Many young drivers competing at the Jack in the Box Summer Shootout Series dream of racing alongside their favorite NASCAR drivers one day, but not so many of them get their start from playing video games. William Byron, a native of Charlotte, N.C., learned the basics of driving by using iRacing, an online motorsports racing simulation. But it was after he went to his first Summer Shootout Series race that he got the bug to get behind the wheel of a real car.
“I started using iRacing about two years ago, then later on I went to my Dad and we came to a Summer Shootout race and I told him I wanted to try one of those Legend Cars out,” said the 16-year-old. “It all went from there. It all started out here at the track on a Tuesday night, so it’s pretty cool that I’m back out here where I first started.”
Growing up, Byron started following NASCAR and eventually asked his dad to take him to his first race at Martinsville Speedway in 2006. It was an instant connection and he knew from then on that racing would become much more than a hobby for him. Six years later, he would climb behind the wheel of a Legend Car.
“I had never raced anything full speed before and I didn’t really know what it was going to feel like, so it was weird getting into a car for the first time,” he said. “I had no idea that the iRacing would translate so much for me.”
Byron began competing full-time in the Legend Car Young Lions division in 2013 and competed in 69 Legend Car races across the United States, posting 33 wins, 59 top-fives and 64 top-10 finishes. In addition, he had great success at his hometown track, Charlotte Motor Speedway, when he won the 2013 Young Lions Division Legends All-Star race. This year, he has one win in three races in the Legend Car Pro division at the Jack in the Box Summer Shootout Series.
“When we first got started, it was definitely surprising to me how well we did and when I got in a car for the first time how much the iRacing crossed over,” said Byron. “But I kind of knew once we got farther into the season that we would succeed. I didn’t know we would get so many wins so quickly.”
Byron transitioned to the Legend Car Pro division in January of this year and immediately won the Charlotte Winter Heat Series championship. A big break came shortly after for Byron when it was announced he would sign with JR Motorsports, the team owned by NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., to compete regionally in its late model program. Liberty University later signed on to be the primary sponsor of his No. 9 late model for JRM. Even though he now races for NASCAR’s most popular driver, the Jack in the Box Summer Shootout Series is still a priority for Byron.
“The Legend Cars are the hardest cars to drive, even my late model is a little bit easier to drive,” he said. “I come out here because it keeps me on the edge of my seat and really challenges me.”
Byron says that while the adjustment of moving to late models has been tough, driving a Legend Car at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Jack in the Box Summer Shootout Series against the best grassroots drivers in the country has really helped him prepare.
“There’s much more to driving late models and the races are longer so it’s definitely different,” said Byron. “Even though we haven’t had a win yet we’ll definitely get there. We improve every week and it’s a lot being thrown at you at one time, but the Legend Car definitely helped me prepare for it. I really enjoy it and I get to hang out with Dale Jr. a little bit so that’s pretty cool.”
JR Motorsports has a developmental program that helps train young drivers and ultimately prepares them to move on to more advanced racing series, including the possibility of their NASCAR Nationwide Series team.
Even though he has so much on his plate right now, Byron keeps himself driven with the dream of one day driving in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
“It’s absolutely a dream of mine to be a NASCAR driver one day,” he said. “I’m kind of amazed that I’m this close to it now because it seemed so distant two years ago. It’s so close to home now that I can feel it.”
Fans can watch Byron and other aspiring professional auto racers when the 21st annual Jack in the Box Summer Shootout Series continues Tuesday, June 24, with Media Mayhem bus racing. In addition to the regular racing divisions, fans can see local TV and radio personalities go head-to-head in 13-ton school buses for a spectacular school bus slobberknocker.
Tickets for the Summer Shootout Series are $7 for adults and are available in advance at the speedway ticket office or at Gates 4 and 5 the night of the event. Kids 13 and under get in free. Spectator gates open at 5 p.m. with preliminary action starting at 5:10 p.m. Opening ceremonies are at 6:45 p.m. and feature races are scheduled to conclude by approximately 10 p.m.
New this year, fans can now watch recaps on television—nationally on MAVTV and locally on WCCB Charlotte. A 30-minute recap show will air in the Charlotte area on CW-affiliate WCCB, channel 11 on Time Warner Cable, at 1 p.m. on the Saturday following the Tuesday-night event. Nationally, fans can see a 30-minute recap show on popular cable TV network MAVTV.
For tickets to the Summer Shootout Series, call the Charlotte Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267) or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.
For live updates during the Summer Shootout Series, follow hashtag #SummerShootout on Twitter. To join in on the conversation simply include #SummerShootout in your tweet.
Connect with Charlotte Motor Speedway on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CLTMotorSpdwy or become a Facebook fan at www.facebook.com/charlottemotorspeedway.