THE FEMALE PHENOM
Motorsports virtuoso Julia Landauer is on the brink of her biggest victory – JW Martin
Does lipstick stain a first-place trophy?
Julia Landauer should know. The New York City, NY, native has amassed 27 of them.
But Landauer’s laurels have been earned on raceways, not runways. No need for nail polish or makeup. For Landauer, cosmetics in the cockpit are unnecessary— the 23-year-old already looks good in anything she drives.
Landauer’s a natural. At age 14, she authored a record-setting season in the renowned Skip Barber Racing Series, becoming the first-ever female champion of the series in her first full season of competition. Now, in her first championship campaign since her watershed achievement, Landauer has an opportunity to make history again.
From New York City to the New River Valley
Julia Landauer’s path from New York City, NY to Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., has more twists and turns than the Lime Rock Park road course in Lakeville, CT.
Landauer’s anomalous backstory begins at the impressionable age of 10, when a household hobby spawned an unwavering fixation with racing.
“It was originally an activity my family and I could do together,” recants Landauer of her go-kart origins. “My parents wanted something where we could all be together on the weekends, and something that their daughters could compete with the boys.
“By the time I was twelve, I realized that I always preferred to be at the racetrack,” Landauer continues. “I decided I wanted to keep doing it, and we figured out how to climb the ladder from there.”
Following a successful stint in the World Karting Association, Landauer transitioned to the Skip Barber Racing Series at age 13. Adapting quickly to the learning curve, Landauer attempted one race in 2005— the springboard to a landmark season one year later.
Competing for the Eastern Region Sportsman championship in 2006, Landauer compiled 12 wins in 14 starts, sewing up the title with a victory in the season finale at Lime Rock Park. The championship was an unprecedented accomplishment in the Skip Barber Racing Series, as Landauer became the first female to win a regional title in the series’ 31-year history. Her peerless record underscored the significance of the feat: The divisional points structure reflected each competitor’s twelve-best performances, allowing for the omission of the two lowest points totals. Statistically, Landauer orchestrated a perfect season…in her first full season of competition.
“It was really a statement; I was the youngest person there by eight years or so. That was a huge deal at age 14,” beams Landauer.
Age entanglements prompted Landauer to pivot to the now-defunct Formula BMW USA Series upon turning 15. The international junior-level Formula division was frequently featured alongside open-wheel headliners such as Formula One and the Indy Racing League, and as a result, Landauer competed at many distinguished motorsports destinations, including Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montréal, Québec, Canada.
Aiming to further sharpen her road racing skillset, Landauer began an oval racing tenure in Ford Focus Midgets at age 16. Her first foray in Late Model racing came a year later. Discovering an appreciation for circle track competition, Landauer subsequently abandoned her road racing aspirations for a new objective: NASCAR.
But her newfound pursuit was tempered by the revelation that opportunities were dwindling. With her career at a crossroads, Landauer made a calculated decision to focus on the off-track aspects of the motorsports industry, and enrolled at Stanford University in Standford, CA.
“At age 15 was when I really learned that my parents weren’t going to be able to pay for me to be able to climb the racing ladder. It became very apparent that I was going to have to figure out how to be more business-savvy— I wasn’t coming from a corporate-connected family,” explains Landauer. “That was part of the decision to go to Stanford.
“People gave me a hard time in the racing industry for not staying in racing. The reality was I wasn’t going to be able to continue racing. We were going to hit a wall at some point.”
While attending Stanford University, Landauer participated in the acclaimed reality television series “Survivor”. For Landauer, the motivation to compete on “Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites” was twofold: aside from the monetary benefits, the exposure provided an unorthodox opportunity to market her fledgling motorsports career.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I couldn’t say no. I’m definitely a go-getter and adventure-seeker. But it was also a calculated move; you get exposure to 9 million viewers, so I was hoping to up publicity. It taught me a lot about branding, and my personal brand, and how I presented myself versus how people perceive me. It was a big character- builder,” explains Landauer.
Landauer managed only a handful of races during college, making sporadic starts in Late Models and Legends cars. By the outset of the 2015 season, Landauer was eyeing a full-time alternative to the partial schedules of seasons past.
Due to budget constraints, Landauer settled on the seven-race Limited Sportsman schedule at Motor Mile Speedway. Partnering with two-time NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series National Champion Lee Pulliam, who was expanding his Lee Pulliam Performance operation to accommodate a Limited Sportsman program, Landauer embarked on her first full NASCAR-sanctioned season.
A Number of Firsts
A storybook start to Landauer’s 2015 season ended in the history books.
In her Motor Mile Speedway debut on May 2nd, Landauer led 31 circuits from the pole en route to her first-career Limited Sportsman victory in her first-ever Limited Sportsman start. Moreover, Landauer established a benchmark as the first female to win a NASCAR-sanctioned Limited Sportsman race at the .416-mile oval.
“To come out and win the first race was out of this world. I was like ‘Wow, I just got my first NASCAR-sanctioned stock car win! That is so cool!’ Not many people can say that,” Landauer explains. “The real pressure came in the second race.”
Validation came on June 13th, when Landauer snared her second consecutive checkered flag. From unheralded afterthought, Landauer was suddenly the focal point of Motor Mile Speedway’s penultimate class.
At the outset of the season, defending track champion Scott Lancaster and 2012 track titlist Preston McGhee, along with perennial leadfoot Karl Budzevski, were projected to be the frontrunners vying for the division crown. Instead, Landauer’s meteoric ascension within the Limited Sportsman division foreshadowed an enigmatic event: the supplanting of the underdogs over the division vanguard.
The 2015 season has been a testament to parity. The volume of improved programs from one year ago is staggering: Of the current top five championship contenders, only Lancaster managed a top-five result a season ago (1st Place). Aside from Landauer, the remainder of the top five is comprised of division mainstays that tallied finishes of seventh or worse in the 2014 standings.
Meanwhile, the top-tier teams have languished. Budzevski’s no. 26 team is twelfth in the standings, one year removed from a runner-up finish in the points. Following a tumultuous start, McGhee has temporarily shelved his 2015 season, and is listed 23rd. Lancaster has been ranked as low as tenth, having rebounded in the month of August.
What explains the fluctuation? The primary impetus was a post-race technical inspection following the Limited Sportsman twinbill on June 28th, when the top three finishers from both races – a total of five race teams – were disqualified for rules infractions. Those impacted by the fallout included Lancaster, Budzevski, and the points leader… Julia Landauer.
“I was heartbroken when I heard about the disqualifications… My gut reaction was that I had no shot at the championship,” admits Landauer, who plummeted to seventh as a result of the penalties.
In the aftermath, the underdogs emerged. At the forefront of the contingent: Christiansburg, Va., driver Richard Caldwell.
“At the beginning of the year, the championship wasn’t even in the back of my mind. We just wanted to be competitive. Ever since we noticed that the points were within our reach, we’ve been working that much harder,” explains Caldwell. “It’s been a spectacular season for us. We feel like all of the hard work and long nights at the shop have paid off.”
Caldwell assumed command of the standings after a second-place finish on July 24th, and maintained the lead until the August 22nd event, when Landauer scored her season-salvaging fourth win. Entering the season finale, the pair is separated by two points— the equivalent of one position on the track.
“If we were to pull this thing off… there’s not words to describe how special it would be,” says Caldwell. “[Landauer’s] tough. She’s got great equipment, and she backs it up with good driving. She’s going to be really hard to beat.”
The Female Factor
Overtime, the asterisk has become an extension of Landauer’s name. In racing annals, her achievements are accompanied by footnotes.
The seventh female to compete in the Limited Sportsman division during the Motor Mile Speedway era, Landauer’s 2015 slate has been historic. Aside from becoming the first female to win a Limited Sportsman division feature, Landauer is the first female to lead the division standings. Although unconfirmed, track records suggest Landauer also is the first female to qualify on the pole for a Limited Sportsman division race.
If she can preserve her position in the standings through the 50-lap season finale on September 12th, she will become the first female track champion in Limited Sportsman division history.
Landauer wouldn’t be the first female to celebrate a track championship at Motor Mile Speedway, however. That designation belongs to Dr. Sheryl Carls.
Fifty-nine years after its inaugural season, Motor Mile Speedway crowned its first female track champion in 2011. At age 53, Carls piloted a Chevrolet Camaro to the summit of her racing career, earning the Street Stock division track championship by a margin of 16 points.
Four years later, Landauer’s bid unveils intriguing parallels to her predecessor’s championship campaign. Like Landauer, Carls was confronted with the task of protecting a meager two-point advantage in the standings on the final night of racing. Ironically, Carls also is a New York state native. And as was the case with Carls, Landauer will be shouldering the pressures associated with the cultural significance of the occasion.
The female factor. Landauer is a testament to diversity— but not just in the conventional sense. She has competed in 20 states and Canada, boasting experience in seven motorsports disciplines. She has employed a dynamic, progressive approach to the off-track intricacies of the racing business, revealing a maturity beyond her years. Landauer is the embodiment of motorsports diversity.
“I’m a racer. I want to win a championship regardless of my background,” Landauer explains. “But I do think it’s important for the industry, and for the next generation of drivers, to show that it can be normal for women to win.
“There are so many girls in the stands. To be able to show them that we can do it too… that’s very powerful.”
Now, the racing virtuoso is on the brink of her biggest victory. With a supporting cast that includes accomplished mentors Pulliam and crew chief Matt Taylor – a three-time Motor Mile Speedway Limited Sportsman division track champion – coupled with an arsenal of championship-caliber equipment, Landauer is considered the favorite.
But it won’t be easy. In addition to the inherent pressures of championship night, Landauer will be handicapped to sixth-place on the starting grid per the Two Wins in a Row Policy rule, based on her back-to-back finishes in the division’s most recent contests.
“It’s been nine years since my last championship, and in my first real attempt to come back for a championship, to be able to get it would be really special. The past couple of years have been hit-or-miss with a combination of equipment and seat time,” Landauer says. “I feel I’ve really upped my game and have been able to perform. It’s a milestone to be able to win a NASCAR championship.
“But I can’t think about that right now; we’re still so far from that. Anything can happen.”
Nine years after her first full season of open-wheel racing produced her first championship, Landauer is just one race away from replicating the remarkable feat in NASCAR. It’s the latest chapter in a career defined by firsts.
Yet, she doesn’t know whether or not lipstick stains a first-place trophy. What about a NASCAR championship trophy?
“We’re going to find out, aren’t we?” Landauer quips.
It would be another first.