When you find out that you have a sponsor and you get to live your childhood dream, you wonder when you’re going to wake up….
I’ve spent every minute of my life from age 5 thinking about NASCAR, the 500, and how I could be like Dale Sr. I may not be old enough to remember Dale winning in 1998 but I remember that race in 2001. I was 6 years old when it happened…realizing this icon is gone. I saw how many people he touched through NASCAR and the impact on the world. From that moment forward, I knew NASCAR was my calling and Daytona was where I wanted to drive.
When Grunt Style agreed to sponsor me in some races this year with Daytona being the first race, I couldn't believe it. I was beyond excited and just ready to be out there racing. Thoughts kept going through my mind… What will the truck design be? What will my helmet and suit look like? Where will I eat breakfast on the day of the biggest race of my life? I couldn't believe that at 21 years old and after moving half way across the country with my parents, that this dream of mine was coming true.
Time flew by! We announced that I was driving for Rick Ware Racing on New Year’s Eve and soon after we announced the best partner I could have, Grunt Style. The next month and a half flew by with truck designs and helmet ideas. I flew up to Chicago for the day to meet a lot of the employees of Grunt Style and do some promotional work. I felt like a total superstar! I’m on the plane, rocking these sick new clothes and the flight attendant says, “Hey. Grunt Style is such a cool brand.” I was pretty proud to tell her that they sponsor my race truck and she needs to watch the No. 12 truck at Daytona!
The day approached quickly. I get down to Daytona to non-stop rain from Tuesday through Thursday. I know if qualifying rains out, I'm in the race due to the points we acquired from last year. We finally got one long practice in on Thursday and the truck had good speed in single truck runs so I knew we would be good in qualifying.
On Friday I showed up to the track with such confidence and anticipation. I talked to my crew chief, Paul Andrews, about how to get up to speed, what RPM I shifted at in practice, and what would help in qualifying. I remember standing on pit road with Rick Ware talking about just being there at Daytona. It was a surreal moment. He said “Buddy, lay down a lap and we will have a great truck for the race later tonight.”
Leaving pit road, I drive up to the wall and get through the gears good as I come around to the backstretch. The truck feels great. I run the top through turn 4 and shoot down to the double yellow line coming to the green. This is it! This is my first qualifying run at Daytona! I hear a pitch change in the engine then, BOOM! The engine blows up.
The cockpit filled with smoke as I coasted around in my now lifeless truck. I keyed the radio, “The motor’s gone guys.” I just couldn't believe it. All the hours the crew put in building this truck for Daytona… The anticipation of my debut... All for this? I got back into the pits to see the disbelief in my parents’ eyes as the knot in my throat grew bigger, fighting back that ‘something in my eyes’ feeling. The mood from the team was somber to say the least, but we all know that this happens in the world of racing.
There was a glimmer of hope knowing we had points from last year, but would it be enough to make the race? The team was hard at work swapping the motor out as the news came down from the hauler. Our provisional didn't lock us in. We would not race. I really wanted to qualify top 25 but that was all out the window. The motto turned to, “We were here and they knew it.”
I ended up watching the biggest race of my life from the infield of Daytona International Speedway.
I was sad for about .02 seconds. There I was, walking with the owner of the company that helped me get to this point and after all the disappointment, we were talking to fans about racing, the military, Daytona, and everything else. He helped get my mind focused on what is next, not what just happened. I signed autographs and passed out Grunt Style swag to the campground fans with our team.
I love my team, my sponsors and my fans. We will be back at Kansas to show everyone what the Assaulting Camo No. 12 Grunt Style Chevrolet Silverado is capable of and that the biggest race of my life is yet to come.