NASCAR’s Ross Chastain on his viral “video game move”


One of the year’s biggest viral sports moments was inspired by none other than the Nintendo GameCube.

At this past Sunday’s NASCAR race at Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway, driver Ross Chastain accelerated into the wall on the final corner — what he later called “a video game move” — to hurtle ahead of five other cars at the finish line, allowing him to just barely advance to this weekend’s championship race. Miraculously, he sustained no major injuries and caused no crashes.

“Every time I see the video, it seems a bit unreal,” Chastain said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

The 29-year-old driver said he learned the tactic from playing the video game “NASCAR 2005” on his Nintendo GameCube growing up. “I haven’t even thought about doing a move like that since back when I played the game,” he said. “It’s wild.”

“Wall riding” has long been a tactic in racing video games, where players — without fear of sustaining real-life damage — accelerate recklessly into turns, hugging the wall as they carry speed into the next straightaway. Hardcore sim racers typically complain that this maneuver is too unrealistic, but Chastain proved last weekend that it can be done in real life, though even he can’t believe he pulled it off.

“I have a large amount of respect for what we’re doing and the dangers involved,” he said. “I honestly still can’t believe I grabbed high gear and fully committed, knowing I’d hit the wall.”

You probably know someone who just got into Formula One. That’s a good problem for the F1 video games.

By most measures, Chastain isn’t a typical NASCAR driver. The Florida native is an eighth-generation watermelon farmer and, up until a few years ago, would spend his off weeks working the fields with his family. Unlike many of today’s NASCAR stars, he never had much experience with online sim racing, opting instead to play GameCube on the couch with his brother.

“We had satellite internet at my house for a long time,” he laughed. “I don’t even know what my buddies were playing, but I was never involved because of the slow internet.”

Chastain spoke with The Washington Post about last weekend’s viral moment, his interest (or lack thereof) in most video games and his surprising bid for a NASCAR championship.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Launcher: Your move last weekend put the Nintendo GameCube back on the map for a bit. Why was NASCAR 2005, on that console, such a hit in the Chastain household?

Ross Chastain: Yeah, you know, we just happened to have a GameCube. I didn’t have any other friends who also had one. But hey, that’s what we had, so that’s what we played. My brother actually did the [wall ride] move first and showed me how to do it.

What’s funny is that nowadays, in NASCAR, we have a large facility with Chevrolet that has simulators, where our engineers put our exact car setup into it. You can try everything you want in there with no penalties, but I’ve never attempted that [wall ride] since the GameCube!

Virtual races are drawing millions of viewers. Sim racers and streamers are seizing the moment.

Are you a fan of any other video games? With a GameCube growing up, maybe you liked Nintendo series like Legend of Zelda or Super Mario?

Chastain: Nah, not really. We mostly just did that NASCAR game casually.

We were usually out in the farm. When watermelons were in the ground, we weren’t home a lot. Then we had racecars when I was 12, so we were very active and just weren’t inside much. And where we lived, I didn’t have great internet, so I couldn’t be streaming stuff with my friends.

In online sim racing, wall riding is typically frowned upon as being too unrealistic. But you somehow pulled it off in real life — and emerged relatively unscathed. How’d you do it?

Chastain: For most cars, including the old NASCAR stock cars, it wouldn’t work because of the way the bodies and suspensions are. But this NASCAR next-gen car, which debuted this year — it’s the reason my move was successful. The way the car is, it works in perfect harmony to go through a corner wide open. I don’t think any other racecar could go through that corner the way our next-gen did.

A few NASCAR drivers were critical of your move, most notably last year’s champion, Kyle Larson, who called it “embarrassing.” You were well within the rules of NASCAR, but do you think the sport should consider new regulations to limit that move in the future?

Chastain: Man, that’s not my call. And look, NASCAR can do what they want. We will read the rules, interpret the rules and then go execute the best we can. Whether it’s my crew chief pushing the limit by the rule book, or me on the track pushing the limit — whatever rules they write, we’re going to try to beat everyone else whatever way we can.

So, no real opinion here. Just give me the rules and don’t change them on me halfway through the race!

After your move last weekend, a lot of new fans — especially video game fans — were sharing the clip and saying they’ll be rooting for you, even though they don’t usually watch NASCAR. What’s your message to these new fans hopping on board the ‘Chastain train’?

Chastain: Jump on, we’ve got plenty of room. But please hold on because it’s not always the most pleasant ride! I’ll make mistakes, but I’ll also be rewarded.

The outreach from last weekend has been amazing, but one thing that stuck with me was Travis Pastrana — a friend and former teammate I had — told me the only thing between stupidity and brilliance is success. In other words: My move last weekend would’ve seemed really stupid if it didn’t succeed, and I fully agree with that. That move didn’t have very good odds of succeeding, but for some reason it worked.

Do you plan on trying out any other video game moves in the final race this weekend? Maybe throw a Mario Kart banana peel at your championship rival, Chase Elliott?

Chastain: You know what, I just want to win the race and smash a watermelon.

Once the championship is over, do you think you might dust off the GameCube and play some more “NASCAR 2005”?

Chastain: My GameCube’s got to be back home somewhere, but there’s no telling where Dad’s put it, maybe off in a closet somewhere. We’re going to have to do some searching to find it.