Through some interesting coordination via one of my colleagues, Shane Smith and sprint car racer Travis Berryhill, I was able to connect with the mud slinging race car driver. While I camp out for the winter months in Yuma, Arizona and Travis, a transplanted Californian, has taken up residence in the heart of sprint car racing, the Indianapolis Indiana area, an in person interview would seem highly unlikely.
However, our paths crossed at the Indy Car race weekend at the Phoenix International Raceway a couple of weeks ago. After a couple of failed attempts at meet in the morning hours of IndyCar practice, we finally got together in the early afternoon while the IndyCars were out on the track for their final test session.
Herein is the transcripts of the interview of this very engaging your gun.
WorkingOnMyRedneck: Travis can you give the readers your racing background? When did you get into racing?
Travis Berryhill: That really goes way back to before I started racing. It really goes back to the history of my family and my parents. My family has always been around racing. My parents met at a dirt track in California back in the late 70’s. My dad owned a super modified and a sprint car and my mom even raced stock cars. My dad raced for some years after my parents got married, primarily in the SF Bay area, Vallejo Speedway, Petaluma, Antioch, and San Jose.
I started playing T-Ball at about 5 or 6 years old, and I wasn’t really very good at it! About that same time my parent’s friends started their kids into quarter midget racing and my dad asked me if I wanted to start racing instead of keep playing baseball. I didn’t hesitate on the answer and here I am many years later racing sprint cars and midgets.
WOMR: After racing quarter midgets what other divisions did you race?
TB: This was just about the time that Jeff Gordon was breaking onto the NASCAR scene and I was living in the town next to Vallejo, American Canyon, CA. I was racing at many of the same tracks that Jeff Gordon had raced at, so I wanted to follow his footsteps. With Jeff Gordon being the local hero, I really wanted to follow the path that he had blazed, as did many other young racers of that era.
But I wasn’t going to be able to move right into a sprint car or midget at 12 or 13 years old like Gordon had done. To do that, it would also have required moving back to Indiana at a young age. My path was to transition from quarter midgets into micro midgets, while later moving into sprint cars. I raced at several Northern California race tracks like Stockton, Sacramento, Cycleland Speedway near Chico, and a few more race tracks in and around Northern California. There were many good race tracks around the Bay Area and the Sacramento, California area that promoted those types of races. So that is the way that I transitioned into sprint cars.
WOMR: So now you are living back in Indiana, the heart of sprint car country, are you going to be competing back there all summer? What does your schedule look like?
TB: Not quite. I wish that I had a full summer. I have been working hard for that. The midget teams that I race for actually do not race every race. Those teams pick and choose which races that they compete in. They want to maximize their returns. Because these teams do not race every weekend, I started my own sprint car team two years ago to try to race on a more regular basis. I am still in the process of growing my race team. I am not racing every weekend because the expenses are coming out of my pocket, but that is the goal. I am working 50–60 hours a week, trying to grow my race team, and it is a difficult balancing act. I am trying to make all the big USAC races like Gas City, Kokomo, Putnamville, Bloomington, Terre Haute and all those tracks.
Even if you don’t actually run the USAC sanctioned stuff, you can race at all the same race tracks to get built up to running with USAC. That is my vision.
WOMR: What has been you biggest challenge since you started up your own sprint car team?
TB: The biggest challenges have been time and budgeting. You know there are a million different places that you can spend your money and learning to be wise as to where you actually should spend those dollars has been a big challenge. Time is a big challenge, also. I still work and I work directly in the racing industry. Luckily, I have some guys that have been voluntarily helping out a lot more in the race shop. My guys are mostly volunteers, unlike many of the drivers that I compete against that have full time guys that they pay.
I have several guys that are really helping me out at the shop. That allows me to concentrate on trying to get some new sponsorship to grow my team. It also allows me to try to keep the sponsors that I do have happy. It is really important to do this and not burn bridges along the way. The racing world is way too small to torch things behind you.
WOMR: Travis, is it really difficult to bring new sponsorship partners into sprint car racing?
TB: I would say yes that is is difficult to bring new partners into sprint car racing. Many of the sponsors that you see in sprint car racing is more generational. Some of those businesses have been involved in sprint car racing for years. Maybe some of those businesses were family run businesses that were involved in racing as the business is handed down to their children. There are many businesses that have been sponsoring midgets, sprint cars and silver crown cars for 5, 10, 15 years and more.
If you are unable to entice sponsorship businesses then the other option is that you need to have parents with a lot of money or a family owned business to help foot the racing bills!
I still think that there are many opportunities to bring in new sponsorship partners, but again it depends on just how much time you have to cultivate those partners. You can have the greatest race team and a very fast car, but if you don’t have the time to put together good sponsors you will not be successful in putting the car in Victory Lane.
Time management is very important!
WOMR: Travis it sounds like you are an extremely busy young man. But what are your interests outside of racing and away from the track?
TB: Well, I bought a house last year and the grass really grows fast in the summer in Indiana! So I climb on my riding lawnmower and keep the house looking good. I try to stay in shape by running and riding my bicycle.
I also love eating tacos! I try to find a new taco joint every now and then and check them out.
I also like to do a lot of race stuff that is unrelated to my race team, just for balance. That is why I am out here at Phoenix International Raceway with the Vintage Indy Car thing.
WOMR: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
TB: I would like to see myself growing my race team to be able to race regularly in the national USAC events. I would also like to open up the team to maybe run a 2 or 3 car team. Maybe that would include also fielding a silver crown car or a midget, or both. Maybe I could help coach an up and coming driver. I would like to grow my team so that it we are are racing every week, getting good results and are a viable top notched race team.
I think that the sprint car racing world is at a change point and I want to take advantage of that. There is a lot of new technology that is being incorporated and I want to be a part of that.
WOMR: Travis what is you favorite race track?
TB: Whichever race track that I just won at! Right now that is the Chili Bowl. (Travis won his heat race on night two of this huge midget event. He beat big names like Sammy Swindell, Donny Schatz, Paul McMahan, and David Gavel in that race!) Whether I win or not the Chili Bowl is my favorite race, hands down.
As far as any outdoor track it would have to be the High Banks of Belleville. It is fast! I like the big tracks like Belleville and Eldora (both are fast half mile race tracks), especially when they get slicked off, no cushion and you race right around the fence! You are not banging on the fence and beating it down, but you are being smooth, steady and really, really fast! Of those two tracks Belleville is my absolute favorite dirt race track.
My favorite paved track is a little race track in Northern California, Lakeport Speedway. This track is old and there is no grip, slick as heck and fast. Lakeside is where I got my first ever midget win. I have also had a couple of clean sweeps there, quick time, heat wins and feature event wins all in one night.
WOMR: If you weren’t a race car driver what would you be doing for a living?
TB: Oh man, if it couldn’t be race related, I don’t know! Maybe I would try to be a music critic or something like that. I wouldn’t have to work so hard, I could just sit on my butt, listen to music and write about it! (Travis was chuckling and laughing as he made this response!) Maybe I would be a golfer.
WOMR: Of all the things that you have accomplished so far, what are you most proud of?
TB: I am most proud of the sprint car team that I have built over the last couple of years. I started it without a bunch of money. I had to borrow an open trailer to haul the race car to the race tracks. I also had to borrow my dad’s truck to haul the race car around. To have the relationships that allowed me to borrow a trailer, to borrow a truck to get the race car to the track, and to rent the back of a business for very little money in order to work on the sprint car. I am proud that I have built a race team from the ground up with lots of help and very little money. To be able to have people come together and help me get the team going, that’s what I am most proud of!
After listening to the answers that Travis gave me to these questions, I came away with some very interesting observations.
My first observation is that he comes across as a very intelligent young man. Secondly is that Travis is passionate and has a plan to try to make his vision come to fruition. Lastly, it was apparent to me that Berryhill knows where he is going and where he wants to take his race team.
For the readers that live out in “Sprint Car Country”, and follow the sprint car world, look for Travis Berryhill at the race track. After the races go back to the pits and give him a shout out!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!