Experience can be a relative thing in racing.
William Byron, a winner in NASCAR’s Truck Series this season, often watches what John Hunter Nemechek – a somewhat older, more experienced driver – is doing when they’re racing each other.
“I see how well he manages a race,” said Byron. “I can sometimes judge myself on how he’s running.”
Byron is 18 and a rookie this season, driving for one of the Truck series’ most prominent teams. Nemechek, the owner of two career Truck victories, is also 18 and about four months older than Byron. He drives for a family-owned outfit that continues to struggle for financial backing.
But they’re both among NASCAR’s bright young prospects and will drive in Friday’s North Carolina Lottery 200 Truck race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
There are a lot of good young drivers out there. These are two of the best.
They also have a lot in common.
Both drivers grew up in the Charlotte area. Byron is scheduled to graduate from Charlotte Country Day next week. Nemechek, who grew up in Mooresville, is a Davidson Day grad.
But their talent also binds them. Both have won this season, which means they are virtual locks for the Truck series’ postseason championship Chase. Nemechek, who got his first career victory last season at Chicagoland Speedway, won at Atlanta. Byron grabbed his first career victory in April at Kansas.
“There are a lot of good young drivers out there,” said team-owner Joe Nemechek, John Hunter’s dad and a long-time NASCAR driver. “These are two of the best.”
A racing family
John Hunter, obviously, grew up in a racing family. Joe Nemechek has four Cup victories and an Xfinity Series title over a 23-year career. Uncle John – after whom John Hunter was named – was killed in a crash during a Truck race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 1997. Nemechek was three-weeks-old the first time his dad took him to a race.
That kind of exposure rubbed off.
Byron and Nemechek are both virtually assured of berths in the Chase.
“John Hunter learns really fast,” said crew chief Gere Kennon. “He’s hands-on in the shop. He knows what it’s supposed to feel like and what he wants. He’s good at communicating. Instead of just saying something ain’t right, he knows what it is and tells us.”
Friday will be Nemechek’s 36th career start. In addition to his two victories, he has nine other top-10 finishes.
“Coming to these tracks and second and third time, I’m starting to know what to expect, what the trends are,” Nemechek said.
The Nemecheks’ Mooresville-based NEMCO Motorsports is a small organization with a limited budget. Joe Nemechek said the team has about 12 employees and only hired an engineer this season.
So, while John Hunter has two career victories and will contend for a title this season, sponsorship for his team is still an issue.
1 Victory each for Byron and Nemechek this season.
“We definitely get calls every once in a while,” said John Hunter. “But it’s mellowed off a little bit. We’re still trying to find a primary sponsor for the rest of the year.”
A different story
Byron, who has been racing for only four years, has a story is different story from Nemechek.
Growing up in the Foxcroft neighborhood in southeast Charlotte, Byron isn’t from a racing background and first became interested in the sport by playing online. He convinced his father, Bill, to take him to a race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway when he was 7.
That experienced hooked William, who started out in a Legends car and immediately won a national championship in 2013. He has also driven late models for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports and was the North Carolina rookie of the year in NASCAR’s Whelen All-American Series.
Byron then rolled through NASCAR’s K&N Pro East series in 2015 as a rookie, winning four races and the championship.
That landed Byron a ride this season with Kyle Busch Motorsports, one of the Truck Series’ bigger teams.
“Just the limited experience that he does have in the Truck Series and the limited experience he has in racing in general, I’m very impressed with the way he’s been able to drive the vehicles he’s driven over the years,” Busch said after Byron won at Kansas.
‘Patient and smooth’
Byron, like Nemechek, has skills that belie his experience.
“He’s really patient and smooth,” said crew chief Rudy Fugle. “We thought he would need some more time, but he’s been up to speed right away. He didn’t have much of a learning curve.”
Byron might dispute that. He says he’s learning all the time.
“The Truck series is a whole different challenge for me,” he said. “It’s like high school. You go from ninth grade and move up, and it’s tougher, more challenging. But I am trying to make the learning curve as small as I can.”
Byron, who will march with his graduating class on May 27, plans on attending Liberty University (one of his car’s sponsors) in the fall. He said about 60 of his Country Day classmates are planning to come to Friday’s race.
“It will be great to run on my hometown track in front of my friends,” Byron said. “That’s something you dream about.”