Julia Landauer’s racing career has never quite fit into neat little boxes. Instead of the more traditional progressions that racers often take on the ladder to NASCAR’s national series, hers has taken enough turns to fill a passport book.
On the eve of her Xfinity Series debut at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Saturday’s Crayon 200 (2:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), it’s worth a reflection on the path that led Landauer to an opportunity with Alpha Prime Racing.
The New York City native, now 30 and making North Carolina her home, was a fresh prospect in the NASCAR Next class of 2016 – a group that included current Cup Series rookies Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland, who each made a fairly standard climb to their present-day roles. Landauer’s path was more of a zigzag.
“I had this vision of you know – K&N, Trucks, Xfinity, Cup, and it didn’t quite go that way,” Landauer said. Instead, her route included stints in what’s now known as the ARCA Menards Series West, the Canada-based Pinty’s Series and the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. That last stop on her journey, in 2020, meant three months living abroad before returning to America.
“It was really fun to get back on road courses, but I’m happy to be back stateside and to be running all these bigger tracks,” Landauer said. “But I’m very grateful for the unexpected opportunities that I had, and I feel like it’s cool to race in so many different types of cars.”
Her background as a “Survivor” contestant, a noted public speaker and a recent explorer in the NFT (non-fungible token) and Web 3 space have made her stand out in the crowd. But the unconventional journey and passion for the racing side kept her in the conversation when Alpha Prime owner Tommy Joe Martins had openings in his driver roster for 2022.
Instead of one party reaching out to the other during the offseason, their collaboration was mutual, stoked by both sides – and an invested third party in the NASCAR hauler – all connecting nearly simultaneously.
“(Xfinity Series director) Wayne Auton said, ‘Hey, do you guys have any races available? There’s somebody that I want you to meet, her name is Julia Landauer,’ ” Martins said. “And of course, I laughed because I was like, we’ve already talked about this earlier this year. So it just kind of all fell into place.
“It’s somebody that I had, when I first started racing at the national levels, she was racing I’m wanting to say in K&N West. So I just happened to see some of those races and thought she did a really good job. So I think, for me, when I look at Julia, I see somebody that I just don’t feel like ever really got an awesome opportunity, like she’s had to really kind of grind for it. And you might notice there’s probably other people on my roster that are kind of the same way, right? But that’s kind of a relatable story to me, with Ryan Ellis and Stefan Parsons, kind of the same way where maybe these are guys that drove for smaller teams, and maybe this is a better opportunity for them.”
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As for her well-traveled journey to get here, Martins appreciated all the patches to the quilt.
“It also tells you a lot about how bad she wants to do it, right?” Martins said. “She’s done it through unconventional ways and kind of gone different routes and just hung around, and that’s something that I’ve had to live with that myself, right? Everybody goes, ‘Man, why are you even doing this? You’re running 30th every week? Why are you even doing this, running for a small team?’ It’s like, well, this is what I want to do. And so you just find a way, and that’s what Julia has done.
“She’s found a way to get sponsorship, she’s found a way to kind of stay in the sport, even if it’s not what we consider the primary spot, right? But she’s done it in K&N, she’s done it overseas. She’s done it at the lower levels, and now she’s finally kind of getting an opportunity at a higher level.”
Like Landauer, her sponsors are newcomers to the series, too. Landauer said she did a “nerdy deep dive” into the world of Web 3 and NFTs last year. The connections she made in the technology field with NFT communities Boss Beauties and Garage XYZ shared a common thread with her beliefs.
“These two groups have an ethos and synergies with me and my missions, and it’s all about women’s empowerment, helping support people who are going after their dreams, being able to provide access to really cool experiences like racing,” Landauer said. “And so to be able to work with them, and to have built a really solid relationship over a long period of time, I feel like now I’m kind of working with my friends more than just a business partnership. And so it’s, it’s really cool, and it’s really cool to be able to have them be the first NFT communities to sponsor a NASCAR driver.”
Both driver and team revealed a vivid No. 45 Chevrolet earlier in the week. How well that car will perform at the New Hampshire oval in Landauer’s first stock-car race in 17 months remains a question mark.
The goals for her debut are modest, with Landauer hoping to run every lap, get a feel for live pit stops and potentially fit inside the top 20 by the end. She said she has kept her skills sharp with simulation work and rigorous personal training, but with limited track time in practice and qualifying this weekend, the challenge is steep.
“What Julia’s about to do is extremely hard. It is extremely, extremely hard,” Martins said. “You’re about to come off the couch, basically, and just climb in an Xfinity car and you’re gonna get 20 laps of practice, right? That’s really, really hard to do, I don’t care who it is, much less somebody that doesn’t have any experience at this level. So I think we’re trying to be really realistic with what we’re going to expect out of her. And I think she is, too. I think anything around the top 25 would be an awesome day. So we know that it’s probably not gonna start there. It’s probably going to start a little further back to that. And we’re hoping that by the end of the day, we’re seeing the times improve, and obviously her spot on the race track improving as well.”
Landauer hopes to add more events to her schedule this season, putting her in position to assemble her 2023 racing slate.
“That is the plan,” she said, “and I’m cautiously optimistic that they’ll come to fruition.”
For now, Landauer has become part of the fabric at Alpha Prime, which has rotated 10 drivers – Martins included – through its two cars this season. Landauer will become the 11th.
“I think she’s an important part of what we’re doing,” Martins said. “First of all, I’ve made it a priority to make diversity a big part of our race team. That’s something that really matters to me, and so I look at what Rajah Caruth has done for us, just really being front and center for our race team all the time, and one of the best prospects in NASCAR. And I look at what Julia could become, and it’s like all she really needs is just an opportunity. She’s got everything that it takes off the track, and I believe on the track as well.
“So it’s really just about getting her in front of other people. Because behind closed doors, working with her on the level that I’ve worked with her, she’s been really, really impressive and really easy to work with. And I know all the guys in my race shop are really looking forward to her driving for us this weekend and they really want to help her out. They want to give her as good an opportunity as we can give her.”