Written by Josh Dean
Nascar Plaza looms over downtown Charlotte, a beacon to the many racers who live in the area, most of them transplants who’ve come with the dream of joining America’s top professional racing series. (Landauer was one of them until recently, when she moved to Asheville.) In the shadow of the tower is the shiny glass-and-steel box that houses the sport’s Hall of Fame and Museum, where Landauer met in 2016 with Nascar marketing execs and the 10 other drivers (all men) who, like her, had been selected for the 2016-17 Nascar Next program, which seeks to identify and “spotlight the best and brightest rising young stars in racing,” according to Nascar marketing materials.
Landauer, now 25, was a fairly obvious choice. She is one of the most promising young drivers in America, and almost certainly the best who isn’t male. Last year she finished fourth in Nascar’s K&N Pro Series West, three tiers below the Monster Energy Nascar Cup Series, where Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. make millions driving in 200-mph circles. There are precisely zero women in the sport’s second and third tiers—the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series, respectively. Which means that Landauer is the only woman with a legitimate chance of reaching the Cup, as racers call it, in the near future, to join Danica Patrick, who has been racing 39 men every week since 2013, when she became the first woman to land a full-time Cup ride.
“Julia had the harsh lesson that when you walk in cold to a company and meet the nice receptionist who’s happy to take your paper, sometimes she does absolutely nothing with it,” Steve recalls. “And I said, ‘Get used to this. You’ll have another thousand of these before somebody will give you money.’ ”
That alone makes Landauer unique, but it’s hardly the most interesting thing about her. She isn’t from the South, or even the West, the two hotbeds of stock car racing. She was raised in Manhattan, attended one of New York City’s most prestigious and competitive public high schools, Stuyvesant, and then graduated from Stanford, in 2014, on time, despite missing half a semester to compete on the reality TV show Survivor in an effort to win $1 million to fund future racing and extend the reach of her personal brand. She didn’t win. She got nine minutes of screen time and a second-degree sunburn.
Last year, Landauer had the partial backing of a team with Toyota and National Automotive Parts Association sponsorship; this year she’s racing for a Ford team, and the team owner, who has a dealership in California, is partially subsidizing the costs. But there’s still plenty to make up with small sponsorships and “personal funding” from her parents. She also has learned to be creative. During her four years at Stanford, she had little time for racing, but that didn’t stop her from promoting the image. In 2012, as a sophomore, she shot a very earnest promotional video on campus and posted it to YouTube and her new website. “I have to work every day to develop my brand,” she says to the camera in her video, “but I also have to go to class.”
Landauer took advantage of Stanford’s rigorous business and technology curriculum, and also its fervent base of aspiring entrepreneurs. (Her own degree is in Science, Technology, and Society.) She had a searing experience in a marketing seminar when she faced a semicircle of classmates and asked them to critique her social media presence, after a failed attempt to raise money through Indiegogo. They ripped her apart, saying her image seemed too polished, inauthentic. “I went home and sobbed,” she says. “But it was great. The stuff I was trying wasn’t working.” The next time she tried Indiegogo, in 2015, it worked. She raised $11,475, or 115 percent of the goal she’d set to help fund a seven-race season at Virginia’s Motor Mile Speedway—which she won, becoming just the second woman to win a title in the track’s 63-year history.
As much as Landauer grew up at Stanford, she lost valuable time racing. She has watched boys she raced with as a teenager climb the ranks, many of them into the Camping World Truck Series, where she hopes to join them next year. That’s almost the big leagues. It’s Nascar’s third tier, featuring stock cars with lightweight truck bodies, and often includes Cup racers who are moonlighting for fun. To get there will require an invitation from a team, which Landauer is unlikely to get unless she attracts a lot more money—a season in trucks, as the circuit is called, runs $3 million to $5 million. Xfinity, the step beyond that, is $6 million to $8 million. And Cup: a minimum of $15 million.