Ross Chastain began racing young, following in his father’s footsteps as a hobby racer around the age of twelve. Quickly, he turned his eyes toward racing as a career, as a business rather than a hobby. Ross got his first break in 2011, taking over the No.66 Turn One Racing car in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Connections in agriculture and the watermelon industry helped fuel Ross’s early rides. In 2019, Ross broke the record for most consecutive races run across all three NASCAR series to start a season. Despite setbacks and disappointments, he found ways to stay racing and won his first career NASCAR Truck Series Race at Kansas in May 2019, after eight years of attempts.
Ross and Chad Chastain come from a long line of farmers. Their farm (JDI Farms) sits just north of Labelle, FL. This land has seen success, and this land has seen failure. Farming watermelons, like racing, is not for the faint of heart. Watermelon is a 100-day crop. Planted mid-January, the harvest comes at full speed from April to Memorial Day. The people who farm watermelons spend months preparing for this push. Every day matters, and decisions are made on the fly. The investment is high; mistakes can be catastrophic. And every farmer knows loss and disappointment.
Chad Chastain focuses on the farm in season, but is also putting in his time on the track working through the ranks. “Farming and racing, it’s what we know.” He chuckles. “Watermelons are 100 or so days, every day is 1%. The season can shift in a day! Racing is a bit over 100 minutes, every minute is 1%. Man, a race can change in a minute. You gotta be ready for anything, either way!”
Every farmer also knows resilience. Ross vowed to take any opportunity to keep racing. He received a truck series opportunity with Niece Motorsports and knew he had to take it.
The races he won with that team were ultimately a deciding factor in his invitation to drive the No. 42 car in the NASCAR Cup Series left vacant by Kyle Larson’s exit to Hendrick Motorsports in 2021. In August, it was revealed that Ross would drive the No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Trackhouse Racing’s upcoming second Cup team, in a multi-year deal beginning in 2022.
The 2022 season began without any notable finishes and a number of frustrations. But like any good farmer, Ross kept showing up, and success was just around the next turn—Turns 3 and 4 to be exact. In October, he qualified for the Championship 4 by a thin margin at Martinsville. In tenth place on the last lap of the race, Ross Chastain drove his car up onto the outside wall of the track in Turns 3 and 4 to pick up the unprecedented speed of up to 130 miles per hour, overtaking five drivers to finish in fifth place. Ross set a record for the fastest lap during a NASCAR Cup Series race for the track and was retroactively credited with a fourth-place finish after another driver was disqualified.
Alva, Labelle, Punta Gorda… The Chastain Brothers describe it as a “triangle of nothingness.” To an outsider, these places are sleepy and unnoticed. But, on this farmland, the character of young men is tested. The lessons come hard and fast, and the family ties stay strong. Despite his current success, Ross’ mind always drifts back home. The second the harvest is settled, Chad is back behind the wheel or on the team supporting his older brother. Watermelon (Citrullus vulgaris) is a vining, annual plant with branching tendrils, roots and vines that spread up to an amazing 18 feet. The analogy to life is not lost on these men. No matter how far they go or how life branches, Ross and Chad know they can get back to their roots. Just follow the vine.
Race photos by Barr Visuals, Port Orange, FL