Dale Jr.? Gone. Jeff Gordon, too … NASCAR needs stars, good thing it has William Byron

Brendan Marks, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It's a testament to William Byron that it took all of this -- free-falling from 18,000 feet, holding his breath to not pass out, doing loop-de-loops in a fighter jet -- to unnerve him even a little bit.

And even then, he really wasn't unnerved.

After all, when Byron climbed out an F-16 plane on Tuesday afternoon at Daytona Beach International Airport after an hour-long ride with the Thunderbirds -- an air demonstration unit of the U.S. Air Force -- he easily could have been sick. Yacked on the runway, kissed the ground. Nobody would have been surprised either way, especially not after he pulled 9 G's.

"The vertical twist -- which is basically a loop -- where you just see the sun, that was the hardest thing," Byron, a Charlotte, N.C., native, said. "Right before the loop, I started to get a little dark and my head was a little light and I just couldn't really breathe.

"I wasn't getting too sick ... but you'd look up and you'd start going dark and you see the sun and you're like, 'When is this going to end?' "

But panicking isn't Byron's style. Still just 20 years old and a student at Liberty University, there's a calm about the Charlotte Country Day graduate -- a quiet confidence, if you will.


That helped during Tuesday's flight, where he soared to Cape Canaveral and the adjacent NASA Kennedy Space Center, but it'll also do him good in the long run -- which, by the way, starts Sunday.

That's when Byron will strap into his No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro (the plane he flew in Tuesday had his old No. 7, right under a thin cursive spelling of his name) for the 60th running of the Daytona 500.

"When I was up there, I was like, 'I can't complain now,' " Byron said of racing a car. "This thing (the plane) was kicking my butt."

Sunday will be Byron's first NASCAR Cup Series race.


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