DENVER, N.C. – Ryan Repko may have had an unorthodox way of breaking into the national spotlight, but he made his journey pay off last weekend with an appearance in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JD Motorsports.
Repko, a 19-year-old who recently wrapped up his freshman year at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, made two rather-stratospheric leaps to reach the point he’s at now in his racing career.
He began racing in quarter midgets, like most of his peers, but made the jump straight from quarter midgets up into limited late models and late models during his teenage years – bypassing the traditional stop-gap step of Bandoleros and Legend cars that many others have used to foster short-track success.
From there, Repko hung in among the best in late-model racing before making his ARCA Menards Series debut with Mason Mitchell Motorsports in the summer of 2017 – a leap from late models straight into national, full-sized stock cars which skipped the NASCAR K&N Pro Series or similar developmental levels.
Fast forward to last Sunday, and Repko found himself at the wheel of Johnny Davis’ iconic No. 01 Chevrolet Camaro, making his debut start in the Xfinity Series at Iowa Speedway.
“I don’t necessarily recommend doing the whole racing thing how we did it, but at least in our case, it’s worked out OK,” said Repko. “I recommend doing the Legend car step, at least, between quarter midgets and late models. I remember, our first limited (late model) race I went out thinking I had this, and we went out and ran 10th or so after winning a bunch in quarter midgets. It was a culture shock.
“A lot of that comes down to funding, and that’s a place that’s obviously vital in this sport, but we’ve certainly made the best of the opportunities we’ve had and I’m thankful we’ve now been able to make it to this kind of a stage where I can show a bit more of what I’m capable of.”
Though Repko finished five laps behind the leaders in 22nd, he was second among the four JD Motorsports cars entered in the 250-lap event, behind only teammate Tyler Matthews in 20th.
A sold result didn’t mean there wasn’t anxiety beforehand, however.
“I had extreme nerves all weekend, because I’m an overthinker,” Repko admitted. “I was more or less scared out of my mind. In my head, there were all these different mistakes that I could have made, but I feel like I did a pretty good job of not being noticed for mistakes.
“At the first yellow, though, I couldn’t help but think, ‘We’re here. We did it.’”
Repko had a steep learning curve throughout the weekend, mostly because the majority of Xfinity Series practice was rained out, but kept his car in one piece and brought it home with hardly a scratch on it.
“When I was getting ready for qualifying … you want to drive it as hard as you can, but then you start thinking, ‘well, what if it doesn’t stick?’” noted Repko. “Luckily, we didn’t have that happen, but we didn’t qualify where we wanted to – mostly because I only had 20 laps of practice due to the rain. I got enough laps to think about overnight, and that was about it.
“As far as the race went, I feel like I learned a lot. The cars drive a little bit like the ARCA cars, but you don’t feel them roll quite as much,” Repko explained. “Other than Daytona (for a test session), that was the biggest track I had ever been on, so I had a lot to learn. I feel like we did alright, though.”
Of all his memorable moments from the weekend, however, there was one that stood out for Repko – perhaps because it was just as unorthodox as the rest of his journey to this point.
“I almost fell out of the truck when they were starting the ride-around (lap) after driver intros,” Repko laughed. “That was called not paying attention, and not realizing that they take off that fast. I was just taking it all in, and then it’s like, ‘whoa, we’re moving!’ They put handles on those things for a reason.
“It was a rookie mistake, but it’s something we can laugh about now, for sure.”
Repko isn’t sure when his next Xfinity Series start with JD Motorsports will be at this juncture, but his focus is more set on the big picture than the individual pieces of the puzzle.
“We’re going to run multiple races with JD, but I’m looking long-term,” Repko said. “I don’t want to have any sort of bad reputation in the sport and I don’t want to go anywhere. Hopefully, this is just the first step to even more great things.
“We have to assess how I did over the weekend and what I need to improve on before we nail down the next step more specifically, but we’ll be back before too long.”