The world of motorsports is an entirely unique experience for its athletes in that its journey to the top is so difficult. If you’re a Gibbs, an Andretti, or a Schumacher, you’ve got your career laid out for you before it’s even begun. But what if you’re not one of those big names? How do you go from an unnoticed kid in the local kart scene to a champion in your respective series? This is the story of ARCA driver and Xfinity mechanic Brad Perez and how he’s trying to do just that.
Growing up in Hollywood, Florida, 24 year-old Perez has been a racing fan for as long as he can remember. He remembers having a Jeff Gordon poster in his room as a kid and knew that he wanted to race just like that someday.
Watching those races as a kid, Juan Pablo Montoya was his biggest inspiration, especially since he got to watch him and his son race frequently. “Just seeing how much he’s invested in motorsport and how he’s such a multi-disciplined driver and how good he’s been over the course of, like, 20 years. That’s pretty awesome.”
Then at just eight years old, he got in a kart for the first time. His first experience behind the wheel involved a test as well as a race, and he wrecked in the test before the race could begin. While that didn’t deter him from his goal, his parents thought it wasn’t necessarily the path for him. It would be another nine years before he got to race wheel-to-wheel for the first time.
Since then, his journey has been guided by the many mentors he’s had in racing. His first full season came in the Briggs LO206 Class where he finished second in the championship, winning two races.
From there, he began racing Spec Miata. “I wanted to move up, but I didn’t know how to… [Everyone] said Miata’s what you gotta do. It’s cheap and momentum-based, so the driver makes a difference,” he recalls. He began racing in the series to prove to himself whether or not this was what he was meant to do.
In his first season, he won his second race in the regional series. “Okay, this is serious,” he remembered. Once he knew he could compete at the regional level, he moved up to the national level with the help of his mentor at the time, Preston Pardus. “If I could get to his level, I could do well,” he says of Pardus.
Racing Specs, Perez was able to develop his mechanical skills in addition to learning how racing works from the inside. “There’s a lot more moving pieces that you have to really consider, so it helped me get that experience and understand the sport,” he said of the series.
With this experience, he decided to start looking for jobs in NASCAR that could help him begin his racing career there. He moved to North Carolina at just 20 years old and found a job with JD Motorsports. “It was the best learning environment because everyday you’re just thrown into the most difficult things and you have to just figure it out.”
In addition to helping his racing career, he says it also greatly helped his work ethic. Since moving away from home, he didn’t have as much help from his parents as he used to. Things as simple as getting to races became more difficult without his family around. That’s where his new racing family came in. People like Scott Heckert, Will Rodgers, and Myatt Snider have helped him by lending trailers, taking him to the track, and giving him a place to stay.
The more he had to lean on others, however, the more he thought about his career and if it was worth it to continue. “Even though I was getting $1,000-$1,200 in sponsorship, it still cost me almost $3,000 a weekend to do it. I didn’t have enough money to do this – and live – so I really had to think about what to do next,” he recalls.
His racing family had his back in this moment as well, letting him know that if he really put his head down, he could “do this NASCAR thing”. “They pushed me to consider doing an ARCA race,” he said of his mentors, “and that was like a dream come true”.
Another vastly important lesson he’s learned from these mentors is to put everything into perspective. “It’s one thing to race small cars with no coverage which is why I’m so big on social media. For people to take notice of [what I was doing] and support me, it meant a lot. If it weren’t for the generosity of others who pushed me to do more than I thought I was capable of, I wouldn’t be in this position.” That push to leave his comfort zone was exactly what he needed to get his career off the ground. “Putting yourself out there is kind of the moral of the story,” he says.
While he has had great help in his career, he’s also had some inevitable setbacks. Unlike many young drivers in the top national series, he did not grow up in a racing family. A first generation American, he had to teach himself everything about racing, including how to build a car with his dad. Even then, he didn’t get the best results with it. “I had to find my mentors as I went,” he says, “because my family didn’t have any connections to anyone who could help fund my career, help me figure out what the hell I’m doing, or even tell me what not to do.”
While he has only been in three wrecks in his career, the ones he was involved in had a great impact. “Every time that I’ve crashed, it has been a traumatic experience because of the money I had to spend to fix it,” he described.
In a 2018 race, he was leading names like Gracie Trotter, Carson Ware, and Will Rodgers when he wrecked and the car was nearly destroyed. “I had to pay almost $2,000 to fix it. I had to stop racing for almost half a year to come up with the money to pay it off. But that helped me understand my limits and consider that I might not race again if I make a big mistake.”
Additionally, he didn’t grow up in a big racing area. Although sportscar racing is big in the Miami area, it is always funded by big names with a lot of money. Once he moved to North Carolina, he entered a much different scene where normal people can still race. “This really helped, to be around people who knew where I was coming from,” he said of his new home.
While his career has grown and evolved over the years, so have his goals for himself. When he first began racing at age eight, his goal was to win a Cup Series Championship. As he got older, he narrowed it down to making a Cup Series start. Now, however, his goal is to simply make a living by racing.
“It was so difficult for me to even get my first damn start in anything, so if I can race every week without having to worry about paying bills, that would be great,” he says of his current goals. People like Landon Cassill, Parker Kligerman, and Scott Heckert were mentioned as people he looks up to in this respect. “If I could be like them, that would be pretty cool.”
Anyone who looks at Perez and his career so far is able to tell that he will be like them in no time. Even outside of racing, his hard work never stops. Between working at BMW from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. to working on sponsorships, he rarely has much time for himself. The time he does have, though, is usually spent with friends.
“It’s never a dull day in the house,” he says. Roommate of Xfinity drivers Ryan Vargas and Myatt Snider and neighbor of Cody Ware, he always finds something to do in his down time. “We either watch Netflix or play FIFA, everyday is something different. Luckily I’ve built up a great network where we can just hang out or do work.”
When he’s not hanging out with friends or working his many different jobs, he’s working on his racing career. When asked which part of his career needed the most work, he simply laughed and said “everything”. While he has a great network of people in the industry surrounding him, he doesn’t want to rely on them and doesn’t have someone to specifically help him with sponsorship. He also said that seat time was a big issue.
“I’ve only raced two full seasons of anything… I’ve been having to part-time everything because of money,” he says. Practice makes perfect, and practicing is very expensive in racing.
While iRacing is used by a lot of drivers to practice when they don’t have access to their cars, Perez doesn’t find it extremely helpful. While it gives him a basic understanding of what to do behind the wheel, he says it doesn’t feel very realistic. “The iRacing car feels not very similar to the real car, like the iRacing car is so much harder to drive. It’s almost turned me off of it because I have to concentrate so much on how to drive it.”
On the other hand, there are also some aspects of his career that he feels he does well, and that help him move forward. “I understand the value of hard work and what it does for me, and what it does for the people around me to, like, want to help me,” he says. “It’s impossible for me to quit at this point.”
Perez turns to driver and truck team owner Timmy Hill when thinking about how he wants to model his own career. “He made his debut in the Cup Series when he was 18 years old and he never tried to light the world on fire. He understood he didn’t have many opportunities, so he knew if he kept the car in one piece, it would help him become a better driver which would in turn help him get more opportunities.”
Perez understands that while good equipment can be essential to getting good results, it’s also in the drivers hands. A lot of good drivers end up with poor results because they simply try too hard or are in over their heads. He has made this a sort of mantra for his own career, and teams have noticed.
On August 6, 2021, Perez competed in his first ARCA Menards Series race. With next to no time to prepare, he had only nine days to put the deal together and finalize it. “We were working from 7 a.m. to midnight every single day. I had a lot of people helping out just about for free which was so helpful. Josh Williams even worked with us on his birthday until midnight!” he described.
His main sponsor, Rackley Roofing, hopped on almost right away which made it possible for him to race. He even got to put Memorial Regional Hospital, a children’s hospital he used to work at, on the car as another sponsor along with other organizations close to him such as Every Life is Worth Saving and Racing Underdogs. “Having them on the car was such a big deal for me,” he said, “almost so that the race was only, like, 5% of everything that had to do with that deal.”
Perez has a wealth of special memories from that day, including having his parents and Spec Miata crew chief in attendance. “I was so nervous,” he remembers, “race day felt like a blank. I was starting to unload things from the trailer just so I could think about something else.” He remembers talking to crew members and his fellow drivers in the garage that day, “It was super surreal because I never thought I would be on the other side.”
In his practice round earlier in the day, he got a sort of precursor to what the actual race would bring. “One of our brake rotors exploded and GMS ended up loaning us [one].” Although he had to start last, he didn’t let it get to him. “I took the green flag and didn’t even think about it,” he said. “Every lap I was just getting more comfortable, taking it easy and passing a few cars cleanly.”
Early in the race, he realized there was an issue with the car and took it to pit road. The crew nursed the issue as best as they could, and sent him back out. “We restarted and I went ‘Oh my God, I am 14th,”’ he said, laughing. “But after that, my brakes were sticking and there was nothing I could do. I almost wrecked somebody because my brakes simply did not work.”
He was forced to come back down pit road, “The issue we had was what we had, there was nothing we could do. It’s okay though because we only had nine days y’know? [No matter what] it was a very memorable experience.”
Although the finish wasn’t what he wanted, he is still grateful for the chance to run it at all. “After the race, I cried a lot,” he remembers. “Every time Myatt would say three words I would cry more. And then I found out I had an interview on Sirius XM, and I cried even more,” he said, laughing. “It was a beautiful day even though bad stuff happened.”
Whether on the track or in the garage, Perez is constantly surrounded by the culture of NASCAR. While said culture has greatly improved in recent years because of figures like Bubba Wallace, Devon Rouse, Natalie Decker, and many others, events like the post-race interview at the recent Talladega Xfinity race have proven there’s still a long way to go. Being a minority himself, I asked how he blocks out that noise and continues to work as hard as he does.
“It’s a tough subject,” he says, “because a lot of people don’t want to hear you talk about it. The more you talk about it, the more you’re seen as a target.” Even in the garage, people like Brehanna Daniels are continuing to break down the barriers that NASCAR fans and personnel have built up over the years.
“We always try to search out the people who are different and create a community at the track,” he says. “We try to not talk about it, but we all deal with what we witness together. We have our network of Minorities in Motorsport where we share our feelings and talk about things that we can’t in public. As much as you can consider it a minority, there’s a lot of us in the garage that the light isn’t really shown on.”
From transgender crew members to women and black men behind the wheel, there are so many different people in motorsports. Perez states that it’s comforting to see so many young minorities like himself at the track. The sport has made great progress over the years, and there are many safe spaces that exist for minorities that wouldn’t have even just ten to fifteen years ago.
While it’s exciting to see where the sport as a whole is going both now and into the future, Perez is also looking forward to where his own career will take him. When asked about his plans for next year, he says he does not have any. “My intent is to run at least a couple of Xfinity and Truck road courses,” he says. “I’m grateful to have been approved to run both next year. I’m trying to price it out, but I don’t have any sponsorship commitments right now. It’s all dependent on availability.”
His biggest goal for the coming season is to run all road courses, but to that he simply says “Who knows?” He recognizes that he plays a huge role in his own career, and needs to take what he’s learned from past deals to make any new ones. “I have to be up to shape for it, it requires a lot of work on my end. I hope that I can look back at this later and be like ‘Oh man, you did it!’”
It is clear to see that someone as hardworking as Brad deserves a ride in any of the top series. Whether on the track or in the pits, he gives everything he has to his team and it shows. From the eight year old who wrecked in his first test to the ARCA driver who competed against Gibbs, Hocevar, Herbst, and Briscoe, Brad Perez has shown he has what it takes to be successful in motorsports. Although it’s never been the easiest path, he’s picked himself up and tried again each time he’s hit a roadblock. And he’s made it clear that he’ll continue to do so until he’s reached that ultimate goal of making a living out of doing what he loves – driving race cars.
If you would like to reach out to Brad about a sponsorship deal, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Featured images from Daylon Barr.