Climbing the Ladder is a new series that will introduce young, up-and-coming drivers who are attempting to climb the ladder to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This series of articles will focus on drivers in Late Models, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, as well as the ARCA Racing Series Presented by Menards.
This week, we talked with Kyle Busch Motorsports’ William Byron, driver of the No.9 Liberty University Toyota Tundra. Byron is not only campaigning the full season in NASCAR’s Truck Series, but he is also competing for the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year award.
Seth Eggert: When did you first become interested in motorsports?
William Byron: When I was six years old, I went to my first NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway. And after that I was just interested in it. And I kind of got my start pretty late; I was 14 when I started in Legend cars. Then it progressed to Late Models with JR Motorsports, and then K&N Series last year, and now trucks, it’s been a fast start. I’ve always been interested as a race fan, I’ve watched a lot of racing, and it was kind of my dream.
SE: Where and when was your first race? What was the result?
WB: My first race was at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the ¼ Mile, and that was my first start. I think I finished fourth.
SE: Who would you consider your mentor?
WB: My mentor is probably Kyle (Busch), just because he is my team owner. He gives us a lot of advice; he’s just really helpful. In terms of just the Truck Series because he knows so much about the Trucks, he is really able to just give us some really good advice, kind of guide through some situations and stuff like that.
SE: Is it intimidating to have the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion as your team owner?
WB: It’s not really, he gives great advice and he just loves the sport and the Truck Series so any advice I can get from him each week, I just try to embrace it as much as I can. That’s really the most important thing is to embrace it and to understand what he is saying and try to apply it to what I am doing.
SE: What or who inspires or motivates you?
WB: I think what inspires me the most is being competitive and winning races. That’s why I think the competition in each series I compete in is the most inspiring thing. You just never know what you can do. It’s just a thrill to me to win, and that’s really what keeps me going in racing.
SE: Speaking of winning, at what track do you want to win at the most?
WB: The track I would most want to win at is this weekend, Atlanta. If I could win at Atlanta that was a track I grew up racing. Then after that, I would say Charlotte Motor Speedway, because I grew up there. Since that’s my home track, that would be the biggest win to me.
SE: You just moved from JR Motorsports and HScott Motorsports and Chrevolet to Kyle Busch Motorsports and Toyota, describe the transition.
WB: It’s not too bad of a transition. I think Toyota has so much support; they are so good to us, not only in the Truck Series. We have really fast Toyota Tundras, it’s just really cool to see how much they support the Truck Series, and how much they support our team at Kyle Busch Motorsports.
I’m just glad to be a part of the Toyota family. It was especially cool to see them succeed and then finish 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the Daytona 500. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into that.
SE: You finished 2nd in ARCA competition at Daytona and IRP, will we see you in the ARCA car again this year?
WB: I think we will probably run the first Pocono race, that’s on our schedule. Other than that, that will be the only one, just going to focus on the Trucks and Late Models for Kyle Busch Motorsports. I just hope to have fun in all of the races I do this year.
SE: How frustrating has it been to come so close to victory lane in ARCA competition?
WB: It’s kind of frustrating but at the end of the day, I’m just there to learn for the more pivotal races for me. I’m really just there to try to win and get experience. It’s obviously really disappointing when you don’t win. I’d rather try to win a few Truck races, and if it helps me do that, that’s a great thing.
We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to be able to win in ARCA. The first race we had came down to pit strategy, that’s unfortunate. I feel like if we had another chance at running an ARCA race and winning an ARCA race, we would definitely do it.
SE: How do you or will you prepare for tracks like Atlanta, Kansas, Vegas, tracks that you haven’t been to before?
WB: The biggest way to prepare is just to race Atlanta and to get the hang of mile-and-a-half tracks. After that, just advice from my team, Kyle Busch Motorsports. They do a good job of keeping us inside of what we can do. That’s the biggest way to get ready for those races. I’m just excited to get to those tracks.
SE: How did your sponsorship with Liberty University come about?
WB: After my first year, when I was 16, I wanted to get into late models, and we talked to them about having a partnership. I could connect their schooling program with how I started racing, before I got to a real car, and that was through online racing. I really think it’s a possibility for people my age or older than me to get an education for the real world, with online classes. It’s pretty cool to have that connection and partnership the past three years, especially with this year being on the Trucks. I can’t wait for their support and show them a new market.
SE: I understand that you are taking classes online there, what are you majoring in?
WB: I’m going to be majoring in business communications. I will take that next year when I get out of High School.
SE: How do you balance classes with racing?
WB: It’s difficult, but I’ve been going to school since I’ve been in kindergarten. I’ve been going to school full-time while racing, and I think that the key is being able to balance those two. I feel like I’ve been doing a good job of that. I’ve learned how to do that over the course of time, it’s cool to be able to have that experience.
SE: Fill in the blank, in a year from now you will be?
WB: A year from now, I will hopefully be racing at a higher level. Maybe in the Xfinity Series, if I can do that, that would be really cool. If I could race Trucks again, that would also be good. I just have to see how things will play out.
SE: Now that you have Daytona under your belt, what is your opinion of the caution clock?
WB: I think it’s hard. You definitely have to come into it with an open mind to see if it works, and if it works, great. It’s hard to tell based on one race. In spite of what happened, it was not because of the caution clock. The wheels are in our hands.
There’s definitely things I could have handled better with the caution clock coming out soon, same with the guys around me. We have to take every challenge as it comes and see what we can do with it. I’m definitely into it with an open mind and see what the caution clock will do for the rest of the year.
Image: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images