MARTINSVILLE, Va. — William Byron learned the value of “roughing it” as an Eagle Scout when he was an impressive teenager from Charlotte, North Carolina.
There is no higher level in the Boy Scouts of America than Eagle Scout and Byron learned the value of staying cool in adverse conditions out in the wild.
That training was valuable in Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway when he had to overcome issues with his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, including the blower fan in his helmet failure on an unusually hot late October afternoon in Southern Virginia where the temperature was in the mid-80s.
“My helmet fan wouldn’t work, my face is bright red, my COOLSHIRT, all that stuff was great, but when your head is just blowing like a hair dryer, it’s really tough,” the 25-year-old driver said afterwards. “We train for that.
“You just try to find a little bit more. You’re not going to pull in, I guarantee that, with plus seven or plus eight, whatever, I was going to faint before I was going to finish or get out of the race. Just really proud of the team. They deserve this. We’ve worked really hard for it, so it’s nice to see it pay off.”
Byron called it his worst race of the season as he finished 13th. But that was enough to claim the final position in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 as he grabbed the final transfer spot by just eight points over third-place finisher Denny Hamlin.
It was the second straight year Hamlin was the last driver eliminated in the third and final elimination race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
“I feel terrible, but it doesn’t really matter,” Byron said. “All that matters is the result. My crew chief (Rudy Fugle) knew what buttons to push. Our car was so hot from, honestly, around lap 30.
“I’ve never been that hot. The helmet fan – it really wasn’t pushing enough clean air to me. I would have to shut it off, turn it back on and it would recycle.
“But overall, our No. 24 PODS Chevy was not great honestly, but we dug deep. I’m just proud of my whole team. They stuck behind me, and they gave me adjustments that I needed, and I’m just really proud of them.
“I wanted to make the Championship 4 for them. Just drove the hell out of it for the last 30 laps. We were sliding all around, but that’s what it took.”
Byron’s Impression On Rick Hendrick
When Byron was 15-years-old, he learned the value of self-confidence as a Boy Scout. One day, he walked up to NASCAR Cup Series team owner Rick Hendrick and told him he would drive his race car one day.
“I think William’s age, his story, really would be a big story,” Hendrick said Tuesday. “If you take a kid that didn’t grow up in the sport, that had no connections in the sport, that was able to go to college and do all the things he has done, learning how to race on a computer, I think that is kind of like when Jeff Gordon came on the scene and opened the door for a lot of open-wheel guys.
“I think what this can do for a lot of kids that are from anywhere in the country, in the world, that racing on a computer, there’s opportunity if you get in the right spot.
“I think William is a great example for a lot of kids, young people, that have a dream of racing in this sport, seeing that you can put those tools to work and accomplish something pretty spectacular.”
Should Byron win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship, he would be the first driver born and raised in North Carolina to win NASCAR’s highest honor since Conover, North Carolina’s Dale Jarrett in 1999.
“I think to have a guy like William that grew up here in Charlotte, is kind of a native of the Charlotte market where all the teams are based, I think it would be a great message for him to win the championship,” Hendrick said.
Hendrick Motorsports is the only team with more than one driver in the Championship 4 in the NASCAR Cup Series. The other driver is 31-year-old Kyle Larson, the 2021 Cup Series champion.
Hendrick believes what Byron has done by leading the series with six wins this season is impressive, but what he is most impressed by is Byron’s back story.
He didn’t grow up in a racing family. Far from it.
“The thing about William I was so impressed with is how quickly he learned, what he did in late models, what he did in the legend cars, everything he got in,” Hendrick recalled. “More than anything to have a determination, have a goal and go after it. What blew me away with William was the fact that he won that I guess K&N Series championship, became an Eagle Scout, graduated Country Day, which is the toughest private school in Charlotte, college courses at the same time. He did all that in the same year.
“I kept up with William through my neighbor that was friends with his dad. He said, ‘Can you believe that kid raced on Saturday, Sunday, got in the car, went to the mountain, slept in a tent at eight degrees to get an Eagle badge?’
“When I looked at him, watched him, remember what he did at JRM, how confident he was when he walked up to me one day when he was 15, said, ‘I’m going to drive for you one day.’
“He just had the whole package,” Hendrick continued. “You put him in the right spot, give him time, he’s going to develop into something special because he’s a special guy. He has got a drive and determination.”
“You see him, you think he’s a mild-mannered little guy, he’s not got a killer instinct. His determination to succeed and his willingness to work hard, his willingness to put in the extra hours, to spend time in a simulator when nobody else wants to do it, they’ve done it, the time is open, he’ll take it.
“His work ethic is so impressive. I just felt like if he was in the right spot with the right people, he was going to do great things. It’s turned out to be that way.”
Hendrick also loves Byron’s attitude. He is squeaky clean, rarely involved in any controversy and is one of the cleanest racers on the track.
“People have a lot of respect for him,” Hendrick said. “He’s earned it.
“You don’t have to apologize for anything with him. I think that’s one of the reasons he’s kind of been under the radar. He’s not outspoken. He doesn’t run his mouth. He doesn’t go out and rough people up. He’s done it in a very professional way.
“I think it would be a tremendous story if a kid that started at 14 or 15 years old on a computer can end up marching through the Truck Series and Xfinity Series and then the Cup Series, cap off a year where he won more races than anybody did and win the championship, I think it would be a really great story for NASCAR and a lot of the fans.”
Byron lives the Boy Scouts Oath every day:
“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”
It’s called, “Scouts Honor” and if Byron wins on Sunday, it would be the foundation of the next NASCAR Cup Series champion.