News & Events

Winning Big in the Fast Lane

By Ted Allen, October 11, 2017
News & Events

Winning Big in the Fast Lane

By Ted Allen, October 11, 2017

William Byron heads to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with character and charisma

William Byron (Photo courtesy of HHP/Harold Hinson)

Navigating college life is challenging enough for any student. Imagine balancing the demands of an academic course load when you’re a professional racecar driver.

Sophomore William Byron, who is driving the No. 9 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro for JR Motorsports as a rookie in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year, showcases a model work ethic and a refreshing spirit of humility and grace under pressure, demonstrating self-discipline and maturity beyond his years.

In July, after becoming the youngest driver to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Byron told reporters, “I just have to thank God. It is really amazing to be here. … Before this weekend, I hadn’t ever been to a Brickyard 400 or Indy 500, so to come here and win is huge. My Liberty University team did an awesome job all week to bring me a great Chevrolet for this weekend, and I am so glad that we got Liberty University in victory lane.”

One month after that win, the 19-year-old was selected to move to NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series — the top tier of NASCAR — in 2018.

William Byron with JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo by Joel Coleman)

The news spread, and Byron’s amazingly quick ascension through the NASCAR ranks was noticed by drivers and fans alike. JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. retweeted Byron’s announcement, saying, “Incredible what this young man has achieved in such a short time.”

Liberty President Jerry Falwell said Byron is an example of success on and off the racetrack.

“Since we first met William, he has never ceased to amaze us with his skills on the racetrack, the strong Christian values he displays, and his focus on academics,” he said. “We have watched him develop very quickly into a driver who can compete with the best in his sport. It is a privilege to support William in his career, in his education, and in life. He epitomizes the type of students we are trying to produce, just with his character.”

Byron will join seven-time Cup Series points champion Jimmie Johnson, 2016 Rookie of the Year Chase Elliott, and Alex Bowman on Hendrick Motorsports’ four-car team, making his debut on NASCAR’s grandest stage at the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

He will have the opportunity to be mentored by three of NASCAR’s most successful and popular drivers — Johnson, Jeff Gordon (now a FOX NASCAR announcer), and Earnhardt, who is retiring after this season.

Gordon, the winningest Cup Series driver of the modern era (since 1972) with 93 trips to victory lane, was a featured guest at Liberty’s first Convocation of the Fall 2017 semester on Aug. 30. He was joined on the stage by Byron and Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports.

On the eve of that event, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Liberty would continue as Byron’s primary sponsor for 12 races in the 2018 and 2019 seasons and that Byron would take the driver’s seat in Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro, occupied by Elliott for the past two seasons.

“Byron is on this upward rise, experiencing tremendous success. He’s got a lot of talent,” Gordon said, before telling Byron, “Enjoy this ride, enjoy every moment.”

Hendrick said William has proven, at every step, how quickly he can adapt.

“Some drivers have raw talent and some have a strong work ethic. William has both,” he said. “It’s impressive to see a young guy who never gets rattled and instinctively knows how to communicate with his team. That level of commitment, poise, and pure ability is rare at any age. I think he’s just scratching the surface.”

Liberty is the only university in history to be a primary sponsor for multiple races in the Cup Series. NASCAR announcer Adam Alexander talked about the uniqueness of the relationship as host of a press conference held Aug. 2 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., Byron’s hometown.

“We all know success in NASCAR is all about good partnerships, and I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a better partnership than Liberty University, JR Motorsports, and William Byron,” he said. “You’ve got a 19-year-old kid that gets it done on the racetrack, gets it done off the racetrack — and you talk about product placement. I mean the kid was living in a dorm at Liberty University while going for a championship last fall. So it’s really, really cool what William has been able to do, and what a great opportunity it is for Liberty University to partner with William.”

Falwell said Liberty’s sponsorship, which actually began when Byron was racing in the K&N Pro Series while still in high school, is a natural fit for both organizations.

“Liberty University is a lot like (Hendrick) Motorsports. We focus on Training Champions for Christ, and I’ve seen how Rick (Hendrick) and his organization nurture drivers and create quality individuals, building their character as well as their ability. So we just thought it was a perfect partnership.”

Liberty is the primary sponsor of 17 races in the Xfinity Series this season.

Byron, who spent one semester on campus last year and is now pursuing his business communications degree online with Liberty, said the sponsorship has helped him excel on and off the racetrack — in actual and virtual classrooms.

“There are a lot of distractions that come with racing, and I feel that Liberty really came along right at the perfect time,” he said during Convocation. “That was the turning point for me and my faith — partnering with Liberty and understanding what this place is all about. The charisma and enthusiasm here is different from any other college. You feel comfortable here. I made a lot of friends when I was on campus, and that grew my faith a lot. This place has allowed me to grow and to become closer to Christ.”

William Byron kisses the bricks — a NASCAR tradition — after winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July. (Photo courtesy of HHP/Jim Fluharty)

As a driver, Byron has shifted gears from one NASCAR series to the next as smoothly as a well-oiled machine, and he has gained traction and momentum at every racetrack along the way with support from Liberty and his pit crews. Dual-enrolled in both the university and in Liberty University Online Academy as a high school senior in 2015, Byron captured the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title, winning four times. Then in 2016, as a freshman at Liberty, he won a rookie-record seven races to help Kyle Busch Motorsports clinch the Camping World Truck Series team championship while earning Rookie of the Year honors and a promotion to the Xfinity Series.

Falwell said one of the secrets to Byron’s success is that he learned how to race online in his early teenage years, using iRacing computer simulation software. He noted that Liberty pioneered online degree programs and that is what put the university on the fast track in higher education.

“At Liberty, we started an adult education program in 1985,” he said. “It took 20 years to build it. We had just perfected it about the time people started getting high-speed internet in their homes in 2005, so it allowed us to propel the university to heights that we never expected. We’ve accomplished in 10 years what we thought would take three or four more generations, spending $1 billion on campus. We are just so excited about this partnership, and we want to use all that we’ve accomplished to further our common goals.”

Byron drove a “throwback” car mimicking the design of Ricky Hendrick’s No. 5 GMAC Chevrolet in the Sept. 2 Xfinity Series race at Darlington, S.C. (Photo courtesy of HHP/Jim Garry Eller)

At the Aug. 2 press conference in Charlotte, Liberty established the Ricky Hendrick Scholarship Fund in memory of Hendrick’s son, who was killed in a plane crash en route to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in 2004. Starting in Spring 2018, the scholarship will be offered to qualifying residential or online students enrolled in Liberty’s Automotive Dealership Management program through the School of Business. The program launched last spring (see article below). JR Motorsports also revealed a “throwback” paint scheme commemorating Ricky Hendrick’s No. 5 GMAC Chevrolet that Byron drove at the Sept. 2 Xfinity Series race in Darlington, S.C.

Hendrick and his wife, Linda, expressed their appreciation to the Falwell family for honoring their son in such a profound way and showed their excitement for the business program that will train students for jobs with dealerships nationwide, including with Hendrick Automotive Group, also owned by Rick Hendrick.

“We really treasure this relationship,” Rick Hendrick said. “We are in the people business … and the foundation of any company is the character of its people. We have 11,000 employees in 16 states, and we have an unbelievable need for quality young people like William and every student we’ve met at Liberty. They are very focused, they are faith-based, and they have a drive and a desire to achieve in life. The school is exploding, and we’re just so happy to be a part of it from the business side of the automotive group. I’m excited about the future of our company based on the talent and leadership that we’ve been able to bring out of your school.”

To donate to the Ricky Hendrick Scholarship Fund, visit Liberty.edu/HendrickScholarship or call (800) 368-3801.

Read more about Byron and follow his progress in the Xfinity Series at WilliamByron.com


Business students test drive careers in Automotive Dealership Management

Students and staff of Liberty’s Automotive Dealership Management program meet with Jeff Gordon, William Byron, and Rick Hendrick. (Photo by Andrew Snyder)

As Liberty University continues to partner with Hendrick Motorsports and student racecar driver William Byron, the university is working on another program that joins the Liberty and Hendrick names together.

Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, also owns Hendrick Automotive Group, the nation’s largest privately held automotive retail organization, operating more than 100 car dealerships across the country. With Hendrick’s help, Liberty began offering the Automotive Dealership Management specialization under the School of Business last spring. Students earn a B.S. in Business Administration and receive hands-on training during two eight-week practicums at dealerships. Liberty worked directly with Hendrick’s team to develop the curriculum.

Liberty alumnus Dan Dehass, an executive general manager for three Hendrick dealerships in Georgia, executed the idea with former School of Business Dean Scott Hicks, now Liberty’s vice provost for graduate education. Together with School of Business Chair Ken Brunson, they are seeking to fill a void in the automotive industry for dealership owners, salespeople, and insurance underwriters who operate sustainable business models according to godly principles.

As a student enrolled in the program, sophomore Landon Dalton had his first eight-week practicum experience over the summer at Honda of Concord, N.C.

“A lot of people with long histories in the car business are coming together to teach us, so it’s a great program,” Dalton said. “Hendrick and Liberty have partnered up with huge things to come. Hendrick has a great group of people with a ton of knowledge. You can see it in all of their employees — they run the company with values.”

Brandon Apon, a former tight end on the Flames Football team who graduated in December 2013 with a degree in business marketing, now works with Dehass as a retail operations manager at the Mall of Georgia Mazda in Buford, Ga. He said the company instills the same ideals in its workers that Liberty does in its students.

“I am called to influence and lead others, and Hendrick Automotive Group gives me an opportunity to do that,” Apon said. “The vision and the goal of Liberty is graduating students who impact the world for Christ. Mr. (Rick) Hendrick has a very similar vision of what kind of leaders he wants for the future.”

Dr. David Calland, interim dean of Liberty’s School of Business, said the Automotive Dealership Management program is a prototype for other business partnerships throughout the university.

“We’re trying to be entrepreneurial, trying to lean into and create new business relationships that enable us to deliver highly qualified graduates to the marketplace,” Calland said. “That is one of the defining things Liberty does really well — identifying unique opportunities for students and then building and maintaining key relationships with companies like Hendrick Automotive Group, which is a great organization.”

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