Dale Earnhardt Jr.: William Byron is 'kind of a total package'
Attending college while trying to establish your racing career isn’t necessarily a good match.
That, at least, is what Charlotte’s William Byron discovered last fall.
Byron, in the midst of a record-setting rookie season on the NASCAR Truck series, was also beginning his freshman year at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. His routine included attending classes early in the week, sometimes traveling to the Kyle Busch Motorsports shop in Mooresville before heading off to that weekend’s race.
It became a grind for an often sleep-deprived Byron.
“It’s hard to get to sleep in a dorm,” said Byron. “There was a lot of stress from that.”
Byron finished the season with a rookie-record seven victories, but came up short in his pursuit of the Truck championship.
But that lifestyle forced Byron into a decision: He’s not going to let disruptions on campus interfere this season as he makes the move up NASCAR’s ladder and into the Xfinity Series. His first race as a rookie in that series is in Saturday’s Powershares QQQ 300 at Daytona International Speedway.
Byron, 19, packed up and moved back to his family’s home in southeast Charlotte, just around the corner from his alma mater of Charlotte Country Day but far away from the distractions of campus life. He’s not giving up on his education: He is taking online classes at Liberty in his business communications major.
“It’s good, it’s not too bad,” Byron said of returning home. “It’s different. There are different responsibilities. But it’s much different than a dorm.”
Byron is able to be more focused this season, during which his quick rise through the sport will again be showcased. Byron only began racing when he was 14, developing his skills on iRacing (an online driving simulator) before getting on the track in 2014 for JR Motorsports in a late-model car.
(Byron is) able to get it done on the track and off the track. He’s kind of a total package ...
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Two years ago, he won NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East championship, then moved to the Truck Series in 2016, where he dominated for much of the season before engine problems knocked him out of the playoffs at Phoenix International Speedway.
Now, Byron finds himself in a Chevy for JR Motorsports (in partnership with Hendrick Motorsports).
“It’s never been easy,” Byron said. “I’ve been fortunate to have my results line up with effort. That’s not the case all the time. You don’t always see the fruits of your labor.”
Those results were enough for Byron to attract the attention of Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick. And Byron already has experience with JR Motorsports, which is partly owned by Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr.
William Byron, 19, has moved into the Xfinity Series – one level below Cup – after starting his racing career at age 14.
“We’re glad to have him back,” said Earnhardt. “We really didn’t see what kind of potential he had until he started running some of (Busch’s) stuff.”
Byron has always had a strong sense of the business and marketing side of racing. He and his father, Bill, convinced Liberty to be a primary sponsor before he had a NASCAR ride, and that relationship continues.
“The one thing about William is his marketability and personality,” Earnhardt said. “The guy is so impressive. He’s very humble, easy to talk to, good disposition. Those are good and important things that will allow him to be able to network and partner with great relationships that Rick has with folks within our industry or within our company. Like our current sponsors – they’re going to love William. That’s a huge thing these days.
“He’s able to get it done on the track and off the track. He’s kind of a total package, much like (young Hendrick driver) Chase (Elliott). Good, well-mannered kid.”
7 Truck series victories by Byron in 2016, a rookie record
Said Byron: “I grew up watching these guys sell their sponsors and being able to be a great spokesperson off track, too. I didn’t grow up when it was just about racing the car. Obviously you want to win, that cures all issues on and off the track. But you’ve got to work well with sponsors. That’s something I’ve picked up.”
Hendrick plucked Byron from Busch’s team (and, significantly, from rival Joe Gibbs Racing). He sees Byron as one of several bright young drivers with the potential for stardom at the sport’s highest level.
“I love to watch the young guys,” Hendrick said. “I don’t know whether it makes me feel young again ... I don’t know what it is. I think about Jeff Gordon when I watch Chase. I’ve never seen the level of talent that we have today. I think these guys adapt so much faster. I think it’s because of video games, simulators, all that. I mean, it doesn’t take them long to get into it.
“I look for William to battle for Rookie of the Year. He’s the whole package. I’m so excited about him.”