On and off the track, NASCAR driver Julia Landauer has no intention of slowing down. In 2016, Landauer raced her first full season NASCAR K&N Pro Series West to finish fourth overall—the highest finish for a female driver in the history of the series. Most recently, Landauer has teamed up with TechForce Foundation’s FutureTech Success Initiative to serve as a FutureTech Success Ambassador where she will work to empower young people pursuing careers in transportation technology. From honing her racing chops winning on the go-kart circuit at the age of 10 to being the only woman invited to be a part of the 2016 NASCAR Next program, Landauer continues to prove that social limitations placed on women are like racing records: made to be broken.
Carrie Hammer: What are some of the most important things you’ve learned so far building your career and brand in this male-dominated sport?
Julia Landauer: One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is about authenticity and really owning who you are. As an educated, female race car driver from New York City, I got a lot of advice when I started out about downplaying some of the things that were considered different about me. I found that I worked hard to avoid making people angry or upset. To be honest, I essentially presented myself to the world as kind of boring. I actually found this out the really hard, painful way when I was on the TV show, Survivor. I had my method on how I moved forward on the show, but ended up getting the boring edit with my exit. There was a whole monologue about how vanilla I was, that it was a disservice to the flavor of vanilla to call me vanilla. It was a horrible 20 seconds to watch on national TV in front of eight or nine million people.
It was painful, but I did a lot of introspection and research. I spent a lot of time asking questions: What do I identify with? What are my qualities that friends love about me? How do I translate these things to the public? It took a long time and I’m still refining it, but I’m learning to speak out in ways that are authentic for me. Now I’m taking more of a stand on social issues that are important to me—commenting on the Harvey Weinstein situation, commenting on the violence that we see. I’m becoming more comfortable with the fact that I might anger some people, but also that what I’m saying might also resonate with just as many people.
Another thing I’m learning is how to find the balance between owning my personal level of femininity while striving for respect. I feel like women often have to go above and beyond to prove themselves to the people they are working with. It’s a really good life-lesson, but it is an added amount of energy and time to try and get to that base level of respect that a lot of men seem to readily get.
Hammer: What is your definition of success?
Landauer: Speaking professionally, my idea of success is to be able to make my living racing cars, to win at every level and to have a platform to advocate for all kinds of things such as women’s empowerment to STEM education and advocacy.
On a personal level, success, to me, comes down to knowing that you’ve done everything in your power, worked as hard as you could to achieve a goal, while taking something from that experience as well as inspiring others. That can be applied to anything. To be able to look back at your life without regret for the way you went about achieving your goals is success.
Hammer: What is important about being a role model to you?
Landauer: Growing up, I was very lucky that my parents were not only incredibly supportive, but also actively engaged in helping me and my siblings discover our dreams and accomplish them. We had a great support system. We all grew up with strong men and women around us who made it seem like anything was possible. My mom was a lawyer so I grew up thinking that all women were lawyers.
I think about what Gina Davis once said– if she could see it, she knew she could be it. I think that’s really true, especially regarding our role models. If we can’t envision ourselves doing something, it’s going to be harder to go after it and garner support from others. I think it’s important for me to project parts of myself and my journey—what has worked and not worked—to help others. I’m very raw and honest in my public speaking events. I don’t mince words. I give audiences a bit of a kick in the pants to say, “Hey, we faced this, but we can overcome it.” If someone who didn’t have the kind of support system that I had growing up can take something I said on stage and grow from it, that’s incredibly powerful.
Hammer: Given the high-stakes and pressures of your sport and industry, what are some things you do to stay grounded and balanced?
Landauer: Having a core support group is very important to me. Having people that I can bounce ideas off of, but also who will give me honest feedback and who aren’t afraid to tell me things I need to hear really helps. When it comes to pressure “in the moment” such as feeling nervous before a race or talk or phone call, I do some physical exertion in some capacity to get my heart rate up and expel some energy.
And, of course, being sure to take time off. The constant productivity is something I don’t really appreciate about our culture. That’s not how our brains or bodies work. It’s so important to respect our brains and bodies to give them the vacation that they need.
Hammer: You’re doing a lot of interesting work with STEM. What makes you excited and optimistic about this work? What are we getting right in these areas, especially as that relates to women interested in these fields?
Landauer: My sport is a technology-centered sport and many aspects of STEM are very relevant to what I love to do. I’ve found that it helps to show the excitement of what you can do with a degree or knowledge in STEM–how it expands beyond what many people think–to boys, but especially to girls girls to get them hooked early on. Those adolescent years are so crucial for developing confidence and for finding what’s exciting and valuable. The more we paint an optimistic picture of what a STEM career could look like, the more likely we’ll have people retaining their early interest.
One of the things I’ve been personally excited about in my STEM work is looking at how to make the automobile industry more environmentally friendly. That’s something I’d love to continue working on in my post-driving career. I can see the overlap between modern technology coming out of Silicon Valley and green energy and even racing.
Hammer: What do you love about the racing and automotive technology communities that you’re involved in?
Landauer: I really love the intensity. I really love the emotionally-driven aspect of racing. I love how all of us are in the same boat in having to put together what amounts to an incredibly complex 3D puzzle: the car has to be perfect, the driver has to be perfect, the crew has to be perfect, the team has to be perfect and all of the equipment has to be perfect. All of it has to fit together over the course of a 2 to 4-hour race. There is incredible sophistication at work from everyone; this is where I think NASCAR gets a bad rap in their image of just a bunch of guys going around in a circle. There is no one unintelligent driving or working on that car.
In my opinion, it’s the ultimate collaborative effort. It’s just like building a company. You’re part of this great thing that only so many people can do. Not everyone can be a race car driver just like not everyone can be a great basketball player. Knowing that there are only 40 top level professional NASCAR drivers in the world makes you say, ‘wow! Alright, then.’ That’s what I’m going to strive to be. It’s exciting. It’s humbling.