Rick Hendrick Reveals Why He Gambled on “Computer” Racer William Byron Who Had Jeff Gordon Impressed

Published 01/31/2024, 1:15 PM EST

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When it comes to success stories in NASCAR, perhaps none speak more of the current state of esports than the story of William Byron‘s meteoric rise. From racing in iRacing as a teenager to bringing in the legendary Hendrick Motorsport’s 300th win last season, the devout Christian with big dreams has definitely lived up to his Cup Series calling. But given how different his background is to most other championship contenders of the modern era, the journey to get such opportunities in the first place was a long and tumultuous one.

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After achieving the nearly impossible feat of convincing his parents his true passion was motorsport, Byron also went on to convince one of NASCAR’s greatest team owners about his worth, all while he was still a teenager. In Netflix’s NASCAR: Full Speed series, fans got an insight into just what Rick Hendrick saw in Byron to know he would be the perfect man to lead Jeff Gordon’s #24 forward.

How William Byron blew away Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick with his unconventional rise

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As we head into the 2024 season, fans have been greeted with a pleasant surprise as the Full Speed docu-series has been welcomed with open arms, partially owing to how candid it is while portraying the drivers. But while most drivers have similar backgrounds of being born and brought up around racing, the show provides a well-portrayed insight into the unique story of William Byron.

It all started for Byron when the television piqued his curiosity as a six-year-old while he watched a stock car race. And soon enough, a trip to Martinsville Speedway in 2006 stuck with the North Carolina native until he began sim racing as a teenager. iRacing would be the ultimate stepping stone for Byron, with it ultimately leading to legend car opportunities owing to over 100 wins. And once Byron had proven his worth, he quickly moved on to NASCAR’s top categories.

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But even before his Truck Series and Xfinity Series runs, Byron already knew what fate had in store for him. As Byron continued to climb through the ranks with the most unconventional background most had heard of, the iconic driver of the #24 Hendrick Motorsports car couldn’t help but take notice. As the Netflix crew interviewed Byron’s family about his come-up, the conversation soon landed itself in Jeff Gordon’s lap.

Wasting no time, Gordon reflected on Byron’s obstacle-plagued climb to success. He stated, “The first thing that blew me away when I started learning more about William was how little racing experience he had yet he was climbing up the ladder at such a fast rate. And it wasn’t just the man who Byron would go on to replace in the future that saw his talent.

Rick Hendrick soon entered the equation. And while Byron’s on-track performances had definitely been the talk of the town, the legendary owner saw something more than met the eye in him. Hendrick shared, “William, when he was about 15 years old, walked up and said,Hey, I’m gonna drive for you one day.” Well, I’ve heard that a lot from different people, but the character of the guy and the ability that he showed was just phenomenal so I felt like he was really worth taking a chance on.

And that chance is paying dividends for Hendrick Motorsports, as Byron is one of the favorites for a championship this season, bringing back glory to the #24. Even once we look at how Byron has always looked at the Cup Series as his destiny, it becomes clear the future of the #24 is in safe hands. According to Byron, “Getting into racing was God’s plan for me, so I can spread my faith through the racing garage and with race fans — that’s why it’s been so special.”

So with William Byron clearly exceeding expectations set by a young iRacing driver, it’s safe to say that convincing Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon was perhaps the greatest thing that could have come around for the aspiring motorsport enthusiast. But on the other hand, the journey to get Byron’s parents on his side wasn’t so easy!

How the HMS star convinced his parents of his true calling

During his teenage years, there’s nothing Byron loved more than hitting his favorite track on iRacing. After all, what better way to get closer to the real action without taking on the risk of any real damage? But it seems Byron’s passion for motorsport would create a few hurdles at home, soon becoming a distraction more than anything in his parent’s eyes.

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Byron shared in the docuseries, “I would come from school and I would get straight onto iRacing and I’d run until like ten o’clock at night. My parents, first, they’re like, “This is a huge distraction. You need to get off the computer.” Immediately, the scene cuts to his mother sharing that all was well as long as Byron kept up with his homework! She added, If he ain’t got his homework done, then he couldn’t iRace. We were like, “If you don’t keep your grades up, then you can’t race.

However, once Byron’s online career began gaining momentum, his parents quickly noticed their son’s ability. Byron added, “Eventually, my parents were watching and they’re like, “Man, he’s really good at this. As a 13-year-old, Byron told his father, “If I’m ever gonna race a car, I need to get on with it.” Not soon after, Byron and his father began putting together races in the legendary car, but it wouldn’t have happened without the passionate gearhead’s persistence.

Byron’s father concluded, “He had five pages laid out of how he could race a legendary car, and he’d like to go see what that looks like. So then he went to his first race, 28 cars, and he qualified second in his first race, and he finished fourth. And then one thing led to another and he raced 66 races and won 34 of them.”

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WATCH THIS STORY: Denny Hamlin Reveals He Confronted & Abused Hendrick Motorsports Driver, but Had to Embarrassingly Apologize Thanks to Kevin Harvick

Soon after, big NASCAR teams began to notice Byron JR Motorsports and the rest was history. After taking a look at how Byron not only overcame his parent’s worries but also went on to impress the likes of Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick, it’s evident that William Byron has what it takes to be a Cup Series champion. But the question remains. Can Byron win it in 2024?

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Written by:

Kabir Bajaj Ahmed

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Kabir Bajaj Ahmed is an F1 & NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. Known for his storytelling and extensive research skills, he has covered multiple stories on Dale Earnhard Jr and his legendary dad, allowing readers to relive the thunderous days of 'The Intimidator'. Being a racer himself, Kabir can resonate with the motorsport world better than most.
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Edited by:

Abhishek Ramesh

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