Veteran motorsports writer Lewis Franck recently caught up with Team Valvoline driver, William Byron, to give readers a look inside his life as a fulltime NASCAR racer for the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy Camaro ZL1. William has accomplished quite a lot as a young driver and it turns out he has a bit of a different background than most professional motorsports athletes. Find out who his heroes were as a kid, his favorite meal and more.
William Byron is rising fast as a bullet.
Five years ago William was driving 140hp Legends cars – the 5/8 scale 1930s/1940s stock cars near his home. This year he’s been tapped to drive in NASCAR’s premier Cup Series for one of the most storied teams here: Hendrick Motorsports. I spoke with him about his meteoric rise in racing and learned about his background.
What was your first car?
I had a 2006 Chevy Silverado that was a stick shift. It was blue. I had to learn how to drive a stick shift to be able to drive a racecar. I wasn’t very good at shifting when I started. My dad made me get that truck. It was probably only $4,000. Basically learned how to shift from it.
What do you drive now?
A 2017 Chevy Silverado. It’s a little bit nicer.
What music do you drive to?
I listen to all kinds of music. Country I would say mostly. The Eli Young Band or any of those country bands.
Spotify or Pandora?
Spotify (he laughs).
No I don’t like listening to people for that long.
Do you work on cars?
I didn’t grow up working on cars. I grew up playing other sports learning to be an athlete that way. I appreciate what those guys do. I leave it up to them. Maybe I lift a pencil.
What was your favorite road trip in a car?
My family and I went to the Grand Canyon when I was 12 years old for Spring Break. We went from Arizona to the Grand Canyon to Vegas. It was not that pleasant in the car. I remember being a pain, but when I got to Vegas it was awesome. Definitely had a lot of bonding with the family.
Any special food to eat on the road?
No, but I like Mexican food a lot. I like sushi somewhat; I don’t like the crazy sushis. Tex-Mex or sushi.
Gatorade especially on the race weekends and water.
What was your longest road trip without stopping?
I did a trip to Ohio this January and I drove eight hours. It was actually pretty enjoyable. You get a chance to think about things – like your career - and spend time processing them.
Was there anything frustrating about driving eight hours?
Not really, just the other drivers not going fast enough.
Five years ago you were racing Legends cars now and you are in NASCAR Cup cars. Did you expect this to happen so quickly?
No. Definitely not. I grew up just wanting to be part of racing whether it was part of a crew or being part of marketing. When I started to drive I started to realize that I had ability for it. I never expected it to be all the way to the Cup Series. I think I took it one step at a time and tried to make gains from Legend cars and keep advancing and going up the ladder.
Did you have any heroes or mentors?
When I was a kid Jimmie Johnson was a big hero. Obviously now he’s my teammate that’s the reason I wanted to be here (at Hendrick Motorsports). Over the last four years, just my parents and family. Then the people I’ve driven for (like) Kyle Busch and Dale Jr. Those two guys helped me a lot.
If you weren’t racing what would you be doing?
I don’t know what else I would do except be a normal kid if I could be. My lifestyle is not very normal so it’s hard to think about that.
How does it feel when kids are asking for your autograph?
It’s cool because I was in that same position, not so very long ago. The only thing I remember for sure is that I never got the chance to meet a driver - when I was growing up - besides Jimmie. I think the access fans have these days is way more than when I was a race fan. Now we get people and fans in the garage. It’s definitely cool to see.
How do you juggle racing and college?
It’s definitely difficult, but I’ve always been in school. I graduated from high school and then I transitioned to online classes with (his sponsor) Liberty (where he is a sophomore). It’s more difficult to manage with the Cup schedule, but I’m enjoying it.