The Hail Melon

April 15, 2023

Iconic moments in sports that have stood the test of time are often remembered by the unique name that defines the moment.

There was “The Immaculate Reception” when Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers came out of nowhere to catch a deflected fourth-down pass to give the NFL team its first-ever playoff win in 1972. It started a dynasty.

“The Miracle on Ice” will forever be remembered for the United States Men’s Olympic Hockey team defeating the Soviet Union in the semifinals of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York at the height of the “Cold War.” That team went on to defeat Finland in the Gold Medal game two days later.

Christian Laettner of Duke University delivered “The Shot” when he caught a full-length of the court pass from Grant Hill, spun and hit a jump shot from the top of the key at the buzzer to defeat Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional Finals that is still regarded as one of the greatest moments in college basketball history.

Danny Sullivan delivered the “Spin and Win” when he attempted to pass Mario Andretti in Turn 1 of the 1985 Indianapolis 500, hit the apron, and spun without hitting another car or the wall and continue in the race. Sullivan went on to drive the Penske Racing entry to victory in the Indy 500.

In NASCAR, there was the famed battle in the 1987 running of “The Winston” at Charlotte Motor Speedway when Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt were locked in a fierce battle that included driving through the grass of the trioval at CMS.

In both college and professional football, there have been numerous “Hail Mary” passes to win games. That’s when a quarterback heaves a long pass as time runs out and his receiver is able to bring it down in a jump ball with the defenders to win a game.

On October 30, 2022, Trackhouse star Ross Chastain delivered his own, iconic moment that will be forever remembered as the “Hail Melon.”

With one lap remaining in the cutoff race that determined the final four drivers to the NASCAR Championship Race, Chastain wasn’t going to make the cut.

For those who witnessed with their own eyes Ross Chastain’s incredible move from 10th to fifth in the final two corners of Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the reaction was stunning disbelief.

“Did I just see that? Am I hallucinating?”

In the immortal words of Jack Buck who called a hobbling Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series on CBS Radio, “I don’t believe what I just saw.”

What Chastain did looked like it was straight out of a cartoon. For others, it was a cross between “Herbie the Love Bug” and “Flubber” – two Walt Disney movies from days gone by that had fairly outrageous premises and cinematography.

For those that remember “Back to the Future,” Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet looked like it was equipped with a “Flux Capacitor.”

Fittingly, Chastain admitted that he learned that move from a video game, “NASCAR 2005 on Game Cube.”

Chastain’s hopes of advancing into the “Championship Four” in the November 7 race at Phoenix Raceway were all but done as the final lap of Sunday’s race began. Denny Hamlin was in fifth place and was set to claim the final playoff position if he finished ahead of Chastain in points.

With nothing to lose, Chastain did the unimaginable.

He popped it into fifth gear, mashed the throttle and took his hands off the steering wheel as he entered the radius of the wall in Turns 3 and 4. He let the wall steer his car while his engine was pegged at full throttle in a brilliant, albeit it bold move.

Chastain’s smoking car from the friction of carbon fiber against concrete looked like a rocket car going 250 miles an hour.

He zoomed past Hamlin’s Toyota at the checkered flag and claimed the fourth and final playoff position.

It looked like it was straight out of the old “Joie Chitwood Thrill Show.”

As Nate Ryan of NBCSports.com quipped, “That’s the most NASCAR thing ever.”

It will go done as one of the most defining moments in NASCAR history, which celebrates its 75th anniversary next season.

It’s this generation’s fight in Turn 3 of the 1979 Daytona 500 or the “Pass in the Grass” in the 1987 running of “The Winston.”

“It was a total shot,” Chastain remembered. “I’ve gotten a couple Darlington stripes, but it’s never on purpose. I’ve run right up against the wall, but I never want to hit it at Darlington. At Martinsville, it was a full commitment to hit the wall.

“I thought I was going to hit it a little easier than I did. I slammed it on entry into Turn 3. I didn’t realize it kicks out about six inches. I drove it to a straight line to 3 and thought it would carry me.

“It was a big hit. As I let go of the wheel partway through, you would never do that. I was fully committed to trying it.

“For some reason, it worked.”

It will be replayed over and over for years to come.

Even then, it’s almost unbelievable that it not only happened, but that it actually worked.

It wasn’t a victory, but it earned the “Watermelon Farmer” from Alva, Florida immortality.

Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway, Chastain returns to the scene of his career-defining move. It’s the first NASCAR weekend at the famed southern Virginia short track shaped like a paperclip.

Chastain will be competing in Friday’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Long John Silver’s 200 for Niece Motorsports and in Sunday’s NOCO 400 NASCAR Cup Series race for Trackhouse.

Last month, however, Chastain was reunited with the Turn 3 wall at Martinsville Speedway in a special ceremony.

Chastain returned to the Virginia track to remove the "Martinsv" section of the wall that will be preserved as part of history.

"It was cool to take the afternoon and moment to physically take that piece of the wall out and preserve it," Chastain said. "It's amazing to think about how many great drivers have raced at Martinsville in the past and how many great races have happened at the track. I'm proud to be a piece of something special.

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“It is a big deal to return there. We visited there a few weeks ago and removed a piece of the wall in Turns 3 and 4 and preserved that. It was a really cool day. Mr. Campbell (Clay Campbell, Martinsville Speedway President) let me remove it with a Kubota, which was so neat. Together, with the MOOSE Car from Martinsville, it will forever stay together and be preserved somewhere for people to see for years to come.

“I’m also getting to run the Truck race with Niece Motorsports so the first time I will be on track for practice is in the truck. Coming back and getting into the Cup car, driving into Turn 3 for the first time will be pretty weird.

“I’ll preface it by saying I’ve already done that, but it was in a Kubota, not a race car.”

It’s literally a “once-in-a-lifetime” move because during the offseason, NASCAR officials outlawed any competitor who intentionally drives a race car into the wall in an attempt to advance positions on the race track.

Chastain is the first and the last driver to successfully pull off that move.

“What's really cool about it now, and what I'm most proud of is it’s never going to happen again,” Chastain said. “If it does happen in NASCAR, they'll get penalized so that will probably deter people from doing it again. I didn't realize it at the time how historical it was but it's neat now to look back on it and think about how it’s a moment NASCAR's history.”

Chastain was already a viral sensation for his Watermelon smashing celebrations after winning NASCAR races.

Plenty of fans created their own viral videos when they captured the driver’s incredible “Hail Melon” move with their Smart Phones and cameras from the grandstands on the final lap.

“The cell phone camera views from Turns 3 and 4 looking down, they were filming the end of the race and most of them were following the 20 car (Christopher Bell) around the whole track and there is a blur in the middle of all their screens of my car,” Chastain said. “It was fun to hear their natural reactions when the cars slow down and to hear the roar, people yelling and asking what happened. I was on pit road and the car was broken and destroyed, and I'm trying to navigate crew members high fiving me and I could hear the fans through my helmet and over the sound of the engine idling coming down pit road. I glanced up and people were pointing, cheering and high-fiving, and a few weren't so kind gestures."

For those who witnessed the move, it’s amazing that it actually worked.

Reflecting on it last week, Chastain explained how he was able to execute the “Hail Melon” to perfection.

“It’s something that is so crazy that it worked,” he said. “It is wild to me that I thought of it. I’ve seen other drivers attempt it. I did it on video games and I thought about it when I got into the sport and then I saw Kyle Larson do it and Sheldon Creed do it, both at Darlington.

“The fenders, the way they crumple when you hit the side of the wall, the NextGen car is so different. We hit the wall at a Homestead test and stayed in the gas and it didn’t slow down. It was wild. I was able to run the same lap time.

“I didn’t click in my head until after Martinsville and that was the same thing I did at Homestead.

“It’s the continuation of me evolving as a race car driver. I didn’t go to Martinsville thinking I’m going to do what I did at Homestead and round the wall at Martinsville. But I’m trying to be the best race driver that I can be.”

One of the biggest stars in the NASCAR Cup Series, Chastain is a race winner and championship contender.

But he hopes to achieve other career-defining moments in his career.

“To me, it’s special that I evolved myself,” Chastain explained. “I want it to go down in history, but I want to be known for a lot more than the ‘Hail Melon.’

“It’s great. I love it. But I want to win again. I want people to know me for winning races and being fast everywhere.

“I’m just trying to evolve as a race car driver and never be complacent. I’m on a never-ending wheel like a hamster and I’m running and trying to find the next thing that will make me a better race car driver.”

By meeting the moment and delivering, Chastain became an international sensation. Drivers in Formula One and IndyCar Tweeted about it. But it extended even further into popular culture with professional athletes in other sports as well as those in the entertainment industry all raved about Chastain’s “Hail Melon” on social media.

“I was stunned,” Chastain said. “I never thought those guys would know my name, let alone congratulate me for driving a race car in a unique way. I was most disappointed some of my competitors expressed disinterest in it and a lack of favor in it when some of them were the ones I learned from and what they have done and how they raced. I studied them and I learned and a lot of it is we did something a little bigger and a whole lot better.

“I’m proud of that.

“Seeing it go across the world and the people that I’ll never know that saw it, when I introduce myself to someone new and tell them, they might not know my name, but when they know I’m a NASCAR driver you can see the wheels turning in their head. They will say, ‘The wall?’ and I say, ‘Yes, the wall. I was the guy.’

“They know that guy, they just haven’t met me yet.”

Most importantly, Trackhouse and Chastain have been able to carry the momentum from a spectacular 2022 season into 2023. He is off to a great start in the battle for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship and enters Martinsville Speedway with second in the standings, just 13 points behind Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This NextGen car, you put this car on track it is a car that is the same across every garage in the sport,” Chastain explained. “When you do that with 140 people who everyday have the No. 99 and my back, it’s really incredible to get to do that and go to battle for them.

“We all have the same stuff. Nobody can out-engineer us, nobody can out engineer us. Justin Marks and Chevrolet give us everything we need, and we try to put the best product on the track.”

By using those principles, Chastain is confident that he can compete for the victory at Martinsville this weekend.

The “Hail Melon” was special and a one-of-a-kind moment, but Chastain believes this race is all about winning and reaping the rewards that come with it.

“The Grandfather Clock is something I’ve always wanted to win,” Chastain said, referring to the unique Grandfather Clock trophy that goes to the winner at Martinsville. “That is a race I watched growing up. We lived in South Florida and vacationed in the mountains contrary to everybody in the Carolinas going to the Beach. We would be in the mountains, and it always seemed to be on Martinsville Weekend Spring or Fall.

“I remember watching the dominance of Hendrick Motorsports with the 24 and the 48 winning so many races.

“What is crazy now is I’m racing against the 24 and the 48 and they are winning all these races, but we want to beat them.

“We have a real shot.”

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