Ross Chastain honors family history with watermelon celebrations
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
This FOX Sports newsletter often tackles the serious topics of the NASCAR circuit.
But this is an off week for the Cup Series drivers. And we’re a few weeks past the unofficial start of summer (Memorial Day) and a few days away from the official start of summer next week.
So instead of talking about the number of winners, the pressure of making the playoffs, wheels coming off race cars, the feuds of the week or silly season, it seems appropriate to talk about ... watermelons.
Yes, watermelons. The staple of a summer picnic. A good food that you don’t want to go to waste … unless you are Ross Chastain and celebrating a win.
Fans have seen Chastain smash watermelons in celebration of his victories. And then he eats them off the ground.
It might look gross to you, but he says the watermelon never tastes so sweet.
The 29-year-old Chastain is an eighth-generation watermelon farmer from Florida. This is a very organic, very real celebration for him. The more watermelons sold, the better for the family business.
And he doesn’t mind wasting a good watermelon for the publicity.
The job of picking out the celebration watermelon doesn’t fall on Chastain or a member of his family. That responsibility goes to Team Trackhouse hauler driver Roy Miller, who drives the transporter with the cars to all the races. When he goes shopping for food for the team for the weekend, he'll pick out the watermelon for the smash.
"Mr. Roy is the end-all decision-maker — and his wife — in deciding what watermelon goes in the hauler each week," Chastain said. "So I don't have a say in it. That's up to them.
"I've given him my advice on how to pick the best one."
In fact, Chastain has specific instructions.
"Heavy," he said. "They should be heavy for its size. That means it's got a lot of water — 92 percent water."
So yes, Miller goes through the bin of watermelons at the grocery store to find a heavy one. Often the heavier ones are yellow on the bottom, due to all that water.
"He’s done a great job, but it’s been a bit of inexact science," Chastain said.
As far as watermelons going bad more quickly in the summer, Chastain isn’t too concerned. He says they typically last about a month before a new one is needed.
"They're kept in the hauler air-conditioned," he said. "So it doesn't matter what it is outside, our No. 1 [car] hauler is nice and cool."
Of course, Chastain isn’t going around smashing watermelons every day. He saves the celebration for race wins and big sponsor announcements, though he recently made an exception when a student asked him to smash a watermelon in celebration of the end of final exams.
He also knows that after wins, fans want to smash watermelons, too.
"We won the Xfinity race at Daytona a few years ago, and I think we busted probably 30," Chastain said. "All night after that race, just busting them all over the infield with people. I try to, if we have extras, let other people bust them because that’s cool.
"Everybody knows what that means. That means that we won. Sunday night [after the Talladega win], early into Monday morning, there is a video of some of my buddies busting one open that I’m just watching. That’s really cool."
In a weird twist, Chastain knows that there are watermelons out there that aren’t eaten, aren’t smashed and are actually just sitting around for as long as possible.
"I’ve autographed my fair share of watermelons," he said.
Between his two Cup victories, Chastain can’t pick his favorite watermelon smash following the race.
"I can't put COTA or Talladega ahead of each other," he said. "They were both pretty good."
But he is learning the key to a good smash.
"Top of the car. That's the secret for me now is getting up higher. I'm pretty short, so getting higher off the ground [and] having more distance to throw down is good."
What to watch for
This weekend, the trucks race at Knoxville Raceway, and the thing to watch is whether the race is an improvement on last year’s frustrating event, which never found its rhythm amid the cautions. In fact, nearly 45% of the race was run under caution.
If it's not a better show this time around, it would be tough to argue for a third truck race at Knoxville.
Thinking out loud
NASCAR announced on Sunday that the Clash will return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum next year. The Feb. 5 exhibition will require NASCAR to once again construct a temporary racetrack at the iconic sports venue.
As I wrote after the event, this is a good move. NASCAR likely saw things it wanted to improve on after this year's event, and going to another facility to construct a track would make it difficult for NASCAR to evaluate any changes, whether that’s to format, track construction, etc.
If NASCAR wants to make a great event even better, going back to the Coliseum for another year is the right thing to do.
They said it
"I’m not surprised that we're a winning race team because I wouldn't have started this project if I didn't think, truly believe, that the opportunity existed to build a new race team in this sport that could win. It's just happened really quickly. That's been the surprise." — Trackhouse co-owner Justin Marks
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!