This interview was originally conducted by Zack Weiner and appeared on The Sports Quotient.
Only 20, Julia Landauer is one of a select few female NASCAR drivers. She's had plenty of success both on and off the track, but what makes her go?
Take us into your mindset as you race. What are you thinking about? Are you nervous? How do you get into "the zone"?
Racing is an incredible mind game that takes a lot of practice to perfect. One of the coolest parts of the sport is getting to the point where when the visor goes down, you're automatically in "the zone." For me the zone is where my mind and body instinctively act together and the car becomes an extension of myself. I am able to narrowly focus on the job at hand and eliminate any non-related thoughts. I'm also able to juggle all of the factors presented to me, such as how the car is handling, what the grip on the track is like, how my tires are degrading and what I have to do to adjust for it, what the other people are doing around me, and how I'm feeling physically. But all of this happens on a semi-subconscious level. I used to over-think and that messed me up. Now I just do it.
I definitely get a little nervous before every race, but I think that's healthy. Being a little on edge keeps me hungry and uncomfortable with where I am, so I'll push that much harder to win. I also get a feeling that I can create and make my own "destiny" for any given race, which is an empowering and liberating feeling.
Since winning Rookie of the Year at Oakland Valley Race Park in 2002 (at only ten years old!), what's the most important thing you've learned from racing?
There are so many amazingly important life lessons I've learned from racing, it's hard to narrow it down! So I'll give you two things.
First (relating to life at large), some of the coolest things worth doing in life are more difficult than you can imagine, so you must be emotionally invested in "it" in order to succeed. Just like others, I've faced many obstacles in racing and if I didn't love the sport and have a need to keep doing it, I wouldn't have bothered to overcome the obstacles.
Second, I've learned the art and power of building and leading a team. As a driver I am the central focus of the team and it is my responsibility to encourage everyone around me to pour their hearts into their work so that we can win. Motivating a diverse team requires me to understand where many different people are coming from, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, what they feel is important, etc., and making them all work together. Whether it's my team at the track, or my "Team Julia" on the business side of Julia Landauer Racing, I need to be an effective leader whom people respect and want to help.
As a female racecar driver do you look to other female racecar drivers as inspiration? If so, who?
I certainly look up to several pioneering women who left huge marks on the sport. Lyn St. James, first female Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year recipient, is a personal friend and mentor who helps empower women in racing. She's so accomplished on and off the track and remains incredibly humble, despite her success. Janet Guthrie, Shirley Muldowney, and Danica Patrick have also done wonders for the sport in their own right, which continues to help younger women in racing today.
In what ways do you hope to inspire young female racers?
In addition to hoping to inspire everyone to push through obstacles to achieve their goals, I hope to specifically give young female racers the inner power to stand up for their place in the sport. There is so much pressure from society put on young girls to conform and this deters many women from pursuing their "not normal" passions. "No" is rarely a final answer, so keep pushing!
Additionally, whenever I'm feeling issues related to being a woman in racing, I like to remember that the car has no idea if it's a man or a woman driving it. The sport is not inherently more suited for men, it's just a pattern that has taken place. Luckily, we see that pattern starting to change.
What is the number one misconception about racing that people have?
I think people have two big misconceptions about racing. Many people have no idea how physically demanding racing is. We race for hours on end in 130+ degree cars, fighting against the G-Forces of the car on the track, using all of the upper body and core strength we have to muscle around the heavy machinery, and that's just the beginning. It's tough!
Many people also don't realize how much of a business racing is. Any driver is essentially a startup company, trying to raise the funds to develop the product, which is the driver and their results. The sport is different because it is not entirely talent-based; rather there is also a business-based aspect.
To those that say racing is not a sport, what do you say?
If dozens of people, who have technically and physically mastered a specific set of skills, all competing for the sole title of winner is not a sport, I don't know what is!