Josh Berry represents the realization of a dream shared by thousands of racers across the nation.
Every year, late model drivers from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., expend copious amounts of money — not to mention blood, sweat and tears — in hopes of getting discovered by a NASCAR team.
These days, however, the most successful way to go from late models to the NASCAR Cup Series or Xfinity Series is to have a sponsor foot the bill.
Unfortunately, not every driver can attract sponsorship capable of buying a competitive ride — and fewer have the skill to take advantage of it.
Berry knows this all too well, which is why he’s so excited about his plans for this year.
The reigning NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series national champion got the nod from his boss, 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Dale Earnhardt Jr., to drive JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet for the first half of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season.
Once he recovered from the shock, Berry reflected on his opportunity before the Xfinity Series’ season opener on Feb. 13 at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
“I can’t even say that it’s sunk in yet,” Berry said during a mid-January conversation with SPEED SPORT. “We were going through the media day part of the national championship and toward the end, they (approached) me with (the news). To be honest, that was a huge surprise. We’d talked about maybe running one Xfinity race or maybe two, but for them to stick with me and go with me shows a lot about them.
“I think it’s a credit to the amazing run we’ve been on in the late model car. Doing all of that helped me earn this opportunity.”
Earnhardt initially discovered Berry 11 years ago when the third-generation racing icon tabbed the Hendersonville, Tenn., native to drive late model cars for JR Motorsports.
Success soon followed for Berry, who found himself in faster equipment than he’d ever had at his disposal. Berry claimed two track championships — at Virginia’s Motor Mile Speedway in 2012 and Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway in 2014 — in his first four years with JRM.
Berry captured the CARS Tour’s Late Model Stock Car Series crown in 2017, further justifying Earnhardt’s faith in his No. 1 late model driver.
There was something missing, though.
Berry, who worked as a bank teller before becoming a full-time race car driver, kept winning races, but found himself stuck at the same level without interest from national series teams. Seven NASCAR Xfinity Series starts and a lone drive in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series were all that Berry had to show for his remarkable performances in the late model ranks.
“The most I’ve ever raced in the Xfinity Series in a year was two races and they were really spread out, like months apart,” Berry said. “That was extremely difficult. By the time you finish your first race, you’re waiting around for several months just waiting for the next one and once you’re back in the car, it feels like you’re back at square one.”
Instead of throwing in the towel, Berry decided to go one step further last year: Annihilate his competition in a manner few short-trackers have done since the days of Butch Lindley. Berry went road-tripping in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series, where he captivated fans both in person and on streaming video en route to the national championship.
From June 27 through the end of the late model season, Berry posted 24 wins, 33 top-five finishes and 36 top-10 results in 37 starts. Berry didn’t dominate every time he and longtime crew chief Ryan Vasconcellos unloaded the No. 88 All Things Automotive/iRacing Chevrolet. It just seemed that way to their opponents.
“We had an amazing season, really,” Berry said. “We started off slow and really didn’t get racing until well into the summer. We didn’t even set out to compete for the national title. Our plans kind of changed throughout the year. From August on, man, we were just on a killer run. It was just amazing to be a part of. It was a lot of work by everyone on our team, but we were able to stick together and get the job done.”
Earnhardt followed along every weekend, receiving text messages documenting Berry’s progress. Earnhardt spent the second half of his NASCAR Cup Series career splitting his focus between winning races as a driver and winning races as an owner, so following Berry’s romps through the Southeast became easier once Earnhardt joined NBC Sports as a NASCAR analyst in 2018.
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