Brennan Newberry had just arrived at Daytona International Speedway and was strolling though the infield. The excitement in his voice was evident, even 2,600 miles away on the other end of a phone connection.
The 22-year-old Bakersfield native was just a couple of days away from his first race on the historic track and he was soaking in the atmosphere.
"I'm just walking around the infield, looking at all the colors, the motorhomes already lined up ... even for this weekend it's pretty busy, a lot of traffic," said Newberry, a Liberty High and Bakersfield College graduate, late Tuesday afternoon. "This is like a dream come true."
The dream becomes reality today when Newberry competes in the ARCA Lucas Oil 200 (1:30 p.m., Speed). But that's just a preliminary event for Newberry, who will run a limited ARCA schedule as he competes full time in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series that opens its season Feb. 22 with the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona.
The path toward Daytona began last season when Newberry ran in 10 truck races and a couple of ARCA events for the NTS Motorsports team owned by his father, Bob Newberry. NTS merged with Joe Denette Motorsports in December, moved into the former Kevin Harvick, Inc., race shop in Kernersville, N.C. and quickly set sights on the 2013 campaign.
“I don’t know how long it took it pull this thing together, but Dad has put together the best people and I know we’ve put together championship caliber teams,” Newberry said.
Four-time truck series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. competed for Denette last season and remains with the revamped team this year. Kevin Harvick will also run two races for the team in a third truck.
“Harvick racing for us will help the team grow and it’s kind of neat that we have three guys from California on the team,” Newberry said.
And neat, he added, to follow in the footsteps of some pretty impressive racers, such as Rick Mears and Harvick, to come out of Bakersfield.
“There’s a lot of racing history in Bakersfield and it’s really cool to be from Bakersfield and move my way up to the truck series,” he said.
And being from Bakersfield, the NTS team will try to bring some awareness to Kern County as both the ARCA car and Truck are promoting Fight For Life — the Kern County Cancer Fund’s biggest fundraiser last season — at Daytona.
“That’s a cool deal that came together the last minute,” Newberry said. “We went to the event last year and loved it and were impressed by the people who put on the event. We want to keep our hearts and interests in Bakersfield, no matter where we are, and we want to make this year’s event even bigger and better.
“It’s all about raising funds for cancer and trying to find a cure.”
Newberry started racing go karts in 2000 and made the leap to the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series in 2007 at age 17.
“It was a really big jump from karts to the SRL car. Dad just wanted to kind of throw me to the wolves and see how I handled it,” Newberry said. “There was a lot of learning that first season.”
He switched to the smaller USAC Ford Midget cars in 2008 (getting a win) and returned to the tour in 2009, placing ninth in points. He ran a handful and NASCAR K&N Pro Series races over the next three years and upped the ante last year with 10 truck races and two ARCA events. He was very competitive in the ARCA races, finishing fourth and fifth. His best finish in the truck series was 19th.
“Last year was all of our blood, sweat and tears, getting our feet wet to see if we wanted to go down (the truck series) route,” Newberry said.
“This year is a pretty big upgrade and I think the truck series is the right place for me. I’m like jumping off the ground now.”
Newberry enjoyed his experience in ARCA last year, and is using that series to get more experience.
“Here at Daytona it’s a big deal and I’m mostly (racing the ARCA car) for experience and to gain knowledge to get better for the truck race,” he said.
“We have the car and crew in place that’s capable of winning and that would be a cool thing if I could, but there are a lot of very good guys driving in this series with lots of experience at Daytona.”