Andre Castro: Jumping In the Deep End

Written by Team USA. Posted in Andre Castro, Driver Blogs, Feature

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

Published on October 18, 2023 with No Comments

Andre Castro.

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Hello everyone! This update is definitely overdue, and I’m happy to be writing another blog for the first time in a while.

Although I’ve only competed in three race events this season, it’s been a year full of learning, surprises and unforgettable memories. Two of my three races have been on street courses, while one was at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And the stories behind each event couldn’t be more different! At the beginning of March, I was hustling a nimble USF2000 machine around the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, while on July 1, I muscled a 700-horsepower beast of a NASCAR Xfinity Series car around the streets of downtown Chicago.

The journey from St. Pete to Chicago was by no means straightforward, nor was my transition from open-wheelers to stock car racing. I began the season with no ride, speaking to anyone I could about potentially hopping in their race car. Thankfully, around two weeks before the NTT INDYCAR SERIES event in St. Petersburg, Future Star Racing agreed to run me in what would be their USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires series debut. As if spearheading their first ever weekend in the USF Pro Championships wasn’t daunting enough, we would have to make do with only one day of testing, as I hadn’t gotten any track time over the winter and neither had the team itself.

We showed great promise in St. Pete (Gavin Baker).

Our test at Sebring was marred by mechanical issues, meaning we basically rode into St. Petersburg blind. Thanks to the expertise of veteran team members like Joey Vallone and Kelly Jones, as well as my prior experience at the track, my teammate and I qualified fifth and sixth in a stacked field. Our qualifying laps were separated by less than one thousandth of a second (0.0009)! The paddock was noticeably surprised by our strong start, and many came around our tent to share their congratulations.

Race 1 was promising, although a gear shifting issue caused me to have trouble slowing the car down in the closing stages and I finished ninth. I was set to roll off eighth in race 2 of the weekend, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to take the start due to the recurring shifting issue.

As if ending my weekend on that note wasn’t challenging enough, I’d soon find out that would be my last opportunity to race in the USF Pro Championships for 2023. At this point I had already started planning my next move – an unorthodox plan out of left field that would take months to pull off.

Upon hearing the NASCAR Xfinity Series would be joining the NASCAR Cup Series’ Chicago Street Race, I set about contacting my alma mater, the University of Chicago, with a crazy plan: I wanted to drive a UChicago-sponsored car in the Xfinity race. Enthusiasm soon spread around some of the faculty, and with the help of UChicago Medicine, the university’s chain of hospitals, we put together a contract that would have me driving the #34 University of Chicago Chevrolet for Jesse Iwuji Motorsports.

Visiting Comer Children’s Hospital and giving out the bingo prizes was amazing!

I knew that not only the whole city of Chicago, but the whole motorsports world would be watching to see how NASCAR’s latest ambitious idea would pan out. I wasn’t sure if my race would be a success or not, much less the event as a whole, but I knew I was on the cusp of something special. I felt even more excited for the race after I visited UChicago Medicine’s Comer Children’s Hospital and helped run a bingo show for the patients. I also distributed prizes to the winners, meeting several children and their families along the way. If there were ever a chance to effect positive change and have an impact on the community through my passion, this was it.

Walking into battle in Chicago with NFL Hall of Famer and Jesse Iwuji Motorsports co-owner, Emmitt Smith.

On race day, I had family, friends and my girlfriend cheering me on at the track, as well as 18 guests from UChicago and UC Medicine. For weeks, I had been hesitant telling them they would get to see me compete, as I knew that because of my team’s lack of owner’s points, I would have to qualify fast enough to make it into the main race. Practice and qualifying were the morning of the race, and my first laps on NASCAR’s brand new track were on wet tires, as it had sprinkled before the session started. I couldn’t think of a much more chaotic situation to debut in – and oh yeah, I had never driven an Xfinity Series car before this day. I had no testing, practice, or any other type of real-life preparation!

My lifelong dream of competing in a NASCAR national series race came true on the streets of my second home, Chicago.

Needing to qualify at least 33rd out of 43 entries to make it into the show, I clocked in 28th as the checkered flag flew. A massive feeling of relief overcame me as I realized we had made it in. No matter what happened in the race, I could be proud to say I had raced in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

In the race, I clawed my way up to 18th, passing cars from several established teams, before I was left without brakes and careened into the Turn One tire wall. Thankfully, I was physically okay, but mentally I was shaken. As the race was cut short 10 laps later due to lightning in the area, it stung how close I came to securing an amazing finish in my NASCAR debut.

I was briefly leading none other than fellow Team USA alum A.J. Allmendinger at the Indy road course!

I secured sponsorship for one more NASCAR race at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. I qualified 28th again, out-qualifying Conor Daly and starting on the same row as Sage Karam; I knew I had to save my equipment to have something to fight with at the end. I made it through the first two stages and was running inside the top 25 before my power steering failed; we lost a couple of laps in the pits fixing the issue, and three laps after I was sent back out, my track bar mount broke, spelling a permanent end to our day.

So, out of the four races I competed in this year, I failed to finish three of them. However, I’m proud of how I handled jumping in the deep end with no testing for any of them, as I’ve often had to do throughout my career. It would have been naive not to expect some sort of niggles or misfortunes, as the teams I raced with were not full-time teams and I jumped in without any practice.

Now my focus shifts toward finding sponsorship for next year; I hope that I will finally obtain a full-season opportunity with a winning team, but to do this I need the support of faithful sponsors who believe in my ability to succeed. If anyone reading this blog has any suggestions or would be interested in helping in any way, please connect with me! In the future, I will update my blog more frequently as my races occur. Thanks so much for reading this long blog, and I hope to write again soon with good news about 2024.

Share this Article

No Comments

Comments for Andre Castro: Jumping In the Deep End are now closed.