Source: William Byron – NASCAR.com
The first time I drove anything was at the Legend car driving school in Charlotte.
I signed up for it myself. My dad dropped me off and said, ‘Hey, this is your thing if you want to figure it out.’
I felt really out of place at first. I didn’t even know how to put on a fire suit or get the car started. There were people looking at me like, ‘Does he really need to be here?’
Because I started racing so late, I heard that a lot. ‘Does he really need to be here?’ People thought I hadn’t paid my dues as a driver. I didn’t grow up in a racing family, so I couldn’t say, ‘Oh, I’ve grown up doing this, this is all I know how to do.’
But once I got on the track that day at Charlotte, I knew how to drive the car and everyone was just kind of shocked by that. I ended up being the fastest person there that day, and I even passed the instructor.
Behind the wheel is where everything started to make sense.
Every year – kind of like a birthday present – my dad would ask me, ‘What’s one thing you really want to do?’
In 2006, it was a race. I wanted to go to Martinsville.
We got the tickets, went to a race and sat in the stands, taking in the whole experience. I had school the next day and my dad said, ‘OK, we’re going to leave with 30 laps to go.’
And I was like ‘No, we’ve got to stay for everything, the burnout, everything!’
From that moment, my dad knew that I loved racing and saw how much I wanted to be a part of it. He knew I was definitely going to be involved somehow, whether it was being a guy on the crew or something else.
For me, that first race was a chance to see what the sport was like; I had been watching on TV and loved it. But when I saw it in person, I realized why so many people were going to the races and why the drivers were true athletes and competitors.
It ignited something in me.
During my first race at Martinsville, I was just starting to root for Jimmie Johnson; being insanely talented and quickly rising to the top, he became my favorite driver.
As a Charlotte native, I even visited his house trick-or-treating one year. I was dressed up as Jeff Gordon and I think he thought that was funny. He signed my pillowcase and took us around his house; nobody believed me that I actually got him to sign it.
He still remembers that Halloween to this day and he always says, ‘Man, I didn’t expect you to be my teammate!’ To be honest, it’s pretty crazy for me, too, since I grew up watching him and aspiring to be like him.
I found some of my old No. 48 hats the other day and they brought back so many memories; I remember going to races and being one of the fans in the stands, watching that No. 48 fly around the track. I remember collecting his die casts.
Now, I get die cast cars of my own – and seeing a die cast with your name all over it is the coolest feeling ever. Especially for someone like me, who was just a normal kid a few years ago.
My path through the NASCAR ranks has been fast. Looking back on my start in racing just a few years ago, it was pretty unlikely that I would get to this point this quickly. I don’t think my 13-year-old self would have believed it.
As a kid, you just want to be able to do what you love, and I really am lucky that I can do something that I’m so passionate about as a career. I hope kids realize that if they combine their passion with a little bit of natural ability, they can make it work. They just have to figure out what ‘clicks’ and pursue that – and make sure that nobody gets in the way of their goals.
Everything that I did at the track was so difficult until I got in the car. And it was that natural thing that for me just worked and that’s when it clicked. Sometimes you’re just meant to do things and for me, racing was one of those things.
Now, I kind of have to reset my goals. I just started in the Cup Series and I want to make my mark here. It’s about, ‘Who do you want to be? Do you want to be somebody who wins a lot of races or do you want to be somebody who’s just in the Cup Series?’
I want to be the winner.