The line was easy to spot in the Nashville Superspeedway Fan Zone. It extended so far back, the people in the rear would take turns running forward to make sure Ross Chastain was still at the front – signing autographs, posing for selfies, smiling and accepting the words of encouragement.
About four hours - and a celebratory watermelon crush - later, Chastain and his Trackhouse Racing team were in the track’s Victory Lane celebrating his – and the team’s – first victory of 2023.
Fans were still crowding outside the festivities, eager to join in the celebration. Grins and backslaps all around.
Not only has the 30-year old Floridian Chastain and his teammate Daniel Suarez earned the adoration of so many; the entire Trackhouse Racing team has already become one of the most popular organizations in the sport.
In the garage pre-race, there are music stars performing live outside the Trackhouse Racing team haulers. In every Fan Zone the NASCAR Cup Series visits around the country, the team’s interview and autograph sessions – whether its drivers or team owner Justin Marks - draw huge, enthusiastic crowds. The team’s unique – mode-look - merchandise sells off the racks as fast as the drivers accelerate at the green flag.
And as those drivers have quickly learned in the team’s young three-year existence, Trackhouse “Super Fandom” is a very real – and highly-valued – result of this adoration.
Chastain, whose even been asked to autograph a baby’s “onesie” – while the baby was wearing it – fully concedes a progression of popularity in his career. And he couldn’t be more appreciative and mindful of the upside he’s enjoying now – always aware of the hurdles he’s faced in his career and the path he’s taken to ultimately arrive and thrive at Trackhouse Racing.
“Not that long ago when we’d go out into the fan zones, whether it was for a sponsor or the team or whoever, [public relations] would be drumming up people to come over to me,’’ Chastain recalls, adding with a laugh, “In the beginning of my Cup career – years ago – I remember walking up to people and saying, ‘hey, would you like a signed [hero] card?’ and they’d say, ‘no, I’m okay,’ and keep walking. They didn’t know who I was and might have thought I was trying to sell them something.
“So it’s definitely progressed into now, long lines. … some people get in line not even knowing what the line’s for – and they see me at the end of it and now they’ll quickly get in that line. It’s really cool.”
Californian Rudy Elias, 35, was one of those eagerly waiting in line pre-race to meet Chastain in Nashville.
“Honestly I’m a new fan, but I’ve been watching him for two years and I love everything I’ve seen out of him,’’ said Elias, proudly dressed in a ROSS CHASTAIN t-shirt.
“I love how exciting he keeps it. He’s always pushing the envelope and giving it his best. There’s not a boring moment with him. When you see him coming around the track – they call it, ‘getting Chastain-ed” we love that as fans. That’s the racing I want to watch.’’
Eric Olvera, 15, of Prairieville, Lousiana and his mother Martha drove to the Nashville race to cheer on their longtime favorite driver Suarez and the Trackhouse team. They love the vibe so much they have driven to three NASCAR Cup Series races this season solely to lead the Trackhouse charge.
“I cheer for Trackhouse because they are a new team and they’re the underdogs,’’ Olvera said. “All of a sudden you see Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez and now they’ve got good cars and racing as hard as they can. They’re showing everybody they’ve got the talent and even if they mess up, they fight back.
“My family’s from Mexico, the exact same place where Daniel Suarez came from, so it’s great to see him here and have someone to support like him.’’
Chastain said the team fully recognizes and appreciates the good vibes and intense dedication.
“When we transitioned to Trackhouse, it was a total re-set of fanbase,’’ Chastain explained. “With Justin [Marks] and Trackhouse 360 and Dean [Stoyer] leading the way, we’ve tried to build that brand and tell people our story and they’re doing it in a different way than I’ve ever seen.’’
Of course winning certainly helps and that’s something Trackhouse has proven again and again - and again and again – this team knows how to do.
“I think a lot of people, now that we’re winning in the Cup Series and we’ve won for two years in a row, they remember the name but maybe not quite sure where or why,’’ Chastain said, adding, “Then if they do a quick google search on social media they’ll see how many races I’ve been in and it brings back memories of seeing me, but not paying attention to me then because I wasn’t winning.
“So now to be competing and winning is for sure a different level. And I love all of it.’’
Take a look around Trackhouse Racing - at any track, on any given day - and it’s obvious plenty of fans are loving it too.