AVONDALE, Ariz. — Chad Chastain was sitting at a Beef ‘O’ Brady’s near his Florida home last Sunday, watching on TV as his brother, Ross, pursued his bid for a first NASCAR championship at Martinsville Speedway. His ears were trained on the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing team’s scanner while the broadcast feed played on a several-second delay.
The older Chastain had already been one of the Cup Series’ biggest surprises this year, mounting a serious playoff run in his first season with the upstart Trackhouse team. But his biggest stunner was yet to come.
Listening to the team radio gave Chad Chastain little indication that a barrier-scraping stroke of brilliance had occurred when spotter Brandon McReynolds told his driver to keep the No. 1 Chevrolet up against the wall.
“And I put my head down on the table and thought, ‘Well, it’s over. We had a great year. We’ll go get ’em at Phoenix and try to win the race,’ ” Chad Chastain recalled Saturday morning in the Phoenix Raceway garage. “And then I look back up, and he was sailing off into Turn 3, and I didn’t know what was going on. Then the whole restaurant erupted.”
By now, the video footage of the late-race heroics that propelled Ross Chastain to championship contention in Sunday’s season finale (3 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, MRN, SiriusXM) has made the global rounds, replaying the mystifying, bonkers maneuver that the two brothers practiced as kids virtually on a long-ago game console. But this is real life — both for the Martinsville move and the two Floridian watermelon farmers who now find themselves in the Arizona desert on one of stock-car racing’s biggest stages.
“Honestly, it didn’t sink in until about Wednesday morning for me,” said Chad Chastain, who turned 24 years old the day after his brother’s triumphant move. “It took the rest of Sunday night, watched the video 100 times as everybody has, woke up Monday morning. I’m brushing my teeth, and then I’m watching it again. Just scrolling Twitter, they’ve got it on, it’s popping up every time.
“Just even like Monday night and Tuesday afternoon, it was starting to sink in like, holy cow. We’ve just had a great season. Ross is racing for a Cup owners’ and drivers’ championship this weekend, and it’s amazing. I always thought if everything went just right, we’d make it here. We never thought it’d actually happen. It’s so rare.”
The moment that turned conventional racing wisdom on its ear traces its start back to the brothers’ upbringing in the Sunshine State.
The two grew up with farming in their blood, a long-held family tradition that spans several generations and continues today. But the two siblings also found an early passion for speed, racing with cousins on four-wheelers. “We’d pick two trees and just go turn laps,” Chad Chastain said. “Just had a blast doing that kind of stuff. ‘Never came out of third gear,’ we’d tell our parents … but we definitely came out of third gear.”
Ross Chastain has kept finding new gears as he did in shifting from fourth to an unheard-of fifth and flooring it to execute what the family is calling the “Hail Melon” in a nod to their farming heritage.
As both have referenced, Nintendo GameCube was the first setting for the wall-riding time shaver.
“I probably did it on accident first,” said Chad Chastain, who estimated he would have been in elementary school at the time. “… I probably did it just mad that he was beating me since he was always going way faster, and I probably just decided not to lift one time out of pure frustration.”
As the two grew, their bond strengthened — even as they took divergent career paths. Ross’ move to a career in racing accelerated faster, and he made his Camping World Truck Series debut at 18. He quickly gained experience at all three national levels as a journeyman waiting for his opportunity in top-tier equipment.
Chad also stayed active in racing but eventually took a more involved role in managing the day-to-day operations at JDI Farms, the family’s melon-rich land in Punta Gorda. He’s made four Truck Series starts in the last two years — a trend he hopes to continue but as a secondary pursuit.
“I had kind of accepted a couple of years ago out of high school that my path to NASCAR stardom was gone,” Chad Chastain said. “It just wasn’t gonna happen, right? We were focused on getting Ross to this level, and now he’s here. So we’re working on some stuff for next year, but on January 1st through Memorial Day, I’ve got watermelons in the ground. So that has to be my No. 1 priority. I don’t race a lot during that time. I even didn’t growing up just because I was busy with it on weekends.
“So work always comes before play, but there’s definitely some stuff we’re working on for the summer and fall that makes me want to try to run some truck races even more.”
Both brothers remain heavily involved in both businesses. Even as he chases a major racing championship, Ross Chastain has kept active on the farming side and remains one of the watermelon industry’s most ardent and famous promoters. When not managing the farm, Chad Chastain has given Trackhouse an assist where he can, whether it’s making credential arrangements or serving as an additional spotter on road courses. It was Ross who gave Chad a ride from the auxiliary spotters’ stand to the celebration for his first Cup Series victory at Circuit of The Americas in late March.
Between the pastoral calm of the farm and the high-octane intensity of the race track, the brothers have navigated the different brands of workplace stress together. Catching up on each other’s business exploits has provided them both with an outlet and a purpose.
“Look, he’s my best friend,” Ross Chastain says. “It’s me and him against the world. No matter what, we’ll always have each other’s backs. As I go through things in life, as he goes through things in life, we include each other. We’re incredibly fortunate that our family dynamic has — sometimes it doesn’t seem perfect that it’s us as our family against the world. That was taught to us from my granddad, and my dad says it was from his granddad, and it keeps going back.
“It’s just the most natural thing to have family around us. For me and Chad, we’re similar enough in age. We’re six years apart, but I’m probably a little young-acting for my age, he’s a little wise for his age, and it puts us in a spot where business and in life, we can do a lot of stuff together. I want him involved and helping me. I feel like having him close to me makes me better.”
The elder Chastain has been one of the best this year, and he’ll have his brother watching from trackside — live this time, instead of with an agonizing delay from a restaurant’s seat. The two celebrated with their favorite fruit in their COTA breakthrough, and another crowning moment could be on the vine.
“Even when you said it right then,” Chad Chastain said, “I get goosebumps when I talk about it, when I hear about it, when I think about it.”