Most people who turn their hobbies into a profession start early. Not so for Nikita Lastochkin ’13 (Management).
Just five years after Lastochkin enrolled in a racing school on a whim, he has become a professional race car driver in the Pro Mazda Championship, the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy — preparing race car drivers for the famous Indianapolis 500, held annually at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If Lastochkin wins the championship, he will move up to the next level — the Indy Lights racing series — and, if he keeps winning in the series, he will eventually compete in the Indy 500.
“Until I was 22, I didn’t know anything about racing,” he said. “I know it’s kind of random, but life is random sometimes.”
IndyCar is an open-wheel car racing series in the United States. For the 2018 season, Lastochkin is a member of the Cape Motorsports team, and he is racing in the Pro Mazda Championship series for the second straight year.
Lastochkin always had a passion for speed, he said. Growing up in Moscow, Russia, he drove snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.
“[Driving] always excited me, but I never did [go-]karting,” Lastochkin said. “Some parents would send their children to Europe to go to kart schools, but for me that [racing] world didn’t exist. I had no idea what it was.”
At age 16, Lastochkin traveled to the U.S. — alone — to attend a language school in Redondo Beach. He decided to stay, earned a business administration associate degree and transferred to California State University, Northridge in 2011.
“CSUN allowed me to see opportunities ahead and helped me to be better prepared for anything that comes in life,” he said. “My education at CSUN was an experience that really opened my mind.”
After graduation, Lastochkin decided to try out racing and signed up for the Skip Barber Racing and Driving School at Laguna Seca, near Monterey.
“I was so interested in and excited about racing, but everything was so new,” he said. “I tried to do as much research as I could. I didn’t have anybody to ask — no one in my family had any idea about it.”
He earned a racing license, participated in the racing school’s entry-level racing series and discovered a passion for race cars.
Lastochkin notched six wins in the 2013 Skip Barber Winter Racing Series and made it on the podium 14 times. “Two times, I came second to other kids who had been racing for a long time,” he said.
In 2014, he continued his career with the F1600 Championship Series, winning the Pacific Formula 1600 Championship and coming in fifth in the Pro Formula 1600 Championship. Lastochkin also achieved lap records — speed records for a specific kind of car on a specific track — at Buttonwillow Raceway in California, Pacific Raceways near Seattle and Watkins Glen International in New York.
Motivated by his success, Lastochkin has a new goal: racing in the Indy 500, the top IndyCar contest in the nation.
“I didn’t just decide to try it, I wanted to do it right,” he said. “I do the best I can and put 100 percent effort into it.”
Lastochkin invests a lot of hard work and time into his dream.
“Race car driving [means] never-ending improvement — you’re always trying to do better,” he said. Training time in race cars is limited, so Lastochkin prepares for races in a car simulator.
“You drive on real tracks and you can race against other people and train with them,” he said. “You just don’t get to experience the G-forces and the physical sensations.”
A proper technique would be essential for successful racing, Lastochkin said.
“You need to find the right balance between being aggressive and excited, but also focused and calm,” he said. “It’s a sport. You can ruin your day pretty easily if you make a mistake.”
His education at CSUN helped him become focused on his goals, Lastochkin said.
“My degree also helps me a lot with understanding the business aspect of racing, with negotiating with sponsors and with setting up contracts,” he said
Lastochkin advised current CSUN students to focus on their goals, too.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” he said. “There are so many opportunities out there — don’t settle for less. If you have a dream or passion, just go after it.”