Short Tracks Helping William Byron On and Off Track

The 24-year-old Cup contender has grown his fan base on Saturday nights this year.

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As a mere result of winning multiple races for the first time in five years, this is already a career best campaign for William Byron, who is also breaking out in the popularity and merchandising sectors as an emerging fan favorite.

Sure, the success on Sundays will go a long way towards determining how popular he ultimately becomes but the 24-year-old is also building a following the old-fashioned way by seeking out Saturday night short track fans.

Similar to teammates Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 is becoming a bridge that links short track fans and Cup Series fans together.

Byron has already entered numerous Super Late Model races with Donnie Wilson Motorsports, with many more to come this summer with an eye towards the Snowball Derby in December, but he is also racing a Dirt Late Model for the first time on Thursday night.

Byron will race in the Kyle Larson presents the Late Model Challenge at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tennessee. He will pilot the Mike Nuchols’ Warrior Chassis house car for the $20,000-to-win event promoted by the reigning Cup Series champion.

The dirt appearance is primarily to prepare for this weekend on the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

"I'll be honest, I have no idea what I'm doing," Byron said of racing on dirt. "But I think iRacing has helped. Their dirt model is pretty good with the way the track changes.

"I feel like I've been trying to watch a lot of dirt races to kind of see how that all works. Luckily last year with Bristol dirt in the Cup car, it was pretty much like an asphalt track. It was just a slick asphalt track because it got rubbered in and you just had to baby the throttle."

However, Speedway Motorsports has added a progressively banked outside groove and the race will take place at night this time. It should be more of a true dirt experience this time.

"I think this year is going to be a little bit different, so hopefully running the Dirt Late Model will help me a little bit," Byron said. "I want to run a lot more of those because I feel like they're a full-sized car, you can manipulate them, they're not too dangerous I feel like for somebody like me who has no experience, and they've got a ton of horsepower.

"My hope would be to run a lot of Super Late Model races on asphalt and some on dirt would be the goal for the future."

And it’s not purely about performance either.

Byron has been surprised by how much his fanbase has grown simply by returning to short tracks and giving those fans someone to cheer for Sundays -- someone they’ve now met and have a personal connection to.

"I probably get more fans from going to a race at Hickory or Pensacola or New Smyrna than I do going to do something here at the (NASCAR) track," Byron said. "I feel like people see that you're able to do unique stuff and kind of -- those guys are really good at what they do, so the racing is no different than up here, it's just a matter of kind of different cars and different series.

"But yeah, I think my next one is Nashville in a couple weeks, and hopefully we can have a good run there and just keep that momentum going."

In fact, Byron wishes there were more short tracks near Cup venues so he could race on NASCAR weekends without having to travel too far.

"My wish would be that we had more short track races close by the Cup race, and then we could have guys do that," Byron said. "But hopefully in the next couple years we can kind of get the schedules synced up."