NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Josh Berry, who will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet for front-running team JR Motorsports, epitomizes the old-school NASCAR driver in many ways while also embracing the cutting edge of digital tools available to today's drivers.
He cut his teeth on the proving grounds of the American short track racing scene, graduating from go-karts and Legends cars and moving up to the cutthroat late model racing scene. Once there, he made sure everyone knew his name as a fair but hard-nosed racer who knew how to find his way to victory lane.
However, his move to late model racing came about when NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who had raced against Berry in the highly competitive arena of online racing on iRacing.com, decided to see whether this talented young wheelman from Hendersonville,TN could translate his virtual stock car experience to the real thing, driving for Earnhardt's JR Motorsports team.
Suffice to say, Dale Jr.'s hunch paid off, and then some, as Berry racked up wins and titles in late models, and now, he finds himself at the hallowed grounds of Daytona International Speedway, about to compete in the Xfinity Series season-opener, as well as 11 other events in 2021.
We caught up with Berry days before the Daytona race, and spoke with him about his journey to this point, the role father Kevin played in it, as well as his own transition to being a father, and a lot more! Read on.
Hi Josh! First off, congrats on your 12-race Xfinity Series deal with JR Motorsports. Is there any particular race from those 12 that you've circled which you are especially looking forward to running at?
Josh Berry: I definitely feel like it's Martinsville. As a past winner of the big Late Model race there, I definitely feel most confident going there.
We'll get back to talking more about your 2021 schedule for sure, but first, let's go back to when it all began. Can you remember when you first felt the racing bug bite?
Josh Berry: Probably when I was around 5 or 6 years old. My father always had the races on, and I just loved watching them. The first race that really stands out to me is the 1997 Daytona 500.
I think it's fair to say your father Kevin has been your biggest fan, supporter and motivator through it all. Tell us about his role in your racing career.
Josh Berry: He got me my first go-kart for my eighth birthday, and he has been there every step of the way. He sacrificed a lot for me to be able to start racing and continue it throughout the years.
As you successfully worked your way up through go-karts and Legends cars, you were also a regular frontrunner on NASCAR's virtual circuit - which is now the Coca-Cola iRacing Series. That was when Dale Earnhardt, Jr., himself an avid "iRacer", tabbed you to drive for his late model team, where you went on to enjoy tremendous success. Could you tell us how that all came about for you?
Josh Berry: Honestly, I feel like I was just in the right place at the right time. We were kind of tapped out financially with what we were going to be able to do, and Dale was at the point with his program where he was looking for another driver. Dale and I had become friends through online racing over the years, and it all just came together. I remember going to test at Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia, and that went well, which earned me a couple races.
A lot of people in the iRacing and simulation racing community in general look up to you as validation of their hobby being a springboard toward a racing career in the real world. While it's obvious that a simulation can never fully condition you for all the things you feel and experience in an actual race car, how much would you say it does contribute, in your own experience as someone who can be seen on iRacing quite regularly even now?
Josh Berry: There is a lot that you can take away from iRacing. Obviously, with the tracks being scanned perfectly, I think that is a big help if you haven't been somewhere. Also, it is still a very competitive level of racing. How you race with others, passing, etcetera, can all be improved by iRacing.
You've enjoyed tremendous success in late models, and are freshly off winning the 2020 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series championship. What is it about late models that have suited your style so well?
Josh Berry: From the first time I drove one, I always seemed to have some good speed, it was just about learning how to race and finish well in the longer races.
Late models race primarily on tight and bumpy short tracks where aerodynamics play a small role in comparison to the mechanical grip of the car, while in the Xfinity series, most of the tracks are fast, wide and smooth, and aerodynamics play a much bigger role. How would you therefore compare the two styles? And what translates from racing a late model at Hickory to an Xfinity car at Homestead?
Josh Berry: They are definitely a lot different. The power-to-weight ratio of the cars are overall pretty similar. I think the most you can take away is just pushing your car to the limit while still taking care of it. The aero effects are obviously a huge learning curve as well.
In recent years, there's been a growing disconnect between NASCAR's national series and the grassroots scene, with many short-tracks going under. As someone who's been in the trenches, so to speak, what do you feel can be done to improve the situation so more deserving short track racers like yourself can come up the ladder?
Josh Berry: That is hard to say. I think having partners like Advance Auto Parts involved in the weekly series is a really good thing. I think, overall, the weekly scene just needs more attention, so it helps guys like myself gain exposure, and hopefully sponsorship, over time.
Coming back to your exciting Xfinity schedule for 2021, you’ll be working with crew chief Taylor Moyer. As any NASCAR fan knows, good communication between driver and crew-chief is paramount to success on track. In that regard, how have the two of you gelled so far?
Josh Berry: I really like Taylor. We are close in age and personality, which I think will help. He spent a lot of time working on Late Models on the short tracks, so I think he understands where I am coming from.
Obviously, this is not your first rodeo at the national level. You've run seven races in the Xfinity Series and one truck race, at a variety of race tracks like Iowa, Darlington and Homestead. However, you've never raced at a superspeedway before. What will be your approach to Daytona this week and how do you feel about racing at what is arguably the most prestigious venue in the sport?
Josh Berry: I'm going to just try to be patient early on and learn as much as I can. If we can make it to the end with the car in one piece, we will stand a chance at a good finish.
Just what is it like driving for someone as accomplished and popular in the sport as your JR Motorsports team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
Josh Berry: It really has been great. There are a lot of positives that come from having him as an owner, but most of all, he just a great guy with a big heart. I have been very lucky to have the opportunities he has given me.
You and your wife Ginny were blessed with your beautiful daughter Mackenzie last year. What has parenthood been like so far?
Josh Berry: It has been amazing. She has been such a blessing to us. I just wish time would slow down a little bit. You never realize how fast time goes by until you have a child.
What's the funniest racing-related story that you can share with us from your time in the sport?
Josh Berry: It is hard to pick one for sure. The best part of racing is the time you spend with the people, so there has been too many to name. I am just thankful for all the friendships I have developed through racing.
Josh, thank you very much for your time. We wish you all the best in your 2021 racing endeavors.