One of the great traditions of Autumn is Homecoming. When the calendar turns to October and the leaves begin the annual change of color, it’s a chance to return to familiar places and see friendly face.
Homecoming Weekend is celebrated on college campuses and high schools throughout the United States. It’s a time to reunite with friends and reminisce and reflect on memories that last a lifetime.
Trackhouse had a special homecoming this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
It was the one-year anniversary of Ross Chastain’s “Once in a Lifetime” move that has gained fame in NASCAR’s 75 Years as the “Hail Melon.”
What he did on the final lap of the 2022 XFINITY 500 at Martinsville Speedway is certainly a memory that will last a lifetime. It’s also one that will never be duplicated because NASCAR created a rule that would not allow it to happen in the future.
To celebrate the one-year anniversary, Chastain’s No. 1 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet that made the miraculous move was at the Chevrolet display at Martinsville Speedway, scrapes, and all.
“It’s over, you can’t do it, this car will never be raced again, the piece of wall we have will never be ran into again,” Chastain said. “There are so many things about it that are done.”
Chastain also honored the occasion with a special helmet that was designed for one race only. It was painted in bright red, featuring a wall and scrapes to signify the drive that allowed Chastain to ride the wall at more than 50 miles an hour faster than any other car in the final two turns and race his way into the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Championship race.
“Having a helmet for one race, I’ve never worn the helmet one weekend and been done with it,” Chastain said. “I’ve always used it over and over again. This one will be used this weekend and go on the shelf.
“It’s something I can actually fit in my house because I can’t fit a car or a piece of wall.”
The dramatic “Hail Melon” move allowed Chastain to advance five positions in the final two turns and finish one foot ahead of Denny Hamlin. It was enough to gain the necessary two points he needed to advance into the Championship Four.
It became a signature moment in the 75-year history of NASCAR gaining worldwide interest. Athletes in other sports talked about it. Formula One drivers reacted to it. The entertainment industry showcased it.
Although Trackhouse had won three races in 2022 including two by Chastain and one by teammate Daniel Suárez, it became the signature moment for the team.
Fans came to the Trackhouse Racing facility in Concord, North Carolina the following day to see the car that changed it all for the team and Chastain.
As Chastain stood by the car on a Saturday morning at the end of October, a lot went through his mind, one year later.
“Disbelief,” he said. “I don’t believe what I’m watching still when I see it.
“To stand by the car, touch the car, know everything that went into last year and know everything that went into last year and get us to Martinsville and be out and then get back in the Championship is one thing.
“What it meant, the ripple effect and the wave it set off for Trackhouse to fight for a championship was bigger than anything. What that means for so many of us inside those four walls and our plans for the future.”
It also created what some call the “Ross Chastain Rule” as NASCAR officials have outlawed intentionally driving into a wall and using such a move to improve position.
“It’s not the first one, it wasn’t even the first rule change last year after Indianapolis,” Chastain said with a smile. “After this past race at Homestead and the pit road deal we had with the timing lines of the start/finish lines versus the end of pit road, I think we will get some clarification on that rule.
“We’re racking up some rules, for sure.”
For the record, the “Hail Melon” move didn’t win the race. It allowed him to claim fourth place with the nose of his No. 1 Chevrolet about one foot ahead of the nose of Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota.
But it put Chastain into the “Championship 4” and eliminated Hamlin from advancing into the Championship Race.
Chastain would ultimately finish second to Team Penske’s Joey Logano by 235-feet in the NASCAR Championship Race the following weekend at Phoenix Raceway.
According to Chastain, the “Hail Melon” at Martinsville was just as good as winning the race that day because of what it meant for his career and for Trackhouse.
“It was equal, as far as the attention and the repercussions of it,” Chastain said. “A race win in the Cup Series is huge, and going to the Final Four was huge.
“Those moments are what motivate me to do that again.
“Unfortunately, we aren’t there this year.
“Right after Martinsville last year, I felt like it was our third win in 2022.”
Chastain won’t get a chance to race for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship on November 5 at Phoenix. He was eliminated in the second cutoff race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in the BankofAmerica ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 8.
This season’s “Championship 4” include Kyle Larson of Hendrick Motorsports, Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing, Ryan Blaney of Team Penske, and William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports.
But the competitive fire continues to fuel Chastain and Trackhouse as they promise to end the season on racing hard and contending for victory in the final race of the season.
As for the car, it has been in the Trackhouse shop near Concord, North Carolina since last year’s Martinsville race.
“It was tucked away for a while,” Chastain recalled. “We finally got the suspension and the actual wheels back on it. Most of the suspension stayed. It was hanging there. The right front upper is broken, and a lot of things are bent. It finally got moved to the front, recently, up by the lobby.”
Chastain was amazed at how well the “Hail Melon” car stood up to the impact and how he was able to make it all the way to the checkered flag in one piece.
“The body didn’t cave in on the tires and cut the tires because they aren’t metal bodies,” Chastain explained. “The wheels slid against the wall. The sidewalls moved in, and the wheel was like a metal rollerblade against it. I think that is a big reason it didn’t slow down.”
Chastain was able to describe, in detail, the memorable ride and the incredible sensation of driving so fast with the wall scraping the side of the race car.
“I thought the wall was straight but when you turn into the corner down the backstretch, it goes to the right just a couple of inches,” Chastain remembered. “When I made the first impact, I thought it was stopping, the way it hit so hard.
"I held onto the wheel for a little bit of time and then I let go. When I let go, my arm got pinned to the right. My right arm was pinned to the shifter and my left arm was pinned to my belly.
“At that point, I thought, ‘Don’t lift.’ I focused on making sure my foot didn’t come off the gas pedal. I felt like I was going faster than I ever went before.”
The Chevrolet will never be raced again. It’s part of Trackhouse history and a key part of NASCAR history.
The wall has also been removed and replaced. Chastain took part in a special ceremony at Martinsville Speedway on March 7.
“We haven’t taken ownership of the wall yet,” Chastain said. “We have to find a big enough space for it, yet. That thing was massive.
“I don’t have any room for it in Carolina. Whether or not it ends up in the shop, I’m not sure that is in the plans, either.
“I want them to be together where fans can see it; not locked away back at the farm where it won’t do any of us any good.
“This is a slice of the piece of pie that is Ross Chastain.”
The Moose Fraternity will continue to be a key ingredient in that recipe.
Trackhouse announced at the end of October that the Moose Fraternity will be the primary partner on the No. 1 Chevrolet for four races in both 2024 and 2025.
Next season will be the fifth NASCAR Cup season the fraternal organization has partnered with Chastain on the track, utilizing the 30-year-old “Watermelon Farmer’ from Alva, Florida in its membership and charity initiatives away from the track.
“It has been so fun to have a continued relationship with the Moose Fraternity,” said Chastain who is a member of Tice and Shores, Florida, Lodge 1297 within the Moose Fraternity.
“Several of the members have become like family which is unique when it comes to a partnership. Not only do I have the opportunity to meet members but it’s fun to talk to people about becoming a member of the fraternity. It’s a passionate group that cares about their community and making it a better place.”
In June, Chastain visited Mooseheart, a residential childcare facility on a 1,000-acre campus 38-miles west of Chicago in Kane County, Illinois near Batavia. In November, he’ll visit Moosehaven, a retirement community in Orange Park, Fla. The retirement community has served members of the Moose since 1922.
Chastain also visits various Moose Lodges around the country during race weekends.
“We really appreciate the relationships we have built with Ross and the Trackhouse Racing family these past few years and are thrilled to continue this journey together through 2025. Having Ross as a member and ambassador for the Moose Fraternity is phenomenal. Just like on the track, when he puts on the Moose hat, you can expect the unexpected to happen,” said Moose International CEO Scott Hart.
The No. 1 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet was the top-selling diecast in 2022 according to Lionel Racing.
Trackhouse and Chastain will continue to amplify the message of the Moose Fraternity to race fans through social media content and select events at lodges around the country in 2024 and 2025.
Members of the Moose conduct approximately $50 - $70 million worth of community service annually. The Fraternity organizes and participates in numerous sports, entertainment and recreational programs in local Lodges and Family Centers in the majority of 43 State and Provincial Associations, and on a fraternity-wide basis.
Lodges across the Fraternity are known for creating life-long bonds between members through activities and a shared concern for children in need, seniors, and the communities in which they live.
Throughout the year, Moose International will be providing grants to a number of its lodges to help market themselves locally in order to take advantage of the heightened visibility that is anticipated through the national sponsorship of Chastain and the partnership with Trackhouse Racing.
That creates a lot of “Homecoming Memories.”