. It’s not that I don’t like them, but I don’t want to have to answer to a buddy when something happens on the track. We’re there to do a job, and that job is to run as fast as we can and finish as high as we can. I’m not out there to ride around or stay behind someone because they might get mad if I put them in a bad spot when I pass them.
When I started staying in Mooresville more and more back in 2012, I wanted to be close to the shop, so I lived there. But when I left that team, obviously I couldn’t stay upstairs in the apartment at their shop anymore, so I was just in a hotel for about a week. I’m friends with Brennan Newberry and was out at dinner with him and his dad and his teammate, Ron Hornaday.
When Ron found out I was staying at a hotel, he said I could come live with him. I didn’t have any of my stuff with me, and said no several times, but he wouldn’t stop. When we got done with dinner he said “follow me,” but he wouldn’t give me his address, so I had to follow him that night. I guess I was there for about six months. He taught me a lot, just in conversation about his old races and how he handled situations, which he usually followed with how to handle them better. But the best thing he taught me, was his double taco recipe.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR TEAM CHASTAIN AND THE WATERMELON.ORG CAR? WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE OFF-SEASON AND NEXT YEAR?
I’m on a week-by-week schedule right now. I’ve never raced this much in my life and we’ve still got a handful of races left this season. It’s hard for me to see past the next race because my motto the past few years is spend a few weeks or a month getting ready for a race, now I have Sunday to relax and it’s back to the grind Monday.
Actually we’ll have the “Protect Your Melon” car on track in Kentucky. The Kentucky DOT came on board with us this year to sponsor both of the races at their track out there in Sparta. We created a program around those two races and stickers that went on watermelons sold in the state of Kentucky. The car and stickers matched, with a drawing of a guy with a seatbelt on and a watermelon for his head.
FINALLY, I GOTTA ASK…WHEN IT COMES TO EATING WATERMELON, ARE YOU CHUNKS OR WEDGES KIND OF GUY?
Wedges. How else am I supposed to explain it in my hair?
UP NEXT: Up your watermelon game