Stock car racing first caught William Byron’s attention at age 6 when he was channel surfing on his family’s TV, but it was iRacing on his computer that eventually led him to on-track competition.
Today, the 17-year-old Byron is driving for two Mooresville-based teams: HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East, where he’s vying for the series title and rookie honors, and JR Motorsports in the late model ranks.
The Charlotte native isn’t seeking a title in late model racing, but rather experience and the ability to adapt quickly to different tracks and competitors. This season, his 14 late-model races will take him to Hickory Motor Speedway, Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway and two Virginia tracks: South Boston and Motor Mile.
“I learn more from traveling to a lot of different places,” said the Charlotte Country Day junior, who won at Hickory last year. “If I start to race in the Truck Series or the Xfinity Series, I will have to go to a lot of different race tracks every week, so it’s important for me to learn that now.”
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Byron wasted little time this season making it known he’s a legitimate title contender in NASCAR’s K&N Series. Two events into the 14-race season, he has a victory and trails standings leader Austin Hill by three points.
His inaugural victory in the series came in dominating fashion earlier this month at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway. On the first lap of the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150, Byron out-maneuvered pole winner and Kannapolis resident Daniel Hemric to grab the lead. He proceeded to lead every circuit in the 152-lap race, finishing 1.026 seconds ahead of runner-up Gray Gaulding of Statesville.
The victory allowed Byron to add his name to a list of drivers who have captured their first series win at the historic track. That list includes NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Joey Logano and Austin Dillon, and Xfinity Series competitor Darrell Wallace Jr.
Byron described the victory as “exhilarating.” He also admitted he was surprised to get his first K&N victory in only his second start in the series.
“I thought maybe the fifth or sixth start,” Byron said. “I knew we had the speed. On my part, I had to … learn how to win one of these races.”
By getting an early season victory, Byron said some pressure has been removed.
“If I can win races, then the points take care of themselves,” Byron said. “My goal is just to make a positive impression this year.”
Even though Byron doesn’t come from a racing family, his father realized his son’s passion for the sport when, at age 8, Byron begged his father to take him to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for a race.
Byron then became a regular on iRacing, an online motorsports racing simulation website. It was a passion Byron’s friends didn’t understand since he had no family ties to the sport. However, he enjoyed explaining it to them.
When Byron wanted to trade iRacing for on-track competition, he and his father sought an affordable way to enter the sport in the summer of 2012. They settled on Legend cars, and in 2013 Byron claimed the Legend Car Young Lions Division national championship, winning 33 races.
Also in 2013, he won the Thursday Thunder Young Lions Championship at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Young Lions Division Legends All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In addition to Byron’s 33 victories in 69 races that year, he recorded 59 top-five and 64 top-10 finishes.
In 2014, Byron competed in the Legends Pro division and claimed the Charlotte Winter Heat Series championship. He also swept the six races that comprised the Pro Legends Winter Nationals at Auburndale, Fla., to claim that title.
Byron moved into the late model ranks last year. Signing with JR Motorsports in January 2014, he produced a season that included 15 top-five finishes in 30 starts, seven pole positions, a second-place finish in Hickory Motor Speedway’s late model standings and the North Carolina Rookie of the Year award in NASCAR’s Whelen All-American Series.
L.W. Miller, who oversees JR Motorsports’ late model program, said when the organization met with Byron in the fall of 2013 he presented himself as a student of the sport.
“That was a different but intriguing approach, so we decided to field a second car for him to run weekly at Hickory,” Miller said. “He showed his talent immediately with a second-place finish his first race out. When he decided to go K&N racing this season we built a late model schedule around his K&N effort, running him at different tracks that would hopefully help with his success.
“I’m sure he will continue to have success on his climb up the NASCAR ladder. Although probably a couple of years out, hopefully, JRM can be a part of that in the Xfinity Series.”
Even though Byron has his sights set on a racing career, he still plans to pursue a college degree in business management. In addition to his schoolwork at Charlotte Country Day, he takes online classes at Liberty University. He plans to attend the university after completing high school.
“Our plan is for me to get as many credits as I can before I leave high school so I can manage racing with my time on campus at Liberty,” Byron said. “They want to structure my school around racing just like they do with all of the other athletes that they have. I think that’s important that we stay on top of that and how I can structure my schedule when I’m on campus.”
Byron’s next K&N East race is April 18 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Charlotte to host Bandolero Nationals
For the first time, the Bandolero Nationals will be held under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway Aug. 6-7. The Nationals will be on the speedway’s quarter-mile track. Information regarding the event schedule and registration will be released throughout the season.
McLaughlin leads standings
Mooresville resident Max McLaughlin leads the Mini Outlaw Series standings at Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury. Trailing McLaughlin by 10 points in second is Tom Hubert. McLaughlin is the son of former NASCAR driver Mike McLaughlin.
Deb Williams is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Deb? Email her at email@example.com.