Of all the stops on the Sprint Cup circuit, few mean as much to Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers as Bristol Motor Speedway, site of this weekend’s Jeff Byrd 500 Presented by Food City.
For Bayne, a Knoxville native, it’s his home track and the site of his major league NASCAR debut. For the Woods, it’s where they broke an eight-year victory drought and took their sponsor Motorcraft to Victory Lane in their first year together back in 2001.
Bayne, the 20-year-old Sprint Cup rookie, already has some history at his home-state track. “I’ve been going there since I was five years old, since before I can remember, really,” he said.
In 2006, when he was just 15, he was there leading a Hooters Pro Cup race and in doing so became the youngest driver to ever lead laps at Bristol. But his bid for the win ended after late-race contact with Bobby Gill. Bayne returned to finish third in another Pro Cup race at Bristol before moving on to NASCAR’s Nationwide Series.
His Nationwide debut, at Bristol in the spring of 2009, came about largely because of a volunteer effort that would make anyone in the Volunteer State plenty proud.
Bayne had been signed by Dale Earnhardt Inc. when he turned 16, but by the time he was old enough to race in the Nationwide Series, DEI was on the decline.
Undaunted, the youngster worked out a deal to use a DEI race car that hadn’t been run in a while. Journeyman car owner and former Cup driver Jimmy Means supplied the hauler, support equipment and the car number, and some former DEI employees pitched in to prepare the car and crew it at the track.
“It was my home track, and I wanted to run there really bad,” Bayne said. “It was the first [Nationwide] race I was eligible.”
Bayne and his crew of volunteers got the car to the track and into the starting field, but it wasn’t exactly a first-class effort.
“We weren’t very well prepared because we only had a week to do the whole car,” he said. “A lot of the guys hadn’t been to the race track in a while, but we still finished 23rd. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t terrible.”
While Bayne is hoping to score his first Nationwide victory on Saturday at Bristol, he knows his first Sprint Cup run at Bristol on Sunday in the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion will be more of a challenge.
“Bristol is an awesome track, but it’s also tough,” he said. “It’s easy to get turned and tear up your stuff.
“We just need to make it to the end, and if we’re on the lead lap, we’ve got a good chance at a top-15 finish.”
Team co-owner Eddie Wood, who remembers seeing Elliott Sadler in the famed No. 21 dueling with John Andretti in the equally famous No. 43 Petty Enterprises car for the win in the 2001 Food City 500, said any trip to Bristol is like going to Vegas.
“You don’t know whether you’re going to win or lose, but you know something’s going to happen,” he said. “It is not going to be a mediocre event.”
Qualifying for the Jeff Byrd 500 Presented by Food City is set for Friday at 3:40 p.m., and the race is set to begin just after 1 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX.