How many 21 year olds do you know who can claim the following list of impressive and concurrent titles: Racecar Driver, Stanford University Student, Businesswoman, Brand, and “Survivor”? We know only one and her name is Julia Landauer… she is most definitely a Woman You Should Know.
This past February, millions of viewers were introduced to “Julia” when she made her debut as one of 20 contestants on Survivor: Caramoan Fans vs. Favorites, the 26th installment of the long running, phenomenally successful reality show. Unfortunately, Julia was the 7th tribe member to be voted out on day 19 of the grueling survival game, which runs for 40 days. Due to her premature departure and limited TV air time, we learned virtually nothing about this incredible young woman, who was inaccurately branded as being rather “vanilla” by one of her fellow contestants.
We can tell you that Julia, whose favorite ice cream just happens to be Rocky Road, is anything BUT “vanilla”. It’s our privilege to tell you her inspiring story… the story no one got to see on TV.
Julia caught the racing bug at age 10 when she started racing go-karts with her family. Finding early success in the form of wins and championships, she received the attention and respect from her competitors as she continued to climb the karting ranks to the national level, where she frequently visited the podium and won.
At age 13, five years before she got her state drivers license, Julia earned her racing license and transitioned from go-karts to racecars after joining the Skip Barber Racing Series. She made history a year later as the first and youngest (14) female champion in this legendary series. Since, Julia has explored all types of racing, from Formula BMW to Ford Focus Midgets, where she won in her first season.
Now officially a NASCAR Driver (NASCAR’s first female driver ever to hail from New York City, and one of only a few to pursue a college education), and a multiple-time amateur champion, Julia races in the Whelen All-American Late Model Series at All-American Speedway in California and South Boston Speedway in Virginia. Through her studies at Stanford (she is currently working towards a B.S. in Science, Technology & Society), Julia hopes to help make the racing industry more environmentally friendly.
In the little spare time she has between being on track, in the classroom, and out in the world determined to make her racing career dream come true, we caught up with Julia, a WYSK who breaks virtually every traditional stereotype associated with motorsports. This is what she shared with us.
Women Talk: 10+ Questions With Julia Landauer
How does a young woman from New York City end up a professional racecar driver, NASCAR’s first Manhattan-ite?
JL: There are actually a lot of racing fans in NYC! My parents were also looking for an activity where my younger siblings and I could be together, where we got a mechanical/technical background, and where girls and boys competed on the same “field.” They had always liked cars and they heard about a go-kart track two hours outside of NYC. One weekend my dad, sister and I headed up to Oakland Valley Race Park, and after that first race I was hooked!
When did the switch get flipped for you… from racing as a fun pastime to racing as a career ambition?
JL: After two years of racing on the local level in go-karts, I realized that I couldn’t imagine a world without racing. The competition, speed, teamwork, triumphs, lessons, challenges, I loved and needed all of it. I told my parents that I wanted to push racing further, that I wanted to be a racecar driver. For their support I always needed to give 100%, which is exactly what I’ve done.
You got your racing license at age 13. By age 14, you became the first and youngest female driver to win the legendary Skip Barber Racing Series. To what do you attribute such fast and early success?
JL: Moving up from go-karts to real racecars was the most exciting step up in my racing career. I had to learn how to drive a big car with gears and suspension, rather than a single-speed go-kart with no suspension. Little habits from go-karts had to be adjusted, and it was a challenge. I practiced a lot so that I could prove I belonged there. And once I got the sweet taste of victory I never wanted to let it go. It was hard work that I always actively wanted to do.
What’s the allure of racing for you?
JL: Racing is more than just going fast. Racing is the preparation leading up to a race: studying the track, building up physical strength, getting yourself pumped. Racing is the adrenaline, the puzzle of putting together the pieces of the racetrack and the car setup to get the perfect combination that allows you to win. Racing is the teamwork, precisely communicating with your crew chief, trusting your crew to give you what you need. Racing is the sweetest win and the heartbreaking loss. Racing is pushing yourself to the absolute limit.
For those of us who can’t drive above 55 mph without risking a speeding ticket, can you describe the feeling you get being in control of a precision driving machine that travels at speeds we can’t even imagine?
JL: In a street car, you only ever put in a percentage of the capabilities of the car. Half throttle, slow, easy brakes. In a racecar, (almost) everything is 100%. Full acceleration, full break. (There’s some half-brake in there too). In a racecar, you have to be able to identify and distinguish how the front and back of the car are “handling,” in racing terms, at the beginning, middle, and exit of the corner, under braking, under accelerating, and where it can be better. One pound of air-pressure in the wrong direction in the left front tire can make the car not turn. Driving a racecar is all about maximizing the car’s performance around the entire racetrack.
In 2010, your season ended early because a competitor smashed you into the wall and totaled your car. How do you stay focused knowing that in a split second, by the implied hazards of your sport, you could be hurt, gravely injured or worse?
JL: Luckily, safety in racing has improved dramatically over the past decade or so, and continues to do so every year. Stock car racing in particular is extremely safe, as the cars are designed and built to take the hit for you. So while you see big crashes of cars flipping and rolling and looking totally smushed, that actually means that the car absorbed the energy in the crash so that the driver doesn’t.
That being said, what’s the worst about a crash, besides how expensive cars are to fix, is that all the hard work, preparation, and excitement about a race are destroyed. With that race specifically, we were on a very tight budget, so for me it was heartbreaking knowing that I may not make my next race. And we were so close to the end of the race! It was infuriating, saddening, and something everyone tries to avoid, but has to deal with.
Why do you think there are not more women involved in professional racing? Lack of opportunity or interest?
JL: Racing is such an amazing sport that I wish more women and girls could enjoy. I think that given its male-dominated history, many parents don’t think to get their girls involved. It wasn’t until this year that the top level of NASCAR, the Sprint Cup Series, had a full time female racer, which means that women and girls don’t have very many role models in the sport. I’m sure there’s a feeling of not belonging in the sport. That being said, there are definitely efforts to get more women into racing. Lyn St. James, retired IndyCar driver and first woman to receive the Rookie of the Year award for the Indy 500, started the Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation to help mentor girls in racing and expose them to the business side as well. I think once we see a few more women succeeding in the sport we may see a greater interest in having more women in racing. At least I hope so!
We just profiled 25-year old Rosie Napravnik, a professional horse racing phenom. She told 60 Minutes that she regularly hears trash talk from her male counterparts such as “go home and have a baby” or “go home and stay in the kitchen”. Have you ever experienced any gender bias in your male dominated sport? If yes, how do you handle that?
JL: There is definitely some gender bias in racing, but it hasn’t been too bad for me. I’ve actually had more negative comments from parents of go-karters I competed against than the competitors themselves. For me the biggest hurdle is that people may not expect a lot out of me. But once I get on track and prove that I’m a racer just like them, I rarely hear any trash talk. Other than I’m a Yankee (she says with a smile).
What does it take to be a professional racecar driver?
JL: There’s no one way to be a professional racecar driver, but there are definitely some common traits. Racers have one goal, and that’s to win. We have incredible focus and determination to make the car do things it shouldn’t be able to do in order to be the fastest. We have a need to get ahead of the other racers, a need to be the best, and a need to make all the pieces come together. Racing requires a strong sense of self, the ability to immediately bounce back from bad situations, and remaining humble enough to constantly improve.
Most people don’t realize there is a serious business side to being successful in your sport, beyond race times and wins. As a businesswoman managing your own brand, how critical is marketing yourself to corporate sponsors?
JL: In this day and age, marketing yourself is especially important. It’s not everything, but good marketing can really help a driver, while poor marketing may do nothing for them. Especially now with the economy being as it has for the past several years, sponsorship continues to be extremely scarce. The auto industry is seeing more and more drivers who come from very wealthy backgrounds make it to the top, with or without wins. That is not to take away from the wealthy and talented drivers, but it is frustrating when less talented drivers are able to pay their way up the ranks with personal funding.
It’s also important to be able to appeal to potential individual investors. I’ve got a really cool story, and part of what I’ve been working on at Stanford is how to effectively convey that story to corporations, individuals, organizations, media outlets, etc.
JL: Do you want direct access to the untapped market of NYC race fans? Join the only female racer from NYC and relish the rise of your sales!
What learnings did you take away from your experience on “Survivor: Caramoan” that you can now apply to your racing or life?
JL: Survivor was a really amazing, extremely difficult game. It was the first time that I was stripped of people I could wholeheartedly trust, which taught me a lot. On a similar note, I feel like Survivor forced me to grow up a little bit, it taught me to work with people that I may not have liked, and it made me appreciate my family and loved ones more than I ever could have imagined. It was also confirmed that I’m a strong competitor, that I like winning, and that I never give up. Unfortunately, sometimes Lady Luck just isn’t on your side.
How does the degree you are working towards – a B.S. in Science, Technology & Society – mix with your passion for racing?
JL: STS is an interdisciplinary major that allows me to dabble in various areas while building a strong technical core. I’ve learned business skills that I’ll need to continue developing my brand – JLR – and to work with sponsors in the future; I’ve gotten experience narrowly focusing on a problem and solving it with computer science coding, which will help with problem solving in life in general; I’ve learned how to think innovatively and how to foster an environment that encourages others to break boundaries; I’ve learned how media has grown and how our digital age affects people, which is useful for marketing purposes and fan interactions. I’ve also been able to explore areas where the automotive industry could be more environmentally friendly, and have discovered what tools are needed to implement new policies. It has been a fantastic major that allows me to tap into many of the resources Stanford has to offer.
We have a regular series called Tech Tuesday, which speaks to our ongoing commitment to profiling more women in science and technology. Are there any women in STEM who are role models for you?
JL: I recently heard of Rachel Haot, the first Chief Digital Officer of NYC! She’s inspiring because not only is she tackling a tech venture for my beloved hometown of NYC, but she clearly has to be pretty ballsy to implement her ideas with essentially no point of reference. I admire the knowledge and confidence she has to go out and lead the digital/technological presence in NYC.