Brenden Queen takes the checkered flag last May at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo)

The Rise of ‘Butterbean’ Queen

Brenden “Butterbean” Queen’s victory celebrations are quickly becoming the stuff of stock car lore.

After each of his late model stock car victories, the hard-driving 26-year-old from Chesapeake, Va., first circles the track carrying an American flag. He then emerges from his No. 03 Toyota, mullet in the breeze, and takes part in victory lane obligations.

Next, it’s off to Waffle House to celebrate with his team, family and ever-growing legion of fans, where he chows down on an All-Star Special, accompanied by chocolate milk.

“I’ve never liked to be a follower; I just like to be myself,” Queen told SPEED SPORT of his fun-loving personality. “I’ve never had the money to make it to the next level and I’ve always had to do things a different way. I think that’s made me who I am today. As I got in the CARS Tour, the main thing I just noticed was I’m having fun.

“I’m blessed to be able to drive a race car; I know I could be sitting in the stands wishing I was driving a race car.”

Driving a race car has long come naturally to Queen.

He won the 2016 late model stock track championship at the now-shuttered East Carolina Motor Speedway in Robersonville, N.C.; claimed three consecutive late model stock track titles starting in 2020 at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va., and also captured the dirt late model crown at Elizabeth City, N.C.’s Dixieland Speedway during the 2022 campaign.

Brenden Queen celebrates a CARS Tour late model stock car victory at North Carolina’s Caraway Speedway. (Dallas Breeze photo)

However, 2023 served as Queen’s breakout year when he competed in every CARS Tour race for the first time, driving for Lee Pulliam Performance. Queen’s impressive talent, unique personality and aggressive style quickly made him a fan favorite.

He’s become a local celebrity around Chesapeake and was invited to the year-ending PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis as part of the Hoosier Hero program.

“It’s crazy, even around town people know me and want pictures with me,” Queen said. “That’s something I never thought would happen. PRI was awesome, getting to go with Hoosier and then meeting people there that knew me, and I might not have known them.

“Even talking to Cup drivers and legends in the sport that follow me, they’re like, ‘Man you’ve had a hell of a season and we keep up with you.’ It’s crazy to think back to that 6-year-old racing go-karts, like who would have ever thought that you would get to that?”

Last season, Queen grabbed checkered flags in four CARS Tour races, including at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway, en route to a runner-up finish in the series points chase.

He also won the prestigious Hampton Heat at Langley for the second time and scored victories in the Battle of the Stars at Jacksonville, N.C.’s New River All-American Speedway and the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park in Lucama, N.C.

Queen is the son of former racer Mike Queen and Robyn Foster, and his nickname comes from the fact he looked like the boxer Eric Esch, better known as “Butterbean,” when he was born.

He came up the traditional way, racing go-karts, Legend Cars and doing some indoor racing before first taking on the competitive late model stock world in 2013. He raced for Queen Motorsports out of his family’s backyard and despite his success, eventually reached a crossroads in his career.

He won his first CARS Tour race at Langley driving his family car in 2022, while also finding success on the dirt for his friend and neighbor John Staton.

Staton told Queen after he won the CARS Tour race that he felt he needed to go on tour full time. Queen responded that he couldn’t afford it, plus he was working seven days a week at the port of Virginia as a longshoreman.

“He was like, ‘Do you want to race for a living, or do you want to keep working where you’re at seven days a week and can’t get off the rest of your life?’” Queen said. “Basically, I had to put all the chips in.”

Queen stacked the deck in his favor when he and Staton linked up with Pulliam, the four-time NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series champion turned car owner. His Lee Pulliam Performance operation has served as a springboard for several drivers to reach the NASCAR national series.

The pairing clicked immediately, with Queen driving to victory in his first race for the team, the South Carolina 400 at Florence (S.C.) Motor Speedway, at the end of 2022.

Queen found that with the level of equipment at LPP, he had to work on his race craft and learn how to be successful with fast cars.

“There are a lot of races where we’ll be riding, managing the race and then at the end we come up and win it or have a shot and we just always said, ‘Trust the process, never give up,’” Queen said. “But Lee has been more than just a racing help, he’s an all-around good family guy and he’s turned into like family to me. I talk to him every day.”

Lee Pulliam Performance is entering a partnership with Toyota Racing Development and Queen will be teamed with Isabella Robusto. While at one time Queen was content with being a short-track hero, he’s still looking to climb the ladder and is excited about the opportunities TRD may provide.

It was also important to him to join the CARS Tour, where some of the nation’s toughest short trackers battle, ranging from young upstarts to seasoned veterans. Plus, the ownership group of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Justin Marks raised the profile of the series.

Brenden Queen battles Landon Huffman during the CARS Tour season finale at Caraway Speedway. (Dallas Breeze photo)

“What other series can you go to and the top 25 are separated by a tenth-and-a-half? It just doesn’t happen,” Queen said.

“So I wanted to go to the CARS Tour because at this point in my career with me being a little bit older, I felt like if I was going to have a shot at anything I had to go prove it against a caliber of competition like that.

“There were so many eyes on it, and then after I’d already signed a deal (the ownership group) getting involved and buying the series just put it on a different level,” Queen continued.

“I can see it’s helped my stock already with my merch sales and fans, and it’s only going to get bigger. I’m so happy I came in when I did. And it’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my career. It’s the hardest series.”

Part of the challenge stems from the fact the late model stock portion of the CARS Tour often becomes a full-contact, knock-down, drag-out battle during the closing laps.

Queen believes it all comes down to respect and understanding the time and place to lean on one another.

“I love it. I’m a dirt racer so I want you to race me hard and don’t wreck me, but I’m OK with you moving me as long as you’re OK with me doing it back,” Queen said. “I think there is a line, but if you stay in that box where nobody gets wrecked and you still finish within a spot or two of where you’re running that’s where it’s OK.”

Several of Queen’s traditions have their roots in dirt racing. He first began going to Waffle House after races with his dirt team, and it was his dirt crew chief who cut his hair into a mullet during the COVID-19 pandemic when much of the population grew shaggy.

Queen won his first Hampton Heat at Langley a few weeks later and decided he couldn’t go back to having short hair.

Although his focus is now on pavement, Queen still enjoys sliding around a dirt track.

“I think it helps with throttle control and feeling the car,” he said. “You’re feeling it in your butt and feeling the grip level change. It helps with all that.”

Queen is as authentic as they come, but he is also savvy about his brand.

For years his car has carried a scheme reminiscent of the pixelation found in video games from the past. Fittingly, it’s due to longtime supporter Oldskool Video Games, but even as sponsors and their level of support has changed, Queen has kept the car’s appearance the same, making him easily identifiable.

He also recently opened his own merchandise company, Cross Authentics, named after his late dog.

He’s started a podcast called “The Bean Pod” as well. His girlfriend, Nicole, serves as co-host and topics range from racing to fantasy football, all helping listeners get a better sense of Queen as a person.

He works at Best Repair Co. and is completing his studies for a mechanical engineering degree from Old Dominion University.

His success is about balance and not taking himself too seriously.

“I love being myself, I love having fun, I’m a jokester; I like joking with the guys, and I know when to be serious, but I also know how to shut the serious off when it’s time,” he said. “I think I can relate to a lot of people and it never hurts to be nice to people.”

That mindset is worth a lot of Waffle House All-Star Specials and chocolate milk.