In January, Bret Holmes had a lot of plans for the 2020 racing season.

After a third-place finish in the ARCA Menards Series standings in 2019, Holmes and his family-owned team were planning to run a partial ARCA schedule while also competing in a handful of NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series events.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the United States and like many others in the racing industry, Holmes’ plans changed.

“It’s definitely been a crazy year,” the 23-year-old Holmes acknowledged. “We just felt at that time that it was probably best for us to just run a partial season in ARCA. Run some of the bigger races and a handful of short-track races and maybe start a truck program with our stuff.

“We ran the first couple races of the ARCA season and in March they announced they were going dark and shutting down for a little while,” Holmes continued. “Following that, a lot of places in North Carolina closed, as far as chassis manufacturers, part suppliers, things like that. That really kind of deterred what we were trying to do.

“Really to even get a new car or a new truck built was kind of impossible at that time.”

Bret Holmes won the ARCA Menards Series title in 2020. (ARCA photo)

Fast-forward to mid-September and Holmes was in the midst of a fight for the ARCA Menards Series championship with Venturini Motorsports driver Michael Self. It was a stark contrast to what Holmes was expecting his season to look like in January.

He explained that unlike a lot of other ARCA programs, Holmes kept his small team working during the shutdown that spanned roughly two months. Holmes feels like doing that helped his five-employee operation be better prepared when racing resumed.

“We thought it would be a good opportunity for us to catch up and maybe get ahead by updating one of our cars,” Holmes said. “I think that really paid off for us this season. That’s kind of made the difference for us.”

Looking at the numbers, Holmes is right.

Since the ARCA season resumed at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in June, his worst finish has been eighth on two occasions. He also earned his first ARCA victory at Kansas Speedway in July, a performance that saw him lead 82 of 100 laps in a dominant effort.

His strong runs, combined with some less than stellar runs by championship favorite Self, put Holmes in the thick of the title fight as the season neared the end of September.

“We came out of the gate after the break running really good. I mean top-three, top-five every week,” Holmes said. “We’ve got a good shot at this. We’ve got a good shot at winning the championship. That’s kind of when our minds changed.”

Holmes hasn’t taken the traditional route to ARCA stock car racing. After spending time racing karts and Legend Cars, Holmes followed in his father’s footsteps by racing on dirt for a few seasons.

The native of Munford, Ala., claimed a track title in the crate late model class at the Talladega Short Track in 2012, and nearly won the Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series super late model title during his rookie season in 2013.

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