Podcast: Ross Chastain on the ‘evil business’ of competing for sponsors

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In his 2011 debut in a NASCAR national series, Ross Chastain earned a 10th in the Camping World Truck Series race at O’Reilly Raceway Park and a business lesson.

The most recent winner in the Xfinity Series said he received an unusual email shortly afterward from his new sponsor.

“The National Watermelon Association and Promotional Board got a nice little letter from NASCAR offering them to sponsor the Bristol truck race,” Chastain said on the most recent NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “They could have Ross in the 66 truck. And they could have the sponsorship of the race.”

Chastain’s sponsorship was unaffected – the board was on his truck for five more races – but the driver said it was an eye-opening experience on the competitive economics of NASCAR.

“That letter didn’t come to me,” he said. “It was never run by me or the team. None of us knew about it. They forwarded to me and said, ‘Hey, what’s this about? We don’t have sponsorship for this. We barely put this program together with you.’

“We never brought it up to NASCAR. It was just probably that somebody in their business development side. It never happened again. It opened my eyes to, ‘OK. I can play ball. I can play ball real well.’ And we know that now. I’m glad it happened so early because it really taught us a lot.”

Chastain’s three-race stint in the No. 42 Chevrolet of Chip Ganassi Racing, which is scheduled to conclude with tonight at Richmond Raceway, also has a layer on the state of driver economics.

After winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Chastain disclosed that he wasn’t being paid for driving the car. During the podcast, he compared it with “an internship. When you’re young, you’ll do anything to get the job you want.”

Is he worried about devaluing his worth to the point at which it might destabilize the pay structure for younger drivers, though?

“Times are changing, man,” Chastain said. “You’re not going to make the money you used to. Granted, it’s a business. Everyone wants to make money in life, and you have to live. It’s just tough luck.

“It’s tough facts of life. I hate to talk about it because people don’t want me to. I didn’t say, ‘All right (sponsor DC Solar), you’re going to pay all this money, Chip Ganassi, you’re going to put in all this effort and these man hours, but hey I need to get paid.’ That’s crazy. Are you kidding me? I’m not going to say that. When they said there’s not money to get paid. I said, ‘Great. I just want a trophy. And I want to get you a trophy. And that’s all there is to it.’ ”

Even though he isn’t getting paid by Ganassi, Chastain said he feels fortunate that he isn’t paying to drive the car as he believes many other drivers are (by bringing sponsorship to a team and the receiving a percentage in return).

“A lot of people think I am, and I don’t correct them a lot of times because it honestly keeps other drivers with sponsorship away,” he said. “Because this is a very evil business. There’s people all the time that will reach out to my sponsors (and say), ‘Oh we can do a better job.’”

In the podcast, Chastain also discussed:

–What it was like addressing the Ganassi shop after his win;

–Why his driving style seems to make so many other drivers angry (“I have no friends on the track. Partly because the way I race, and I know that.”);

–The essence of watermelon farming, where he hopes to return after his driving career is over.

–Whether he has talked with Kevin Harvick since their skirmish at Darlington Raceway;

–If he can win the Xfinity championship with JD Motorsports, his primary team.

To listen to the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, click on the embed above, or you can download the episodes at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.