Ross Chastain is one of the most promising up-and-coming NASCAR drivers, and he’s been fighting for his place among the top-3 series for years. And now, he’s seemingly everywhere.
The 26-year-old Floridian has won five races across NASCAR’s national series in the last two seasonÂ â two in the second-tier Xfinity Series and three in the third-tier Gander Outdoors Truck Series â is currently racing for a championship in the TruckÂ playoffs. He also races in the premier level Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
But he’s not super bothered if NASCAR fans don’t know his name yet. He just hopes they think of watermelons when they see him.
Chastain is an eighth-generation watermelon farmer, and his family has a watermelon farm in Charlotte County, Florida, which is just outside of Fort Myers. He leveraged that to help him work his way into NASCAR with multiple organizations, including the National Watermelon Association, sponsoring his ride over the years.
He also has a particularly distinct celebration move: He smashes a watermelon on the start-finish line or in victory lane – or sometimes both.
At the end of last season, Chastain secured a top Xfinity ride for 2019, but he lost it because of last-minute sponsorship issues that were an indirect result of an FBI raid. He still found a way to consistently race in all three NASCAR national series this year and decided mid-season to switch from competing for a title in the Xfinity Series to the Truck Series – a challenging task.
And then Tuesday, Kaulig Racing announced it signed Chastain to a full-time ride for the 2020 Xfinity Series after Chastain drove a Kaulig car to victory lane at Daytona International Speedway this summer. He also had a top-10 finish in the Cup Series’ Daytona 500.
With Chastain still racing for a Truck Series championship this year and because watermelon farming isn’t your average day job, For The Win recently spoke with the No. 45 Chevrolet driver about watermelons.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Harvest. Harvesting them and watching them leave in semis. We live load most of the time. So it’s harvested in the field at say, 11 a.m., put it in a school bus, haul it to our packing house, which is within 20 miles usually. [Then it’s] off-loaded, washed, sanitized, sorted and packed and put it into a cardboard bin and loaded with a forklift onto a semi. About 50,000 pounds per load.
Yeah, between 45,000 and 50,000 pounds of watermelons go on a semi.
We sell mainly 12- to 18-pound watermelons.
We grow 400 acres. High-volume.
The weather, it’s out of your control. Like if you’re racing and it rains, you just wait until it stops raining and you race. If you work in almost any other field of work and it’s outside, you wait until it stops, and you go. Us, it can completely wipe out our entire crop. And our county that we grow in in south Florida, there is no crop insurance. We have no safety net. It’s just scary stuff.
Not as much, no. Not in farmer terms. My dad and brother and most of my family are involved with it, and they’re there every day. My dad and brother and uncle are already getting our field for next year ready.
Some of my cousins and uncles and different parts of the family are just finishing up in Delaware and out in Kentucky. They actually just finished our crops out there, and then we’ll reset with a fall crop in Florida and harvest those. They’re not ready yet, but they’ll harvest through Christmas. And we’ll plant our plants the first week in January, harvest the middle of April to the end of May. So we’re shipping watermelons 365. Every day of the year, we ship a watermelon somewhere.
We do two in Florida, but the rest of the country does one, and we import.
I always wanted to bring watermelons with me, and they are a big part of why I’m here, no doubt about it. I knew companies, and I went to them and said, ‘I want to be the farmer in NASCAR,’ and they liked it.
So then from there, we just wanted to do something, and I just held [a watermelon] at Vegas in my first NASCAR win. And then we were talking about it in the media center, and I was like, “I’ve gotta do something with this watermelon! I’ve gotta go smash it.” I just want people to remember it and think of [agriculture] and watermelons when they see me.
If they don’t know my name, as long as they know watermelons, I feel like that’s good.
We always have for a long time. I didn’t always know we were going to smash it. It was just like, “OK, let’s do something more.” But we always had one because I was always knew I wanted to have it in Victory Lane.
Just a few.
No. At Iowa [Speedway], they brought a fire truck in, and I hosed it out. I wanted to. At Pocono, they brought me a broom and a shovel, and we shoveled it out.
Well, I don’t want to leave Victory Lane, and I’ll stay there as long as they’ll let me. So the last five minutes, I have to clean up. and that’s fine. I’m still in Victory Lane.
“Nice melons.” That’s the easiest one, and it’s all in good fun.
Yeah too much. It’s 92 percent water, so we have to hydrate. That guy [points to Jimmie Johnson] is a machine, so we’re all trying to keep up with him. So the easiest thing you can do is hydrate well. But I get tired of eating it, so I’ll blend it up, make smoothies and juices.
Nope, it’s real.
This one time, at Daytona, I smashed one on the start-finish line and then again in Victory Lane. That’s my favorite one.