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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A storybook start to Julia Landauer’s 2015 season ended in the history books.
The 23-year-old from New York City finished third in the Limited Sportsman Division at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia, Saturday to become just the second female to win a championship in the track’s 63-year history.
“It’s still sinking in,” said Landauer, who is the first female to win the title in the track’s Limited Sportsman Division, which dates back to 2004. “My first championship was very special. But to win a championship in a NASCAR-sanctioned series is just so big; this definitely tops it, especially because there were so many firsts this season.
“It proves once again that perseverance really wins in the end, and that an incredible amount of work can really pay off.”
The Limited Sportsman Division is the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division II.
Kyle Purvis, who races at Ohio’s Columbus Motor Speedway, leads the national standings by two over Rocky Warner of New York’s Utica-Rome Speedway. Columbus’ Shane Shirk is just seven points out of the top spot, while Brett Kressley of Grandview Speedway in Bechtesville, Pennsylvania, and Matthew Janczuk of Utica-Rome round out the top five.
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division II-V drivers are ranked by their best 14 NASCAR point finishes in series-sanctioned events. Drivers receive two points for every car they finish ahead of – up to 18 cars – and three points for a win, with an additional two points if the driver starts 10th or lower.
Landauer isn’t the first female to celebrate a track championship at Motor Mile Speedway. That designation belongs to Dr. Sheryl Carls.
In 2011, Carls, then 53, 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 achievement 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 shouldered the pressures associated with the significance of the occasion.
“I’m a racer. I want to win…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.”
Julie Landeau (70) won four times in the Limited Sportsman Division in her rookie year at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va. Joe Mills
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.
Nine years after her first full season of open-wheel racing produced her first championship, Landauer successfully replicated the remarkable feat in NASCAR. It’s the latest chapter in a career defined by firsts.
In her Motor Mile debut on May 2, Landauer led 31 laps from the pole en route to her first Limited Sportsman victory in her first 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,” Landauer said. “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.
Landauer followed with two more wins. But in the ups-and-downs of the seasons, she entered the finale leading Christiansburg, Virginia, driver Richard Caldwell by two points--- the equivalent of one position on the track.
Handicapped to sixth place on the grid per Motor Mile Speedway’s “Two-Wins-in-a-Row Policy” rule, Landauer methodically marched through the field during the 50-lap feature. When the final yellow flag of the race unfurled on lap 41, Landauer was scored third.
Showcasing veteran savvy, the Limited Sportsman rookie patiently coasted in the waning circuits, trailing the frontrunners by .935 seconds at the checkers. The third-place effort secured the track championship by a margin of ten points.
“While I would’ve loved to have gotten that fifth win, the championship was more important,” said Landauer following the feature. “This is so exciting to be the first woman to do this. Hopefully it shows that many more can.”
Landauer is a natural. At age 14, she authored a record-setting season in the renowned Skip Barber Racing Series, becoming the first female champion of the series in her first full season of competition.
Her path from New York City to NASCAR champion has been full of twists and turns.
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 California.
“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. “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.
It was a decision that produced championship dividends.
In other Whelen All-American Series standings:
DIVISION III: Brent Kane, who races in Minnesota at Elko Speedway, stretched his division lead to 27 points over Ryan Jenkins, who competes at Adams County (Iowa) Speedway and Junction Motor Speedway in Nebraska. DJ Burnham of Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway moved past Chuck Schutz Jr. of Grandview into third, while Stafford’s Tony Membrino moved up to fifth.
DIVISION IV: Grant Brown (Elko) maintained his six-point lead on Glenn Forward (Utica-Rome). Ryan Smith (Columbus) is third, while Dennis Smith Jr. of Rockford Speedway in Illinois jumped to fourth. Defending division champion AJ Saunders Jr. (North Carolina’s Bowman Gray Stadium and Caraway Speedway) rounded out the top five.
DIVISION V: Jack Kirby, who competed at Oklahoma’s Salina Highbanks Speedway and Flint Creek Speedway, remains entrenched atop the standings, holding a 27-point lead over Elko’s Justin Schelitzche. Aaron Van Fleet, who races at Pennsylvania’s Motordrome Speedway, dropped to third, while Justin Walters (Salina) and Ohio’s Lake County Speedway driver Hunter Combs completes the top five.
Established in 1982, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is NASCAR’s national championship program for weekly short track auto racing. In all, 58 paved and dirt tracks throughout the United States and Canada participate.
Connecticut-based Whelen Engineering is the series’ title sponsor. Whelen Engineering is a leading manufacturer of automotive, aviation, industrial and emergency vehicle lighting. NASCAR tracks and pace cars across North America are among the many showcases for Whelen products.