Extraordinary Girls: Meet Julia Landauer, College NASCAR Racer
Julia Landauer began racing go-carts when she was still in elementary school. Now a sophomore at Stanford, Julia has maintained a career in racing, becoming one of only a few women NASCAR drivers. I talked with Julia recently about her amazing career, extraordinary goals, and crazy-busy life!
FL: What first sparked your interest in racing? How did you get started?
JL: My parents were always interested in racing, but didn’t competitively race much themselves. As a family we went to track days, watched racing on TV, and I always had toy cars. There is a go-kart track about two hours outside of NYC, where I grew up, and one weekend my dad, sister and I went. When my brother was old enough he and my mom joined. It became a family sport […] we got to work with adults, learn the mechanics of the go-karts, and girls and boys competed on the same field. I immediately loved it and showed impressive results. By age 12 I knew that racing was going to be a part of me forever.
FL: I understand you don’t race in a women’s division, but rather with men and women. Do you think participating in co-ed competition has shaped your point of view on what women can or can’t do? How valuable was this experience and would you recommend co-ed athletics to teenage girls?
JL: That’s a really good, complicated question! Racing with the guys has definitely given me an interesting point of view. I have seen plenty of really good female racers in go-karts, and have realized that their lack of a desire to continue seems to be, in part, due to social constructs. Families seemingly supported their sons racing more intensely than their daughters, or their daughters weren’t realistically expected to do well…setting that subconscious limit from the beginning definitely has a negative effect.
I think it would be awesome for teenage girls to experience co-ed athletics! That being said, I do believe that women are biologically different from men, and this is very apparent in physical strength. There are definitely exceptions to the rule, but on average men are bigger, therefore physically stronger, than women. In racing, everyone has to be strong, but more of an emphasis is put on endurance, less pure muscle, given the nature of the car-driver interaction. If a lady can find a co-ed sport that is fair given the physical differences, I’d wholeheartedly encourage participating. There’s a different dynamic [in co-ed sports] that has helped me develop as a person.
FL: Have you ever felt intimidated competing with men in a male-dominated field?
JL: Everyone gets nervous in sports, and sometimes I’ve felt a little unsure of myself due to […] lack of experience at the time. The only time I felt a little […] intimidated by the competitors because they were guys was when I was 14 in go-karts, and all of a sudden my competitors seemed to have growth spurts and could muscle around the go-kart a little more. But I quickly got over that.
FL: What kind of reactions do you generally get when you tell people you’re a NASCAR racer?
JL: There is such a wide array of possible reactions! Some people think it’s the coolest thing ever, others ask about the athletic side of it, many people are confused about how I got into it since I’m from NYC, and some people don’t really care. But overall it’s a really cool, positive response, and I love talking about racing so explaining it never gets old.
FL: What kind of role models have you had within your field? Are there other women—or racers—who you look up to?
JL: There are several people who I have […] looked to for inspiration[…]First it was Michael Schumacher, a 7-time world champion in Formula 1…he’s simply so good. Then when I was 12, I met my go-kart mechanic and coach, and he stayed with me through the end of my regular karting career. He has so many world championships in go-karts, and we meshed so well. He turned me from a good driver to a great racer.
I then met Lyn St. James, the first female Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, who has started an organization called Women in the Winner’s Circle. She helps young women racers with the ins and outs of racing, and has been a mentor to me for almost 7 years. Other drivers I admire are Kyle Busch, for his astonishingly good driving skills, and Mark Martin, also breaking stereotypes in his own right as he is in his 50s and still competitively racing.
FL: How has racing affected your social life, and general life as a high school and college student? Do your friends come out and support you? How do you juggle racing and schoolwork?
JL: I work really hard to have a good balance of racing, social life, and school, and it’s definitely a challenge, but do-able!
Racing is a full-time job, and has definitely limited my social life to a certain degree. I travel a lot for racing, but also spend most waking hours on the business side of racing. That includes building my business, called Julia Landauer Racing, finding funding, working with my partner charity Girls for a Change, talking with my team, researching, and more. My friends have always been supportive of my racing and don’t give me a hard time about missing events with them.
In terms of schoolwork and racing, I have to be very, very disciplined. Every hour of every day needs to be spent doing something productive. That being said, I undoubtedly need to take breaks, usually in the form of longer meals, meditating/stretching, and taking a couple late nights a week to just have fun.
FL: Racing can also be a dangerous field. Have you ever been in an accident? Are you ever afraid? If so, how have you overcome these fears?
JL: Racing can be dangerous, but the cars are incredibly safe! Many racing incidents are pretty minor, but I’ve been in some spectacular ones. In 2010, I was involved in a wreck that sent me ricocheting between the walls of the track. I was unhurt, but my car was destroyed and my season was ended. The worst thing about most crashes is that you know all your hard work won’t pay off. In terms of fear, it’s a very controlled, minor fear. Every driver has to be aware that things can go wrong so that they will be smart about driving, but you can’t let the fear interrupt your ability to race on the edge (at 100%).
FL: What’s the best thing about being a NASCAR driver?
JL: The best thing about being a NASCAR driver is when I’m totally in the zone. There’s no place like it, and it’s where I work my magic.
FL: Where do you see your career going?
JL: […] Right now, the only possibility in my mind is to make it as a racer. (But racing is a pretty big industry just in case it doesn’t work out).
FL: Do you hope to inspire more girls and women to become racers?
JL: I would absolutely love to see more women and girls get into racing! I think that girls need to be given the opportunity at an early age and if they want to pursue it they can. It’s such a wonderful sport that so many women don’t even consider an option, something I believe is a social construct.
FL: Would you consider yourself a feminist?
JL: I’m not a big fan of labels. I believe in, and am an advocate for, equal opportunity for all people. I believe that women and men should have equal rights and should be evaluated on their abilities and efforts rather than their sex. Everyone has their own definition of the word “feminist” and this may fall in that category for some, and may not for others.
FL: What piece of advice, if any, would you give to a teenage girl looking to break into a male-dominated field or trying to pursue what seems like a far-fetched dream?
JL: Know who you are, what you stand for, and what you want. Don’t be afraid to fight for what you want and what you know is fair. Exterior factors will limit you only if you let them. I came across the following quote, and believe it to be true: “Whether you think you can or can’t…you are right.”