CONCORD, N.C. — Audio and story Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Tom Baker photo —
Ross Chastain has been mighty impressive this season in his first full year with JD Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. He’s found a home with the Gaffney, S.C.-based team, calling them “family.” In this Race Chaser Online “Five in Five,” managing editor Jacob Seelman caught up with Chastain inside the team transporter at Charlotte Motor Speedway to talk about his racing past, present and future.
SEELMAN: Ross, tell us how this whole deal with JD Motorsports started and how the Watermelon Association has stepped up to help you make it all happen?
CHASTAIN: I grew up on a watermelon farm. My family has grown watermelons for a long time. We’ve built that into a successful operation but we’re still small in stature compared to some of our competitors. Being a watermelon farmer got my foot in the door at the National Watermelon Association. That’s how I was able to go into the NASCAR (Camping World) Truck Series and get my first couple of starts – it was because of the National Watermelon Association working with me to find the sponsorship in the watermelon industry with the brokering company, Melon One. From there we’ve snowballed it, and now we work with a chemical company called Helena Chemical. All of these people have helped me out a lot each year. This year, finding Johnny (Davis, owner) and JD Motorsports has been great. We’ve got speed in our cars and we run good. I’m very happy here and feel like I can be here for a long time in my career.
JS: What has it been like to work with this group this year, knowing that they are as committed to being successful as you are?
RC: When I first talked with Johnny, the first thing I did was Google “JD Motorsports” and look over the results. When I talked to him after that, it was obvious that he just didn’t have the funding to always do what he needed to do. When you look at a situation like that and you’re as competitive a driver as I am, you get scared. But once I had the chance to get to know Johnny and see how far his company’s come in the last few years, and what they’ve been working for ever since they started with a go-kart shop building go-karts back in the 80’s, that’s what really made me want to come and race for him.
A lot of outsiders don’t expect us to run good, so when we do they give us credit. But Johnny and I know where we should be running. I think it shows in the points standings how things are progressing for us here. This has been one of JD Motorsports’ best years so far.
JS: JD Motorsports had a bit of a breakout moment at Daytona this summer, with a top ten finish for Harrison and strong performances from you and Landon as well. What was it like to get to that point where you finally had a little something as a team to sit back and enjoy, at least for one night?
RC: Well, I could enjoy it, but we tore up three race cars that weekend doing it (chuckles). Harrison did get the ninth place and that was great, especially for those guys on the (No.) 0 team because that car doesn’t have the resources in terms of number of personnel or funding most of the time to do what we’re doing with the 4 and 01 teams, so a lot of the time they’re handicapped before they ever really come to the track. So, for those guys to finally have a nice moment, and for them to be able to capitalize when things finally did fall their way, that was great. Harrison did a really good job to get that ninth place, and then we were right behind him in 10th.
So that was really good, but then we also had to realize that we’ve got three torn up race cars that we have to fix before February. We’ll get those fixed over the offseason. For me personally, I’d say my biggest moment was when we were at Iowa, where I finished 10th. That was just a straight up, we had the speed to run up there, sort of a deal. We finished 10th at Darlington as well, and we were really fast there but just couldn’t get track position until the end when we were able to use our fuel mileage to our advantage and get up there. We do get really good fuel mileage most weeks, and we’ve been able to work that to our advantage at times. I think some people may see it as a disadvantage to run the parts and pieces we run, but we make it as best we can and we have a lot of fun doing it.
JS: Talking about having fun, I know that back in the Truck Series when you first started you were able to learn a lot from Brad Keselowski, and he helped you get your footing at this level.
RC: For sure. Thinking about it though, really the guy who probably helped me the most was Bobby Dotter. He made it possible for me to run a full season on what funding we had available. That let me go to all the tracks. Looking back, it makes me realize just how bad I really was (as a driver) back then. I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m a lot farther along now. That just goes to show that with time, you can figure it out. At that time, I was just trying not to tear up stuff. We had some mechanical failures that took us out and I wrecked some, but that all comes along with the job. We had a pretty good year that year. So I’d say Bobby helped me more than anybody in the Truck Series, and then Brad gave me fast race Trucks to run.
JS: I know you said earlier that you want to help build this team for the long term and that you’re really having fun this year. What is your outlook for 2016, knowing what you guys have been able to accomplish as a team?
RC: Well, the sky’s the limit, really. It just depends on the type of partnerships you can bring on board to do what needs to be done. It hasn’t been easy this year for Johnny to put me out there every week and be as competitive as we can. But, he makes it work and a lot of times I don’t really know how. I leave a lot of that to him, and I just try to do what I can for anybody that comes in as far as working with the partners. I also try to bring in people that I think can help us. I enjoy being here and I want to be here for a long time.
A lot of guys look at the Cup series as where they want to be. I know that will be there years down the road, so I’m in no hurry. I’m happy to be where I am. We have fast race cars and I’m having fun doing this. I look back at some of my past years and realize just how miserable I was even though we were running good, but the pressure was so high or whatever the reasons were. This year, I feel like I have a family, and we are down in Gaffney, South Carolina, so we can get away from all the hoopla about racing in the Charlotte-Mooresville area and just get down there, do our own thing. It’s a lot of fun to come to the racetrack.
Listen in to the complete audio of Race Chaser Online’s interview with Ross Chastain prior to the Drive for the Cure 300 at Charlotte:
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: [email protected]
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