Five years ago, longtime Frederick resident Beverly Byron’s son, Kimball, was teaching a pair of teenage boys how to drive a stick shift car in Frederick.
One of them was Byron’s grandson, Byron Kunst. The other one was her grandnephew, William Byron, who apparently had some problems.
“[Kunst] was telling me the other day, I don’t understand it. William couldn’t drive that car at all,” Beverly Byron said. “I said, ‘I hate to tell you, he’s learned how to shift.’”
Anyone who has followed NASCAR’s Xfinity Series this season will attest to that.
Byron, a 19-year-old rookie in NASCAR’s second-tier, sits at second place in the Xfinity standings driving the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro for JR Motorsports, and his success there has led to even bigger things for the Charlotte, N.C. native.
Next year, Byron will make his debut in NASCAR’s top tier, the Monster Energy Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports. He’ll drive the No. 24 Chevrolet being driven this season by Chase Elliott and made famous by four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon.
Byron’s rapid rise in the racing world — his first race, in the U.S. Legend Car Young Lions division, was in November 2012 — has attracted plenty of fans.
Some of them hail from Frederick, where several of his relatives live, and at least one of them doesn’t have much history rooting for racers.
“I have paid no attention to, nor has anybody else I know, paid attention to NASCAR,” Bev Byron said.
But with her grandnephew — who she’s always known as a nice young man — winning actual NASCAR races, she couldn’t help but get hooked, as have others in her social circle.
“I have probably five friends of mine that are 90-year-olds that have never paid attention to this at all who call me on Saturday and say, ‘What time is William racing? What channel is he racing on?’” she said. “And they call after me after the race is over.”
William has other relatives in Frederick who follow his career, including Bev Byron’s son Geb and her grandson Goodloe.
Along with other family members, Bev Byron attended William’s race in Dover, Delaware, on June 3. It wasn’t her first time watching him compete on that track.
“We’re kind of creating a little tradition — the Byron family is getting together in Dover for William’s races,” Bill Byron, William’s father, said. “[Beverly Byron] says his fan base is growing in Frederick.”
Granted, a lot of people who deal with Bev Byron aren’t aware of her connection to one of racing’s new stars.
“No, they look at me as a politician,” she said laughing.
Byron represented Maryland’s 6th Congressional District of Maryland as a Democrat from 1979 to 1993. She was elected to Congress to replace her husband, Goodloe Byron, who died on Oct. 11, 1978.
But the longtime politician now pays attention to different kinds of races. As Bill Byron said, the racer appreciates the support.
While William Byron has a connection to Frederick, he never lived here.
His father, Bill, grew up in the Annapolis area. Bill went to college in North Carolina and ended up living in that state, which is where William grew up.
Who knows if William would’ve delved into racing if he lived in, say, Maryland instead of a state that is NASCAR’s hotbed? At any rate, he was drawn to the sport.
“We didn’t grow up in a racing family,” Bill Byron said. “He just liked [racing-related] video games and liked going to the races and watching races. He developed a passion.”
William’s family got an iRacing simulator for him and, like others who have developed into successful racers, he used it to learn how to compete.
Tape also played a key role.
“He spends a lot of time doing a lot of research,” Bill Byron said. “He’s a bright kid. He spent of lot of time learning by watching tape.”
It’s the same method William employed in lacrosse and football, sports he played before becoming a full-time racer.
He didn’t take long to get results on the track.
In 2013, William won 33 races and became the Legend Car Young Lions Division champion.
In 2014, he turned pro in legends cars and signed with the JR Motorsports late model program. He won a late-model race and placed second in points. He earned his first win in a stock car and was named North Carolina’s Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Late Model Series.
He moved on to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for 2015, racing for HScott Motorsports with sponsorship from Liberty University. He won four races and captured the series championship. In November of 2015, he made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Phoenix.
Last season, he raced for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series. Thanks to engine failure in the final race of the Round of 6 at Phoenix, he didn’t get a chance to compete for the championship.
Nonetheless, he set a record for wins by a rookie with seven, topping the previous mark of four by Kurt Busch, and he garnered Rookie of the Year honors.
He continued winning this year in the Xfinity series. His first victory came in Iowa on June 24. He won again the following week in Daytona Beach. And on July 22, he won in Indianapolis, where Kimball Byron was there to witness the win.
The driver he saw had come a long way from the days when he tried to teach him how to drive stick shift.
Bill said William “has a feel of how to get speed out of the car” on the track.
Keep in mind, Byron is competing with some of NASCAR’s top stars, who compete in Xfinity races while continuing to race the Monster Energy Cup Series.
In fact, William nearly got his first Xfinity win in Michigan before getting edged out by Denny Hamlin, a big name in the Monster Energy Series.
“The Michigan race, he lost by a hub cap,” Bev Byron said.
Come next year, William Byron will be going up against a track full of racers like Hamlin every week. If Byron’s racing history is any indication, he’ll find a way to compete.
And he’ll have at least one converted racing fan from Frederick pulling for him.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Bev Byron said. “It blows my mind since I started watching him.”