Alumna Interview: Julia Landauer, Class of 2010
How did you get interested in racecar driving?
Julia: When I was 10 my parents got my siblings and I – I have a younger sister and a younger brother— they got us into go-karts. And originally, it was just to be able to have the family together on weekends doing a sport. They wanted both their girls and boys to compete in sports. But having us all together was really great, too. And then they also chose racing as something to try out because they wanted their girls to compete head-to-head with boys. I think the reasoning being that we’re going to have to interact and learn how to work with males in the real world so why not start when you’re young and in incredibly competitive environments. There’s a racetrack about 2 1/2 hours outside New York City and we just started going there every weekend and I loved it, and wanted to keep doing it.
So you were racing the whole time you were at Stuyvesant?
Julia: Yes. I raced every season since I was 10 years old. I’m now 23. When I was at Stuy, I raced. I was finishing up the Skip Barber racing series when I was 14, entering my freshman year. And then, after freshman year, I raced in the Formula BMW series, the support race for Formula 1, at both Indianapolis and Montréal. So finals during my freshman year was incredibly intense. I traveled back and forth from racing to New York to take my finals and back to racing. After my sophomore year, I was racing on oval racetracks in something called Ford Focus Midgets. After that, I started racing stock cars, NASCAR-sanctioned racing. Now at the end of high school, it got less frequent, especially with applying to college and everything, but I still got races in every season.
How did you manage to do all that while being at Stuyvesant? I mean, the academic load is so heavy. It must’ve been quite a challenge.
Julia: It was very challenging to balance both. At the same time, I’ve always been a very big go-getter, very disciplined and very focused. And so I was able to really do a good job of managing my time. And I’m not a student who took 10 AP courses. But I guess I took a rigorous course load and it was really great because Stuyvesant was very willing to accommodate my racing schedule. I missed over 100 days of high school throughout the four years. But just worked really hard with my teachers to make sure I was still learning the material well, and able to complete assignments more or less on time. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and I really, really wanted to do both. So I made it work.
What are your favorite memories from Stuyvesant? Things or people? Teachers?
Julia: I went to Stuyvesant without knowing anybody. I’d come from a private school and I guess not many people switch from private schools to public for high school. But I did. And I really wanted to. Early in my freshman year, I tried out for Fiddler on the Roof which was our student production and was able to make really great friends there. I’m still friends with one of my classmates who was in the chorus with me. That was a really great experience. Along those lines, I was on the swing crew for senior year SING! That was my first integration within extracurricular activity, which is one thing that suffered because of my racing. I really didn’t participate a whole lot in organized extracurricular activities. But a lot of the smaller stuff was really great. It was so wonderful to be able, after school, to just go to the park right on the Hudson River and hang out with a lot of classmates, both in my grade and otherwise. In terms of teachers, there were so many great ones and, you know, I really enjoyed all of my English teachers, especially Mr. Henderson my senior year. I got to work with Mr. Stoenescu for calculus and he was just one of the most patient teachers I’ve ever had and really helped me understand really well. I loved the art class I took at Stuyvesant my senior year. I always enjoyed painting. It was really nice to add that into my otherwise very science- and math-heavy curriculum.
How did your classmates seem to feel about having a classmate who was out on the racing circuit?
Julia: There were kind of two reactions to my racing from my classmates. One was, Wow that is so cool! How you do it? What’s it like? It’s so not New York! And then I think the other reaction was kind of like just not knowing what to do with it, because racing is still pretty foreign, especially to a lot of New Yorkers. So there was really a lot of confusion almost. In my grade we had a couple of students who were doing really, really big and out-there stuff. There’s me with my racing, and Robert Hess became a grandmaster at chess at age 17. He was another really heavy hitter in our grade. And then Nzingha Prescod ended up going to the Olympics for fencing. So we had us three who were really big, doing things outside of school. It was just really cool to be in an environment where that ambition was really supported.
Can you say more about how you think you years at Stuyvesant helped mold you into the person you are today?
Julia: The Stuyvesant years were crucial for helping me become who I am now and part of that was that discipline that I needed. I had to be very, very particular with my time. And I still saw friends frequently, but had to also dedicate a lot of time to racing, working out and then schoolwork. Finding that balance. It also taught me to really think about what was important to me personally. In life, you have so many people pulling at you for your attention. To really be in tune with your core was important. I think I was able to practice that a lot while at school. But also collaboration. Stuyvesant was really my first introduction to such a diverse group of people. And recognizing that there are so many people who are different from me but still had the same life goals or values was really cool, and to start exploring different types of background and different types of people was always very exciting.
And I assume that’s where your love of science and technology really took off. And I know that that’s very important to you in your work today outside of racing.
Julia: Obviously Stuyvesant High School for math and science really emphasized the now STEM fields. And I’ll be honest. Stuyvesant was incredibly challenging and it was very difficult going through the more tech-y classes. But for example, my calculus teacher was really great, and really helped me understand fundamentals, which I was able to build on throughout college. And Stuyvesant was where I got my first computer science class. And while I didn’t have a shop class, I appreciated my friends who did and got to see their mechanical building basically. I think what was really great about being at Stuy was that it was so accepted that anyone could excel in math and sciences and there were plenty of women and girls who were also pushing it. And some of my closest friends were exceptionally good at the math and sciences. Being in that type of environment that fosters excellence in those fields regardless of gender was really, really cool.
So you must have done okay at Stuyvesant despite the challenges of that tech-heavy curriculum because you went to Stanford. Tell me about that. I assume it was even more challenging to try to balance a racing career during college than it was during high school.
You know I’m actually not sure about that. Obviously, Stanford is very challenging as well. But as a college student, I had much more time. Because at Stuy, I left my house at 7 AM and I didn’t get back till 4, and then had to do my work, I got very disciplined and really good at time management. Stanford definitely posed different challenges. But in terms of balancing work and life, I felt that Stuy really trained me very well to be able to move further up the next step. But as I said, Stuy was just such a great training ground, and I think really gave me great stepping blocks for moving forward.
So let’s talk about your racing now. You race for NASCAR. But there are different circuits at NASCAR. Can you explain a little bit about how it works and where you race?
Julia: Sure. NASCAR is the sanctioning body that gives licenses to different drivers. And they have the top level, the cup level, which is where you see Jeff Gordon, and Jimmy Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. And then there are several levels below that. There are two other professional levels that are live-televised. And then you get into more amateur racing. Still very competitive, and still very sponsor-oriented, but not professionally ranked. I’m basically in that development series area, kind of the minor leagues of racing. So I’m racing in an 8-race series over the summer. And it’s just that one racetrack. Were currently leading the points, and we have one more race, so lots of nerves going into this last race.
That’s very exciting. Has this series ever been won by a woman before?
Julia: This series, on the national level, has never been won by a woman before. There is a woman who raced this type of car at a different racetrack who won before. Which is excellent. It’s so cool to see women excelling in racing and winning. But it’s still very rare. So this would be quite a breakthrough to be able to do that and already, it’s been an amazing breakthrough year to be able to jump back into a NASCAR-sanctioned series. You know I won the first two races, and to really up my game so much that we were always a force to be reckoned with has been very cool. [Note: Julia won that series! Click here for details.]
Can you explain what the challenges are for a racecar driver and why one does better than another?
Julia: Racing is a really interesting sport, because it’s part ability-based and part results, and also part finance. It’s a very business- and money-oriented sport. Unfortunately, talent alone won’t necessarily allow you to make it to the top. It’s exceptionally expensive to make it. You need to have corporate sponsors or incredibly deep pockets. And so that is really the biggest limiting factor. But in terms of driving, racing is a combination of physical ability and natural reaction times. You know we make split-second decisions that can be totally triumphant or really devastatingly bad. And so being able to have your brain react at that kind of pace is not something that everyone can do. And it’s also very physically challenging, racing against the G forces for hours on end, when it’s really hot in the car and in you’re basically muscling around 3,400 pounds. And it’s part strategy. How can you maintain your equipment while not using your tires so hard that they don’t last to the end of the race? A lot of management – there’s a lot of little pieces that people don’t think about. And it’s a matter of putting all those pieces together and also having a little bit of luck. You can have mechanical failures that mean you don’t do well, or have someone else spin in front of you and just have nowhere to go. You can’t slow down quick enough in that case. I don’t want to say it’s a gamble, because there’s a lot of active work and skill in it, but there’s also a lot of luck needed.
Does your family— I assume they support you wholeheartedly – how do they balance out wanting you to do what you want to do with their own fear of you getting into an accident?
Julia: I think that they don’t really fear the accident part. And part of that is that they both have some driving experience. And they know what it’s like to be on a racetrack. They never raced with anywhere near the intensity that I have. And the cars are so incredibly safe. And there’s definitely the freak accident that either injures or takes lives, but in terms of injuries per race, it’s far, far lower than say soccer or football or some other of the more traditional contact sports. The car is built to absorb the energy of the crash. The crashes look very scary, but that means that car is doing its job, and preventing the driver from getting hurt too bad really. So you see people barrel roll at 180 miles an hour, but they’re able to walk away from it. The problem is it is expensive when you crash. That’s probably the hardest part for any team owner or sponsor to swallow.
So how do you get your sponsors?
Julia: That’s a great question and if I knew an exact answer, everyone would be at the top. But really, sponsorship now is just pretty unique for every situation. Part of it is being able to provide value for the company obviously – trying to show how, as a brand, I align with their values and mission, and can really resonate with their customers, or their audience or fan base. And it’s a matter of showing the return on investment in the racing world. It’s getting harder and harder to secure sponsorship, especially with digital media taking off and companies spending less on marketing. And so it’s really a matter of being creative and being a good businesswoman. It’s a whole other side of racing that can either help make or break your career.
Does it help at all that you’re a female racer?
Julia: I think it definitely helps that I’m a female racer. If nothing else, people are more willing to take that initial phone call, or take that initial meeting. But at the end of the day, it’s still how are you going to get good reach? How is the company going to be able to expand or grow or reach their business objectives? There are just so many factors that go into it. Just like anything, I practice. I reach out to a lot of companies. I built a team that reaches out with me. And we’re starting to make some really good progress. We secured some sponsors for this year and now were moving to 2016 to try to secure a little bit more funding, to be able to make the step up into the next NASCAR series.
What does the next year look like for you in terms of where you’ll be racing?
Julia: Right now details are up in the air. Again, it comes down to how much funding we can secure. But ideally I would like to move up to the NASCAR K&N series. That’s the first televised series in NASCAR. It’s tape delayed. They’re longer races, they’re faster cars, and there’s much more exposure on more national NASCAR platforms. That’s what we’re looking to get, along with some other more amateur racing just to keep the skills sharp in the off weekends. That would be ideal.
What kind of money are we talking about? How much does it cost to build the kind of car that you’re racing?
Julia: Many drivers don’t actually build their own cars. Many teams will basically rent out the car to a driver for a season. But we’re talking many hundreds of thousands of dollars to go racing for the next levels up. And it only gets more expensive from there. If you think about the car parts, the travel, the labor, gas, tires, using the racetrack, entry fees, paying the crew– there’s so much that goes into it. It’s just a very expensive sport.
What kind of speeds are we talking about? How fast you going when you’re racing?
Julia: Right now I’m racing on a .4 mile oval. And we really get up to right about 90 miles an hour. Which feels very fast and as you climb, that obviously escalates very quickly. And if I’m racing in the series I want to next year, hopefully were getting up to 160 miles an hour. It’s really exciting and probably the sheer speed is not what’s most adrenaline-pumping. But when you have to slow down to go into a corner and you feel the G forces and you really get a sense of how fast you were going, it’s so exhilarating.
Last question. If Stuy alums are interested in learning more about your career or potentially thinking about sponsorship, what can they do?
Julia: Anyone is free to reach out to me via my website. I am still responsible for answering all emails, and everything. I love connecting with people, especially from Stuy. It’s been really cool, and actually, we just announced that a Stuy alum who has a software company based out of Florida [Henry Sal Jr. ’77] is sponsoring my last race. Computing System Innovations is coming on board with their Intellidact software. So that’s really exciting. [email protected] is a great way to reach me and I’m also on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all the social media.