Pierce is an interesting man. He has won in midgets, sprint cars and in Silver Crown. He is also one of the very best in a winged sprint car on pavement. What many do not realize is that Pierce has been an instructor at the Bob Bondurant Driving School and has enjoyed great success in road racing, particularly in the Trans-Am ranks.
Pierce became friends with Chris Santucci, who many open-wheel fans recognize from his long association with Sammy Swindell and he was neighbors with racing enthusiast Roger Johnson.
Through Johnson, Santucci, who ran a company known as RE Enterprises, met Larry Bailey, who was CEO of a business known as Logical Systems Inc.
Bailey also liked to play in racing circles and he bought out Santucci’s business in trade for Santucci overseeing his racing exploits.
As Bailey spent more time behind the wheel club racing, he was prepared to spend a good deal of money on driving schools and coaches. That led Santucci back to Pierce.
As a result, Santucci was there to help Bryson when she dipped her toe in Silver Crown racing. He was also poised to help as she took her first laps in road racing. Where uncertainty had once reigned, Bryson’s plans for this season began to fall into place. She formally signed with Sam Pierce Racing to compete in the Trans-Am Series and is also expected to contend for rookie-of-the-year honors in the USAC Silver Crown Series.
It had been a good run with Toyota, but it was time to move on.
“They (Toyota) didn’t have enough to offer me and I really wanted to do something more with my career than midgets and late models,” Bryson said. “I wanted to see what else I could do. I thought going my own route would be better in the long run.”
Despite the fact her schedule would constitute uncharted territory, Bryson felt less pressure going into the year.
“They (Toyota) completely funded my racing and I felt pressure there because I had to keep them happy to be able to race,” she said. “Now, I know I have a team that believes in me and I feel a lot more comfortable.”
To learn the nuances of road-course racing Bryson took full advantage of a unique opportunity. Soon after the Performance Racing Industry show in December, she tested at TA2 car at Sebring. However, as Santucci explains, her training began before that. Bryson’s maiden voyage in this world started at Nashville Superspeedway.
“Aaron’s TA2 car is a Camaro,” Santucci said, “That’s really a stock car. But the first car she drove was one of our Corvettes, which has two seats in it. We call that our student car. It is a full race car but it doesn’t match up with what we are racing.”
Nashville provided the perfect set-up for a road-course novice. The entire race track is visible to observers and Pierce could occupy the other seat and communicate by radio. The focus was on using the clutch, shifting and the footwork that is germane to this discipline.
Then, it was time to head to Sebring to race with SVRA. Pierce shook down the Camaro to make sure things were in order and handed it over to Bryson. Santucci noted her practice times were roughly two seconds slower than Pierce. Everyone agreed that was more than respectable, but they also assured her she should feel no pressure to race.
“It was a blast,” Bryson said. “I wasn’t sure if I would like it because I’m a big dirt girl and road-course racing is different for me. But I absolutely loved it. I cannot wait to go to Road America. I think that will end up being my favorite place.”
On the technical side there is so much to absorb.
“We went to Sebring twice to practice because shifting is totally foreign to me and the idea of turning left and right 18 times in the course of one lap and trying to hit your marks was the biggest difference,” Bryson added. “I think at the end of the day, though, racing is racing and you have an idea of what to do.”
Bryson also wanted to try racing winged sprint cars. Santucci not only came through with a ride, he also found a coach for his young driver. Among the many racing contacts, he could call upon the one that came to mind was Dale Howard.
Howard was quickly on board and Bryson was set to race a 360 sprint car against some of the very best at Florida’s East Bay Raceway Park. Long before they unloaded the sprint car, Santucci unveiled his plan for a coach. Swindell entered the fray.