When I found out I got my first major book deal, an opportunity I had spent years working towards, I was really excited... and a little scared. When I found out I was booked to speak to 5,000 people, an opportunity I had spent years working towards, I was really excited... and fairly scared.

When I found out I was going to run a manufacturing plant, a job I had spent almost 17 years working towards, I was really excited... and a lot scared.

No matter how long you work to earn an opportunity you've long dreamed of, when you actually do get the chance, it's natural to think, "Oh (crap.) Now I actually have to do it."

Doubts creep in. Imposter syndrome creeps in.

Will I be good enough? Will I be skilled enough? Will I embarrass myself in front of others? 

Worst of all, will I let myself down?

Of course those feelings soon go away. When you've put in the work, you are ready -- and if there is any particular skill you lack, the years you spent gaining broad expertise helped teach you how to learn, an ability every successful person possesses.

Still: Every incredibly successful person I know had those early moments of doubt. So how do you work through them?

Good question. So I asked a guy for whom opportunity knocks this weekend: Ross Chastain

Ross drives the #4 car for Johnny Davis Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. (I've written about Ross before, both here and here. And he's in my book.)

JDM is a relatively underfunded team that regularly punches above its weight. With just a handful of races to go Ross remains in playoff contention ahead of a number of drivers from better-funded teams, using a combination of equipment, strategy, and race craft to wring every ounce of performance out of the car. In the process he's caught the attention of pundits -- and ex-drivers -- like Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

And of the Chip Ganassi Racing XFINITY Series team, and DC Solar founder Jeff Carpoff and his wife, Paulette.

That's why Ross will drive the #42 car at Darlington in the XFINITY race this weekend, and then at Las Vegas and Richmond.

For Ross, it's the opportunity of a racing lifetime. 

You didn't get this opportunity because you're best friends with Jeff and Paulette.

No, but they're my best friends now. (Laughs.)

Actually the story is a little complicated. John Hunter Nemechek was offered the chance to drive those races in the 42 car if he could find sponsorship. That didn't happen, so Jeff and Paulette, who own DC Solar, said they wanted to pick up those races... but also pick their driver.

I had met them before just by being around and staying visible, but we didn't have a pre-existing connection. 

A company they work with to help them in the NASCAR world reached out and told me they were tossing around the idea of having me drive the car. I was honestly skeptical, especially at first.  I've had those kinds of conversations throughout my career. Often it's, "If we get a sponsor..."

Time passed and we kept talking about it, but I didn't think it would happen. Then they came back after the Watkins Glen race and said, "This is going to happen."  I thought, "Okay..."

And then it happened.

This year Kyle Larson has won three times in that car. It's often a top 5 or top 10 car. You won't be an underdog. Does that change how you'll race?

Rule number on in the #4 car is "Do not crash." They can't afford torn-up race cars.

That's also true with the #42, but they also want to win. That's what Jeff and Paulette told me. "We want to see our car in Victory Lane," they said. 

That's okay. I do too.

Still: Nothing changes in terms of mindset. My job is to get the most out of the car, to go right to the limit of what the car will allow. But you can't force it, because that's when you crash.

But you're right. I've driven in a variety of series, but I've never been in a car that fast relative to the competition.

That means the expectations are a lot different. 

True... but if you knew you would win the race, why would you hold the race? We've beaten the #42 with the #4 before.

But the investment is huge in comparative terms. The last two weeks have been crazy trying to get up to speed and plug myself in and immerse myself in their program as much as I can.

CGR has hundreds of employees. It's an amazing operation. There are so many pieces to their puzzle. It's different than anything I've ever dealt with. Never been around anything like that.

In our shop there's usually one person doing 4 jobs. At CGR it seems like there are 4 people doing one job. (Laughs.)

That raises an interesting point. People often say that in the #4 car you're out-driving the level of equipment, and while that's a compliment to you it's also a little bit of a slam on the team.

I do appreciate the compliment but it also bugs me. People may not know it but JDM has put so much more money and work into the car this year. That's making me look good. Granted we are still under-funded, and so is the #15 Cup team (Ross also drives in the Monster Energy Cup series for Premium Motorsports) so our budgets are lower than many... but we still spend a ton of money. The cash going out the door is just insane. 

I don't know the specific numbers, but I do know the #4 car is over budget for the year. Johnny is putting everything he has into our cars, and he and everyone at JDM deserve the credit for how well we've performed.  

You've been at JDM for a few years so you've built great working relationships with the team. But you're brand-new to the CGR organization. How have you bridged that gap?

I did have a little bit of a relationship with some of their folks. When Johnny needs to buy cars, whether because we've wrecked one or because he wants to upgrade the fleet, he buys those cars from Ganassi. 

So it's a little bit ironic, because some of the cars we run are their old #42 cars. And they give us a little help along the way in terms of advice or answering questions. At the track the director of their XFINITY program often comes over and asks about the car, asks if we need anything... and he's definitely helped get me up to speed in the CGR shop.

So I didn't know them... but I kinda did know them. And that has helped a lot.

Plus, they really want me to succeed. They want to win. 

I imagine there's a huge amount of information you need to absorb in a short period of time.

They've worked really hard to prepare me. They've been great. But I did have a lot to learn.

Like pit stops. We had pit stop practice and I kept stopping with the front of the car turned a little to the right so I had a better angle out of the pit stall. The pit crew coach finally said, "Hey, quit doing that. Just stop straight. You'll be pitting up front. You won't have a car in front of you."

I'm used to coming around a car to get into my pit stall and stopping behind another car. So this will be a whole different deal. (Laughs.)

The first time I spoke in a convention hall setting, I was intimidated just by the level of infrastructure and technology and technicians... it felt like the big leagues, and made me wonder if I was ready.

I'll be honest. When they told me I would be driving the #42 car, I asked them if I was ready. "Are you sure about this?" I asked.

They said, "Yes. This is going to work."

These are people that have been in the sport a lot longer than me. They've seen a bunch of people like me come through NASCAR. They're confident it will work.

And I trust them.

So it's still scary... but that's what makes it cool. The challenge to get plugged in has been beyond anything I've ever done and has challenged me in ways I've never even imagined.

So I'm nervous, but I'm also excited. This is what you work for. Obviously I want to prove something to myself, but more importantly I want the team to feel like all their hard work paid off.

And I want to make the people who decided to give me this opportunity -- especially Jeff and Paulette -- really glad they did. 

Published on: Aug 31, 2018
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