Conwayite on fast track to NASCAR

Conway teenager Bryant Barnhill gets some advice from his father Chris as he prepares to race the track at Daytona International Speedway during recent ARCA testing.

Most people can only imagine what it’s like to zoom around Daytona International Speedway at more than 185 miles per hour.

Conway teenager Bryant Barnhill, whose motor is revved up by the sound of screaming engines, knows exactly what it’s like to speed around Daytona’s famed high-speed tri-oval.

The 18-year-old was one of approximately 60 young drivers who made their way to Daytona Beach recently to test for the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) Racing Series. The average speed for the weekend was 186 miles per hour.

“It’s an adrenalin kind of thing,” Barnhill said. “I enjoy the relationships and the competition. It’s different than any other sport. The physicality and mindset are unmatched. It’s something I’ve grown to love.”

The Conwayite easily mastered the ARCA testing, which covered basics including getting on and off pit road and entering the garage area safely. In acing the test, Barnhill earned his ARCA license, as well as the right to return to Daytona Beach in February for the Lucas Oil 200 and the start of the 2017 racing season. The schedule includes 20 dates at some of the most famed tracks in the world including Talladega (Ala.) Speedway, Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Chicagoland (Ill.) Speedway, Road America (Wis.), Michigan International Speedway and more.

“I’m really looking forward to running some of those tracks,” Barnhill said. “I’ve been to Daytona a few times but that was my first time being on a track like that. It was like a rollercoaster. It’s scary but you want to keep doing it over and over. It’s crazy. I couldn’t help but have that wow factor. It was kinda funny going from Myrtle Beach to Daytona. It was awesome.”

Barnhill, who won his first race at age 14, and still holds the record as the youngest driver to reach the Winners Circle at Myrtle Beach, began contemplating a move to ARCA in November.

“This past year was probably my best ever as far as racing is concerned,” he said. “I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to race the 2016 season, but God started opening doors. Things that I never thought would happen started happening.”

Barnhill was floored when race car driver and team owner Andy Hillenburg of Fast Track Racing Enterprises in Charlotte, N.C., recently offered him an opportunity be a part of his racing team that competes in the NASCAR Camping World Series as well as the ARCA Re/Max Series.

“I walked in and as soon as I met Andy he said ‘Do you want to go to Daytona?’ A driver like me, you always say yes.”

Barnhill accepted Jesus Christ as his savior at a Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) meeting at Grand Strand Baptist Church when he was 7-years-old. As a Christian who believes that God is in total control, Barnhill has come to realize that God opens doors when the timing is right.

“I had no idea that when one door was closing another one was opening,” he said. “God may say no one time but there may be an ever greater yes coming. I’m excited to see what God has in store for us. I feel like the more I think that something is impossible, the more God makes me think it is possible.”

Having faith and trusting God come very naturally for Barnhill.

“It’s a huge deal not only to me, but in doing something like racing where you’re going more than 180 miles per hour and making split-second decisions you can’t help but think there’s a good chance that I might not make it back.

“God has played a big role in my life opening doors and teaching me lessons. He’s taught me to keep my head up and not worry about it. I know God has something in store for me later on and that satisfies me. In this sport where you’re going more than 185, you can’t help but glorify God and understand He has plans for your life.”

Barnhill serves as president of the student body at Conway Christian School and is also a member of the basketball team. After graduating this summer, he plans to attend Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., in the fall and study motorsports management and financing.

He said the school has a 100 percent graduate placement rate, meaning there is a good chance that he could land a job with one of the numerous racing teams in the Charlotte area. His number one goal, however, is to remain behind the wheel and eventually become a NASCAR star.

Racing isn’t cheap, and Barnhill is looking for sponsors. He said the ARCA Series is televised by Fox Sports 1 and viewed by more than 8 million people across the world.

“Fox Sports 1 blows it up,” he said. “It’s a big deal and a very prestigious event.”

Sponsors also receive a lot of visibility on social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Anyone who is interested in talking with Barnhill about sponsorships can contact him at bryantbarnhill@aol.com. He said sponsorships start at $100, and none are too small.

“I’d like to be able to work with and help businesses and companies from Horry County and from across South Carolina,” he said. “I try to spoil my sponsors. I put it on me to go above and beyond what they need to be achieved. Being able to work with fans and businesses and sponsors is unique. It’s something I love and I hope to keep doing it.”

Barnhill’s goal is to compete full time in the ARCA Racing Series and run a few Camping World Truck Series races, as he makes his way up the ranks.

“This is the closest I’ve ever been,” he said.

Barnhill began racing go karts when he was 3-years-old, and became a stock car driver at 11, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Jack and father Chris, who also excelled at the local tracks. The teen has also been mentored by race car driver and team owner Chad McCumbee, who was mentored by Hillenburg.

McCumbee is Barnhill’s favorite racer along with Trevor Bayne.

“I followed Trevor up through the ranks from Myrtle Beach,” Barnhill said. “His faith is such a big part of who he is.”

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