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DIRT ZEN – William Byron finding joy in challenge of learning World of Outlaws iRacing
CONCORD, NC – April 23, 2020 – After winning Sunday’s NASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational, William Byron was eager to get back to racing – virtual dirt racing.
The young NASCAR star, who drives the famed #24 for Hendrick Motorsports, made his World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car iRacing Invitational debut at Lernerville Speedway the week before and became hooked.
“I just enjoy the challenge of something completely different for my brain to process,” Byron said. “A completely different challenge. A lot of things are opposite of what you do on asphalt and I like that challenge of being able to adapt and try to learn what is going on.”
Byron’s career progression to NASCAR – which includes a NASCAR Truck Series and Xfinity Series championship – has been well documented of starting with iRacing. The 22-year-old has more than 300 iRacing wins on pavements tracks. He has a handful of virtual dirt wins, too, but not near the years of experience he’s spent on asphalt.
“I did some dirt racing, maybe five or six times when it first came out (on iRacing),” Byron said. “Honestly, I haven’t really done much since then. Getting back into it now is really fun for me.”
Unlike other professional drivers who have also joined the World of Outlaws iRacing Invitational league, such as Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon and Juan Pablo Montoya, Byron has never driven an actual dirt race car. However, he has run one NASCAR Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway.
Byron’s always been a fan of Sprint Car racing, though. He’s attended World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series races at Calistoga Speedway, The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Eldora.
Now that he’s stepped behind the wheel of a virtual World of Outlaws Sprint Car, he can’t get enough of it.
“The structure of the race is pretty cool, having qualifying not dictate a whole lot of your race,” he said. “You have qualifying, but then that puts you in your own Heat Race. I really like that because you can overcome your qualifying effort pretty easily if you have a good Heat Race. Or vice versa. You can screw up a good qualifying effort if you have a bad heat race. So, it’s kind of really evens the playing field where the strongest guys come to the front. So, I like that.”
His biggest challenge, so far, has been predicting and figuring out the ever-changing track conditions in dirt racing. While asphalt track conditions can be predictable, dirt tracks tend to change week to week.
“I feel like my line changes every lap,” Byron said. “You can never really do the same thing and expect the same result. It’s hard to practice in this sport, too, because the track is never the same in every race. It’s just tough to wrap your arms around it. There’s no practice for it, you just have to race.”
He's been putting in the laps in an effort to get better. Byron said he’s done a “heavy amount” of Sprint Car racing on iRacing to prepare for the World of Outlaws iRacing Invitationals. He wants to be competitive. But it’s also a chance for him to just have fun racing.
While there’s pressure on him every Sunday to perform in NASCAR’s Pro Invitational events – which he’s won twice, so far – the Sprint Cars are a chance for him to relax.
“I can just go out there and do my thing and try to overachieve whatever my goal was,” he said. “I like that aspect of it.”
Byron has picked up on Sprint Car racing rather quick, too. He finished 15th in his World of Outlaws debut at Lernerville and then had an impressive charge from 19th to seventh in the latest Feature at the challenging William Grove Speedway – beating previous Invitational winners Kevin Swindell and Christopher Bell.
Being able to race around actual Sprint Car drivers has helped him learn a lot in a short period of time.
“It’s cool to get to know those guys,” Byron said. “I’ve really gained a lot of respect for how good they are. That’s been the fun part for me.”
As he continues to integrate himself in the Sprint Car community more, Byron said he hopes to be able to try a real World of Outlaws Sprint Car at some point. He doesn’t have any connections in that area at the moment, he said, but if he could put something together that doesn’t interfere with his asphalt racing, he could see himself doing something in the off-season next year.
For now, he’s enjoying the challenge of learning a new discipline and becoming a new face in the Sprint Car world.
The next World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car iRacing Invitational will be Sunday, April 26, at 7 p.m. (ET) on DIRTVision presented by Drydene at the virtual Eldora Speedway.
RACE CHASER: Junghans’ Success Tied to Series Longevity
With the return of several veteran drivers and additions of the sport’s top rookie competitors to the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series over the past few seasons, the longest-tenured member of the full-time roster without missing a season is now Chase Junghans.
Junghans, of Manhattan, KS, has held a roster spot for some time in every season since his rookie campaign in 2014. Ever since then, he’s been steadily improving. In seasons making more than 30 starts, he’s slowly been creeping up the year-end points tally finishing order. He’s had a win three different seasons and has also been improving every year in other stats categories such as top-10s and laps led.
Hailing from the Great Plains, Junghans normally has the farthest tow to wherever the next race is and come about as far in a career that’s seen him with multiple different car designs, chassis and even haircuts. Looking back on his first few starts with the Outlaws over six years ago, Junghans reflects on what it was like to be a nationally touring driver at the age of 20.
“I was just enjoying it,” he said. “That was like the first time I finally got to travel with racing full-time, it was fun. I was just out there racing, I wasn’t really worried about results or anything, was just trying to better myself racing with the best of the best.”
Starting out as a teenage Modified racer around his local Midwest tracks, Junghans raced several years alongside older brother Grant, who passed in 2016 after a six-year battle with cancer. Junghans switched to a Late Model in 2013 and has enjoyed every minute of the road grind since.
“It’s about the only thing I know how to do, honestly,” Junghans said. “I’ve been doing it since God knows when. I’ve been around racecars since I was able to scrape mud, it seems like.
“I didn’t really ever do any sports or anything, it was either hanging out at the racetrack or working out in the shop here in Manhattan. It seems like it’s in my blood, that’s all I’ve ever known how to do.”
The 2019 season was Junghans’ best yet. He scored his third career tour victory in July at Red Cedar Speedway and amassed a personal record of Drydene Heat race wins, Morton Buildings Feature top-fives, top-10s and laps led. A fourth-place result in the overall points standings was enough to bring the raw emotion right out of him as he reflected on his greatest accomplishments at the year-end banquet.
However, the 27-year-old has been through some struggles as of late. But he will recover.
“I feel like I’m a consistent eighth-place car, but I need to get better, for sure,” Junghans said. “Lost a couple of crew guys after Speedweeks, so it’s just been me and my other guy, but we know what we’ve got to do.”
Drivers and teams will come and go, and the World of Outlaws has seen plenty cycle in-and-out of the full-time roster every year since its inception. But Junghans has been loyal, season-after-season, and has no plans of doing anything else for a full-time job any time soon.
“It’s just been a blessing to be able to do it,” he said. “I don’t know how long I’ll keep on doing it, but we’ve been enjoying it since we started. Even when we run like crap or things don’t go the way we want, it’s still a lot better than an 8-to-5.”
For the 2017 season, Junghans made the chassis switch from Capital Race Cars to Rocket Chassis. He had befriended Rocket Chassis house car driver Brandon Sheppard in earlier seasons, racing at various events around the country and at Arizona Speedway’s Wild West Shootout, and Junghans soon developed a professional relationship with Rocket1 owner Mark Richards.
Junghans said he’s been very grateful for the help that Richards, Sheppard and the rest of the Rocket1 team has provided in previous years, and fans can still catch them parking beside each other at World of Outlaws events.
“If there’s ever anything that happens at the track or something, it seems like all those guys are there to help,” Junghans said. “If you get caught in a predicament, they’ve got their stuff so organized, they can normally help you out with something if you’re in a 9-1-1 deal.”
Though the motorsports world is on pause for now, Junghans continues to push forward in his efforts to improve himself as a driver and the strength of the team around him. Reflecting back a bit on just how far he’s come as a Dirt Late Model pilot on the national level, he has a very important piece of advice he’d give his 20-year-old self as a rookie in 2014, and any other aspiring racecar driver in the making.“Just don’t ever give up,” Junghans said. “If you’re able to do it, I highly suggest you go out and try to race with us. Even though you get your butt kicked in the dirt all the time, you’re only going to be as good as who you race against, that’s the way I look at it.”