Andre Castro, from Chicago Streets to Indy Traditions and Keeping his NASCAR Career on Track
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Click for the full audio interview (21:26 mins)
NASCAR Xfinity driver of the #34 Chevrolet for Jesse Iwuji Motorsports joins Dane Neal on WGN Radio. Hear as Andre shares his journey and life in and around racing. From a Chicago Street Race debut with his own University of Chicago on board to opportunities with Jesse Iwuji and NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith. Listen as Andre shares his love for racing growing up and the unique path to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with family, friends, and support from organizations like Wings & Wheels, helping him showcase his speed and talent. See Andre next at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and for events, info, tickets, and more, check out IMS.org
This race weekend, make it Tequila at the Track with El Bandido Yankee, and for events, cocktails, recipes, and more with the Official Tequila of Raceday, go to ElBanditoYankee.com.
Originally posted on WGNRadio.com on Aug 10, 2023
ANDRE: When I was six, I really got into NASCAR. I remember watching the Daytona 500. That was the first race I watched in NASCAR, and since then, I have been hooked.
This is Andre Castro, driver of the number 34 car with Chicago Medicine for Chicago University of Chicago Chevrolet for Jesse Iwuji Motorsports on the road with Dane on WGN.
DANE: 720 WGN high atop the Chicago skyline studio, and when it comes to that American story, you know they say there’s nothing more American, more all-American, right, than NASCAR and then that aspirational story of America, the melting pot, the opportunities and all that, and Andre Castro, driver of the number 34 Chevrolet for Jesse Iwuji motorsports is living every bit of that, and then you add in a little dash maybe a big dash of Chicago street cred and background on the education side of you have sort of that whole circle example of awesomeness and he is on the line with us right now the one and only Andre Castro.
Andre, welcome to WGN.
ANDRE: Thank you. Thank you so much. Yes, the Chicago Street Circuit Race was pretty insane and still sinking in for me. It is my first XFINITY race with Emmitt Smith on-site, Jesse with Matt Casto, and everybody on the team was so supportive; also, all the University of Chicago people were on hand to support me on social media and everything. It was amazing.
DANE: Yeah, no pressure, right? I mean, all of this riding on you is going to be a great event no matter what, and Chicago was front and center, but with all of that great team, all that great support making that case for all the things on the opportunity side, the diversity side representing your university and then kind of just representing what can be done and what is possible and achievable on the simulator side eRacing style.
There was a lot of pressure, right, and we were in the elevator going up to do that interview with Emmet and Jesse after you had qualified for the race, so a little bit of that we’re gonna get into the whole story and how you got here, but I got to hear it. Was it just relief, was it excitement, or just okay, guys, because your qualifying was a very, you know, a small, but very, very significant part of the weekend?
ANDRE: Yeah, definitely. Mostly relief, you know, coming up to this race, I knew that I was a relative unknown, so most people might not have predicted I would qualify my way in, and especially, you know, I was reading Twitter, and many people were like this Iwiju Motorsports, are they done? Are they coming back? So, you know, to have the team come back and have me run my first race. I’m not sure if any people had it up on the radar, but it was a bit less pressure just because of that, you know, in the industry, there wasn’t much expected of me, but I believed in myself. I believed the car would be good, and we could lock ourselves in based on our specific performance. And so, you know, I was cautiously optimistic. I thought we could qualify in, but when I got a good enough lap, yeah, they brought me in, not risking the car or anything like that. It was a relief when the session was over, for sure. And then we got to thinking, okay, how can we move up to the race, and also, if we had done a couple more laps, maybe we might have been even higher on the grid.
But you know, I said going in that my main goal was to qualify for the race, so because we achieved that, you know, then we decided to save the car and everything. You know, it was a big relief, a big, big relief because I’ve been doing a lot of press that week and just, yeah, on social media and everything just so much like hyping up the race; I felt like it would be pretty devastating if I couldn’t actually compete in the race, you know, just telling everybody that I would be in this race for months. So yeah, it was it was a big relief to qualify.
DANE: Yeah, you always want to avoid… pretty devastating. Anything that’s described as pretty devastating, you want to go ahead and avoid it when it comes to the confidence, certainly the performance on the simulators where you can take one-to-one your performance against other drivers or stars of racing and of NASCAR and put your performance up one-to-one against them on the results side but also, you know, some of that great stuff that you’ve been doing on the open-wheel side and young growing up, and so you have a lot of confidence; you know that you belong there talent-wise, but again, right Andre, you know, anything can happen in racing and all that talent in the world, you know, if circumstances don’t go your way, you know, it could be pretty devastating. So you didn’t want that. That did not happen.
Let’s talk about the journey because, like so many people I know, thousands of people from Chicago experienced racing for the very first time, getting to see it up close and personal. And that’s always a pivotal moment. I think everybody can look back to the first time they got hooked on the racing bug. For me, it was Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I got there just because of the magnitude of the facility, sights, sounds, smells, and the guys. Growing up around football, baseball, hockey, and all your normal sports, I was like, geez, I didn’t know it could be like this. And I was changed for life, obviously in a career path doing a lot of this and more so for you, Andre Castro, a kid in New York, you know, growing up with a diverse background and all that stuff.
Talk about your journey and racing. How’d you get hooked?
ANDRE: Yeah, there’s a fairly good talk, for two or three hours about this, but yeah, my first racing memory all is at the track with a tunnel, which was Monico. I didn’t know the name at that point; maybe I was, like, three years old or something. But my parents are Colombian, so we followed Juan Pablo, and they have followed him since he came to IndyCar, then known as Cart, in 1999 and won the championship. That’s when I was born, so, obviously, I don’t remember that. But when he went to Formula One, that’s when I started growing up a bit. And yeah, I got into watching Formula One in the morning, watching Juan Pablo, and I had my own little jacket. I’d ride the tricycle with a Juan Pablo jacket. But when I was six, I actually really got into NASCAR, like, for whatever reason, I just gravitated. I remember watching the 2005 Daytona 500. That was the first race I watched in NASCAR, and since then, I was hooked.
I bought all the video games. I started playing on my Xbox and ended up getting really addicted to it. Back then, we used to have Champions Week in New York City. So, my dad would let me skip school and go down to Rockefeller Center, see all the drivers, you know, Dale Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, all these guys that were in the chase, whoever was in the chase, you know, come to the celebration. So that was that was amazing. Those guys are larger than life at that point for me, but yeah, then just growing up through carts, you know, mainly casual just in the area in New York City area like upstate New Jersey, and then getting into cars when I was 16. That’s when I realized that I could do something with it, you know. I won a Skip Barber scholarship to the race in Skip Barber in 2016 and got nominated for Team USA that year. Actually, I lost out to Kyle Kirkwood and Oliver Askew, but I ended up winning it five years later in 2021. So yeah, it’s been a long journey.
You know, European NASCAR in spring 2019 was a hugely different thing, but I managed to lead many laps and get a lot of podiums. I was, you know, one corner away from a victory but got tangled up in a wreck. But yeah, it’s been a unique journey, and it’s just been opening doors wherever they can be opened. I never had the funds or the backing to be choosy about what I wanted to do. So it’s just always been wherever the opportunities are, I go and I take them. You know, I’m a big IndyCar into, you know, big supercars fan, but yeah, just the big motorsport fan general and always been happy to drive anything with four wheels, but I’ve been watching the trajectory since it was the bush series, you know, since 2005. So, watching that says if there’s old and finally be in the Big Show was just unbelievable.
DANE: It’s going to be amazing. We’ll talk a little bit about that in a second. But one of the things that I think is so cool, because even you, you know, there’s a big step dollars wise time commitment, wise parents, wise from buying you a Juan Pablo Montoya jacket and a tricycle and then getting you into some of these cars where you’d have to get out there to prove not only that you could do it but that it was worth continuing on and so kudos to your parents right for a guy that had a bunch of talent but you never know. It takes years to realize it because the equipment is so different as you graduate through it all is very time-consuming and takes a lot of time nowadays, and this is what I think is the magical thing that someone like you can fully appreciate, is the simulator side of things where not only are you able to sort of jumpstart the familiarity with either different tracks or series or equipment, but also for a lot of those people that didn’t even have what you had as far as the access to it. That may be being introduced. To NASCAR through maybe seeing you and seeing what can be done. But they may have access to a simulator. Talk a little about that as a guy who grew up with the real cars doing the real thing, but not so long ago. Now, that path for, let’s say, the next Andre Castro could be more direct.
ANDRE: Yeah, that’s me. I started doing similar stuff on NASCAR racing just through the season, which was a great game. It is still a great game, kind of the precursor to iRacing, but I started when I was 11 or 12 with, you know, a Logitech wheel on my desk and ended up using the same wheel until 2021. Actually, for a long time, but about ten years. So, um, but that was how I got introduced to, you know, oval racing on the same. I had been playing the NASCAR Xbox game for five or six years. I got up to speed with the controller, but changing the wheel was definitely a game-changer. But the great thing about this game is that you can jump into different types of cars, and I think that’s helped me a lot in real life, being able to jump from car to car, just, you know, saying, hey, this is the thing with four wheels. It might break differently and my turn differently, might accelerate differently, but it’s at the end of the day, you just got to adapt to what you got to do, you know, manipulate the pedals and the steering to make the car do what you want to do. So that has been a huge tool for me, and just the competition aspect of it, like it’s the barrier to entry so low on iRacing. There are just a lot of really good guys who spend a lot of time on the service that is really fast and maybe might not have the resources to go real racing. So, racing against those guys always keeps me sharp because I win a lot, but I lose way more than I win on iRacing; it’s not easy. So you know, especially when you’re at the higher levels, competing with guys or in the World Championship, you learn a lot from those guys. You don’t even know you can be some of them, but it’s a couple of guys out there like you know Casey Crowe whenever it can seem a lot like you know, you have to have perfect grades to be him ever you see, it’s so hard to beat those guys that are at the top of their game. Yeah, mainly the competition aspect and the racing of the race craft. Focusing on everything that goes into it is really good to translate to real life. If you have experience in both them and the real world, you can use both to feed off each other. If you are only raised in real life and go to the sandwich, the only reason is to get a real-life it can be quite challenging because it’s a whole different animal. Luckily, with the cars and stuff I read growing up, I got used to the physics of a real car, an actual vehicle, and racing in real life. So I was able to kind of use both to help me and vice versa, you know, but in the future, you know, we’re already seeing guys started assembling buyer and project crews. Guys like that. You know it’s a great start, and then they can use it to springboard into real life. So hopefully, you know, it only becomes bigger; hopefully, eSports becomes bigger, and we can see more guys use it as a pathway to get into real-life racing and especially guys that might not have the funding, you know, obviously, yeah, maybe there may be more opportunities. For guys get funded from sim racing to realize and share what they can do
DANE: You know what you think about this? The cream is always gonna rise to the top; it’s trying to find that cream, and there are so many great drivers, great personalities, great things for racing in every aspect of it, ambassadors for the sport that have never been discovered yet and if you can get them in the same room. With a simulator, you might like that fire and start that as well as a guy who has been in on it since early on, right where he is; those 2003 NASCAR games were great. Maybe give it a little familiarity with the tracks, but not that whole experience. Talk a little bit about it. Let the listeners know we’re talking with one only. Andre Castro is the driver of the number 34 University of Chicago Chevrolet for Jesse Wuji motorsports; where now the simulator side has gotten all of that respect, every single one of those drivers needed simulators even to try to get in to compete or even just the mindset of the Chicago street race. You bring up William Byron, a guy you know; it was just a handful of years ago people are like, Oh my gosh, how similar. How good could he not only compete right? He’s at the top of the game when it comes to the NASCAR Cup series. You mentioned Juan Pablo Montoya. I’ve interviewed all of these people but want to talk to me, maybe three or four years ago, about a game show. He was doing sort of like a celebrity elimination game where people who had never raced. We’re doing the simulators and then competing in Formula Three, so it’s right there. So Andre talked about that. It’s just that hybrid, but simulators are erasing like the thing happening with Jesse Wuji Motorsports and the erasing Association. It’s super respected now. I mean, you can’t deny what it means.
ANDRE: Yeah, and you know, for the erasing stuff Association, they have, you know, great events every pretty much every season. So maybe three or four times a year, they have these high-level events. Let’s pay a lot of money to win. And this one is one kid who, you know, is a professional oval racer on the racing side. He won one of their events. I was like four or five grand prizes I’d be sent there when I saw that he was with us this weekend. He was in motorsports, you know, in the hospitality and everything. So it’s great to meet him. He’s been doing some oval racing in real life. Recently. I knew of you as a shifter-kart racer before, but yeah, it’s really wild. I also, actually, just got reminded I was racing with Parker Red Bluff out there from multiple labs, you know, followed him for the first portion of the first stage and got around him until until we unfortunately lost the brakes. But I did a pandemic NASCAR racing series with Parker that was broadcast through like a NASCAR route series. So, since I was in the Euro series, I got to compete. And he was so fast that I had to try so hard to beat it, and I don’t think I ever beat him. Still, I got in front of him a couple of times like he was just remarkably fast, so to see Parker, I knew he was terrific in the SIM, and then in the past couple of years, just like tracking him in, in real NASCAR. He’s gotten his name out there as a pretty good driver. He’s a reliable driver, a fast guy. So yeah, yeah. Operate against him in that series, and now he’s succeeding over the truck. So, you know, these guys, they’re their suits. They have a lot of talent. They’re super good. So, for me, it’s cool to see them get that validation in real life, and hopefully, I can be one of those guys, and it just takes time. You know, it takes experience as well, even if you’re a good swimmer. So you got to have that experience. Now, I’ve been around for a few years, Parker’s been doing it for a couple of years, and the stock cars, so for me, having my first race in the stock car in America, you know, hopefully, I can get a few more chances to develop and you know, reach my potential.
DANE: Andre, it’s like that ten-year overnight success, right? It’s like, everybody wants to know exactly what’s going on. So, how hard is it? One of the last things here is you’re in, you’ve been around, and you’ve bumped elbows with and gotten validation in a few different ways from people prominent in the sport. You know you belong, but to be there for in-person national television. Not only with Emmitt Smith and Jesse looking on but all of your contemporaries, a lot of friends, you know, the Chicago community to have it happen. What was that like? So when you know as you’re on the starting grid ready to get going in the race, this is happening, but this is the culmination of many things once you play those video games. Right to imagine yourself in that seat in that race. What was that? Like? Is it the kind of thing that a racecar driver is so good at blocking things out and focusing on what’s in front of you? Or did you give yourself a minute to take it sort of in?
ANDRE: Yeah, there were a couple of moments like that. I think during the actual day of the race, everything happened on one day. So it flew by, and I really was pretty laser-focused on the day of the race stuff. And that’s just kind of how it has to be right. I mean, and it’s funny because, you know, Emmet asked me before the race, like, are you nervous? I was like, no, and then he was like, Come on, man. He was talking to me like, Hey, man, like he’s in the Hall of Fame. Obviously. He’s like, it’s okay to be nervous. Like, I’ve been anxious. I’ve been there, and maybe I haven’t been nervous. But, you know, it wasn’t. It wasn’t like crippling. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be just because I was so focused on the task at hand. You know, at the end of the day, and a lot of people talked to me before in the weeks leading up to this, and they’re like, Hey, man, it’s just another race, as you know when you get out there on the track, it’s just nothing else matters, you know, your race or so you race right? So that’s kind of the mentality I took for it. And I’m glad I could shut all that out a little. But, you know, I think now and this next week or so, it’s definitely going to sink in. There were a couple of times when I was doing the track walk. Like, I met Dale Earnhardt Jr., and then I was just like looking at the skyline and realizing how much time I’ve spent in the city and how, like, insane and ridiculous that this would have been. If someone had said this would happen like six years ago, you would have laughed in their face. This would have been unrealistic, but I just took a moment to look at the skyline. I realized I’d been Dale Jr., Like I met Rick Allen. You know, those moments are pretty insane. And I think just to me as a kid, I’d be super thankful, but I have to take some time to think about it and let it sink in.
DANE: Let it sink in a little bit, but it is real. You mentioned the task at hand. And so now the task at hand changes to the future and last thing and of course, you know, Jesse, would you motorsports we’re hoping to see behind the wheel again, you know, race coming up this season, or we’ll figure out what it is that you want to do. So, I mean, I know you don’t have it all figured out, and you’re gonna let it sink in and definitely enjoy what happened, but what’s next?
ANDRE: Yeah, we’re gonna do at least one more race. But yeah, I’m excited to get another chance in the car. But you know, I want more; more opportunities to race is not enough for me or anyone. So yeah, my ultimate goal is to keep growing as a driver and racing. So, we’ll take it one step at a time. Can’t wait for that next race, but at the same time, you know, working on partners for next year, you know, and having them be so, you know, having the partners that have been so supportive, has been amazing, you know, University of Chicago, Chicago medicine, the Racing Association, everybody that helps it helps make this first race happen, you know, they open the gates like the floodgate, hopefully, and we’ll get more chances to run together. But yeah, all the support has been in saying, and we also got a lot of TV time. So that in itself was amazing. Hopefully, other partners can see the value we brought to the partners we had on board for this race. Obviously, it was a super unique event, but we raised a lot of different markets as well. So we’re hoping to attract, attract them in other people and get people on board with what we’re doing because I think, yeah, it’s fair to say just the way people have gravitated towards our projects, obviously, you know, supporting diversity, but also being fast out there. And, you know, showing these guys show up, you know, with the team not having raised all year with me having never raised. We’re running the top 20, so it’s going to start from the beginning, and yet, Thanks to all our partners for making that possible, but you know, in the future, we’re gonna grow, we’re going to meet new people, we’re going to work with new brands, and it’s just it’s going to be good, I hope Long story short, I want to be here to stay. I want to reach my full potential, which I think is to be a professional racecar driver. So I’m just gonna keep working at it, you know, got a lot of people on my side that’s not Casto and Emmitt Smith said the routine, and I believe in Me too. So we’re just going to grind in, and hopefully, it will be on the track—more than just one more time.
DANE: It’s the beginning of the continuation of a great story. It’s a great story that has a ton left to be written, you know that, and we’re excited too, and so you know, you have so much support here in Chicago, so many friends, of course, with all of the education side and Andre as you are Chicago’s Very Own right you’re still the nation’s right as I’m sure there’s tons of fans all over the country that watched you and know this story now because of all the things that you’ve done, and then we’re doing so it’s gonna be great as we let you go. People want to catch up on social media if they want to follow your adventures in all those ways. Where can they go?
ANDRE: Yeah, so my Instagram handle is Andre Castro Racing. That’s probably where people engage the most, but my website is Andrea Castro racing.com. My favorite thing to do characterizing my Twitter is a Castro racing. I think Andre’s couch racing was too long. But those are my main channels of communication. So yeah, if anybody wants to follow him, and I’ll be posting more content, there are so many good photos and storylines that I’ll keep updating. And yeah, I’ll keep everyone posted about how I’m doing and all my events and stuff. So yeah, it would be awesome if people want to follow, and hopefully, they’ll see some upcoming events that we will be doing and be along for the ride.
Andre Castro is a great Chicago story. A great American story. Great racing story right here. Be safe, Andre, so you can realize your potential behind the wheel and be excited for all the success. Thanks for jumping on the show today.
ANDRE: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me on.
This transcript has been edited for clarity. Click for the full radio interview on WGN Radio 720.
Featured image: Briana Mulvihill and Andre Castro on track (Dane Neal / WGN Radio). © 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. | All Rights Reserved.