LOUDON, N.H. – 2011 has been a rollercoaster ride and that couldn’t be truer for Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne. Weeks after becoming the youngest driver ever to win the Great American Race, Bayne was hospitalized for a still-unknown illness and missed five weeks of racing. Since his return to the driver’s seat, Bayne has been edging closer to winning in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but despite his success, sponsorship has been a struggle.
Through the ups and downs, Bayne has maintained a positive attitude. Frontstretch’s Amy Henderson sat down with Bayne in New Hampshire to talk racing, friends and how a 15-year-old on his own has turned into a champion at age 20.
Amy Henderson, Frontstretch: You’ve had a lot of success at a young age, including moving to North Carolina on your own. Talk about that experience.
Trevor Bayne: I was 15. I’ve lived there for a long time. Well. Maybe not a long time, but about five years now. My family is still back in Knoxville, Tenn. It’s been a cool journey.
Henderson: How does a 15-year-old convince his parents to let him move out on his own?
Bayne: It didn’t really take a lot of convincing, actually. I knew that I had to be in North Carolina. They knew that, too, but they couldn’t move at the time, so I moved down there. My crew chief would pick me up and take me to the race shop because I couldn’t drive yet; I only had a permit. It was a family decision, really, It wasn’t hard to convince them.
Henderson: Talk about what you learned from that experience; you had a lot of responsibility.
Bayne: I was working for DEI at the time, driving for them so I did have to be at the shop from 7:30 to 5:30 every day. It was just like being in school. I had to be at the shop 40 hours a week, so I guess (my parents) did a good job with me at home until I was 15 and they didn’t really have to worry about much once I was out of the house. I think that being able to trust each other like that and them trust me was a big part of that.
Henderson: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten as you’ve come up through the ranks?
Bayne: There’s so much advice you get. I don’t know what the best thing is. I think that people just helping me stay focused on racing was the biggest thing, not letting me get distracted by other things that 15-year-olds can get into. But nobody ever let me do that. They kept me focused and kept my desire going and kept me hungry. They just showed me that if you stay focused on something, you can do it.
Henderson: Has it really sunk in yet that you won the Daytona 500?
Bayne: It’s starting to. Every time anybody asks about it, it sinks in a little more. It’s a cool thing to do at 20! It adds a little pressure because people expect you to do it every week even though I’m just 20. But it was an awesome thing, just really cool. To be with the Wood Brothers was really cool; to go to victory lane with that [No.] 21 group was just awesome.
Henderson: Do you follow the history of the sport?
Bayne: I didn’t a ton before that, but ever since I’ve been at the Wood Brothers I’ve learned a ton. As soon as I walked in, it was like walking into a museum and memory lane and them telling me everything they’ve done. I told them, “Well, maybe we can make some more history,” and we’re starting to do that a little bit.
Henderson: It didn’t take you very long.
Henderson: What’s the biggest thing you take away from winning the Daytona 500?
Bayne: I don’t know that the biggest thing is. It’s hard to sum something up like that; it’s that big. I think the support of the sport is incredible. Just Richard Petty coming to victory lane and Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, David Ragan – I mean, I can’t even name all the drivers who came to victory lane to support us and give us a high five and congratulate us. Just having the support of those drivers has been one of the biggest things since the 500.
Henderson: Can you talk about sponsorship on the Nationwide side? It’s been a tough year from that standpoint; even with your success with the Cup car. What is the prognosis for the No. 16?
Bayne: I don’t know. We’ve got to figure something out, because it stinks having white cars every weekend. This weekend we [were] fortunate enough to have a sponsor with New England Sports Network. My Cup car has some sponsorship on it, but even that deal, we’ve been trying to do a full-time deal for next year and there’s nothing come up yet. I don’t know why or what. I feel like we’ve proven ourselves a little bit and done enough marketing stuff that I hope somebody will tag along soon. I know we can do great things for somebody’s company, but we really haven’t had the opportunity to do that much this year.
Henderson: Since you’ve been back in the driver’s seat, your Nationwide Series team looks like you’re getting closer to a win every week. Do you feel like that’s right around the corner?
Bayne: Maybe. We’ve got a little bit to go, though. My being out for five weeks for being sick kind of set us back a little bit, and we’re working on it now. We came back and had a third and a fifth the first two weeks and then we had a couple of rough weeks. But now I think we’re just a little bit away. I think that we have to work on being a top-three team first every week. We’ve been a 5th-10th place team and we need to be a top-three contender to win every week. Hopefully, we can do that soon.
Henderson: One thing you talked about when you were out were your friendships and the people who came to see you. Talk a little about having friends in this sport.
Bayne: Ricky Stenhouse [Jr.] and Michael McDowell, Josh Wise, Justin Allgaier – I mean, I have a ton of friends in the garage that are other drivers. You’d think we’d be competitive, and we are, but away from the track, we’re able to be friends, which is awesome.
Henderson: Are those the guys who came to see you while you were in the hospital?
Bayne: Yeah. Michael McDowell came and hung out for about six days at the hospital with me and played Uno every day. That was really cool.
Henderson: Can you talk about 2012? Do you have plans yet?
Bayne: I have no idea. Waiting on Carl Edwards to make his decision; that’s what we’ve got to do.
Henderson: Did you go to Fenway Park while you’ve been in New England?
Bayne: Fenway Park is on Ricky’s car. We did get to Fenway Park. We went Thursday and hung out inside the Green Monster. We had some little competitions. I got a little dirt on me from the competitions; we spent a little bit of time on the ground. We were throwing baseballs and all kinds of stuff, so it was cool.
Henderson: Are you a sports fan other than racing?
Bayne: Yeah, it’s just hard to keep up with it all because we’re at the track on weekends. If I’m at home, I don’t really watch that much TV; I’m always out doing something or being active, so I don’t get to keep up with it as much as I want to. But I’m a big Steelers fan, big UT fan. Obviously you’ve gotta be a Red Sox fan when Roush Fenway is your race team.
Henderson: What else do you enjoy away from the track?
Bayne: We go wakeboarding all the time. I have a boat that we go out on and wakeboard. I play guitar, hang out with my friends. I spend a lot of time at the shop. Normally I’m only at home about two days a week and other than that we’re at the racetrack or doing media stuff, so there’s not a lot of free time these days, but when we have it, we’re out on the water or hanging out with friends.
Henderson: What would surprise people about you?
Bayne: Wow, I don’t know. I feel like I’m a pretty open book. I tell everybody everything. I care a lot about what people think. I don’t know if people know it or not, but people’s opinion really gets to me more than it should sometimes, but that’s something I’m trying to work on a little bit. And I eat cereal like crazy. That’s a random fact. I eat cereal all the time.
Henderson: What kind?
Bayne: Cinnamon Toast Crunch all the way!
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.