Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their career path. Up next: Bronson Butcher, mechanic and tire specialist for GMS Racing and a part-time driver. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.
What do you do right now with GMS Racing?
I’m the tire specialist and mechanic on the No. 23 Xfinity car for GMS Racing.
People may have just picked up right there on your accent. It’s not the stereotypical Southern accent people hear in NASCAR. Where did this whole thing start for you?
I’ve kind of lost my accent by now, but I was born and raised in Australia — a small country town in Australia. There wasn’t much racing heritage in my family, but my parents were always rev heads and we’d go to the V8 Supercar races, the dirt racing, drag racing, all of it when I was a little kid.
I decided I wanted to get into racing myself and started racing go-karts when I was 8 years old. Just been doing it ever since then.
My first trip to America was in 2006. I went to Phoenix, Arizona, through a series of events. I won a state championship in dirt racing in Australia, kind of got invited to race in Phoenix and that was the first time I ever got the experience of NASCAR. Until then, no one had ever heard of it in Australia. It was kind of an unknown thing across the pond. From the first time I watched the Cup race in Phoenix in 2006, I knew that was what I wanted to do ever since.
When you first started with the go-karts there, what’s the karting scene like in Australia? Are there tons of people doing it? Is racing a big sport there?
It is. It’s just as serious as it is here in America. Everyone takes it real seriously. But the kind of tradition there, especially when I was growing up racing, everyone wanted to make it to F1 or V8 Supercars. It’s all road course racing. There aren’t any asphalt (oval) speedways. If you want to do speedway racing, you’re in dirt, sprint car stuff, which is really big in Australia too, but I was always into asphalt.
Since I first saw NASCAR in Phoenix there, I just knew that was what I wanted to do. It was actually the same year Marcos Ambrose made his rookie season in Trucks, and so kind of until then, no one had ever been to America to race NASCAR. For the next few years, 2008, ’09, and ’10, I raced, I’d come over to Las Vegas, raced Legend cars with T.J. Clark and his Spencer Clark-driven race team, and it kind of just snowballed from there.
What about NASCAR appealed to you that you’re like, “Wow, this is really cool, more than V8 Supercars and sprint cars?” Why NASCAR?
I’ve never seen racing that was so close, like two-wide, the whole field was nose to tail. Just the whole experience, the fans, I’ve never seen that many fans at a racetrack before. The motorhomes, tailgating as far as you can see.
That’s just something you don’t get in road course racing, really. It’s all about once they get through the first lap, they all spread apart and the race kind of settles that way. But yeah, NASCAR is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, just cars racing that close. They’re so competitive, especially back in 2006, those 15 guys racing within tenths of a each other, racing for a win. Any one of them could have won. So that was really impressive to me and a real eye-opener.
You said you would come over and do Legend car stuff. Was that with the intent of, “OK, I’m gonna get better on ovals and learns how to do oval racing?” Or at that time, what were your career goals and where did it go from there?
I’ve always — and still do — want to make a career out of racing. Cup racing is obviously the pinnacle there. So while I was finishing high school, I dabbled around in Legend car racing and Late Models. Raced a few Late Model stocks at Irwindale Speedway and the Bull Ring in Las Vegas, and when I finished high school in 2011, I packed up and moved to Mooresville, North Carolina.
The opportunity wasn’t there for my parents to move just with the whole visa situation — it’s not simple. But kind of got my start in racing with GMS Racing. I obviously needed a job to pay the bills and all that and started work there as a mechanic and just tried my hardest to find sponsorship, find a ride, just get my foot in the door, make sure people knew my name.
And so you’re still doing racing, as you mentioned, when you can. Obviously I’m sure this has to come first, your road life. When do you find time to race and how’s that going?
So for the last few years I built my own Legend car and I’ve raced all across the country the last two seasons. I got the pole at (U.S. Legends Asphalt) Nationals last year and was leading the last lap — but didn’t lead the last lap. I sold the Legend car and GMS Racing, they have a Super Late Model we built for Spencer Gallagher to run the Snowball Derby two seasons ago, and since then it’s been sitting in the shop. (Team president) Mike Beam came to me one day and said, “If you want to get this car ready and find a way to get to the track, we’ll let you race it.”
So my first race was the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park last year, and we finished second. Had a bunch of the guys from the Truck teams and the Xfinity teams come help me that weekend. We had a lot of fun and Mike gave me the chance to (race) anytime I can make it to the track this year.
So I did a race at Cordele (Georgia), the SpeedFest at the beginning of the season. Was having a good top-10 run and got caught up in a mess on the restart. And then had a fifth-place run at Concord a couple weeks ago.
But obviously, it’s like you said — the road life is what pays the bills so I’ve got to keep chasing that and hopefully we have a few off weekends towards the end of the season and we’ll go racing more.
You mentioned the visa situation. It’s obviously a little bit harder for you and your situation to just pack up and fly across the globe essentially and leave your family behind. What were some of the difficulties in doing that and has that been hard for you still to this day?
It is difficult. Obviously I’ve got a few more barriers than a lot of people to cross when it comes to living here and trying to make a living. The visa and immigration stuff isn’t easy, but it hasn’t really slowed me down any.
It’s funny, it comes up in conversation with my dad every once in awhile — when I was first trying to race in America and trying to make it over here back in 2008, 2009, we never had broadband Internet. We were still using dial-up where your phone rings when you try to connect to the Internet. Those times were miserable, it’s like to load a webpage was five minutes long. It’s funny what we managed to do with the limited resources we had back then. So right now it’s not so bad.
I tell a lot of people, whether you’re from Australia or California or Ohio, we all get on the Internet to talk to our family. My plane ride’s just an extra 10 hours for most people. It’s really not that bad. It’s a small world of technology these days, and we’re able to make the most of it.
When you first came to Mooresville, did you know anybody? How did you end up at GMS at that time?
When I was racing Legend cars in Las Vegas, Spencer Gallagher was my teammate, we raced for the same team. And T.J. Clark, who was the team owner at the time, he was the mentor for Spencer, and kind of helped move Spencer to Mooresville and start up. At the time, it was ARCA racing and the K&N East Series. So when I decided I moved over here, I called up Spencer and TJ.. and told them my plans, and they’re the ones that offered me the job and I kind of got my foot in the door.
Wow, that’s amazing. It would be one thing if you had grown up in Las Vegas or something, but just the fact that you happened to be racing there and then met them, that’s pretty cool.
Yeah, it is amazing. With racing, it’s just how much of a tight-knit community it is. Everybody knows everybody and everybody’s helping other people. It’s really cool.
Do you feel like with the situation you have now with the racing stuff, you’re going to just keep trying whenever you can to drive and get that racing opportunity as a driver? What’s your plan with it all?
I’m definitely not giving up on the driving thing yet. For this season, I’m going to do as many races as I can in the Super Late Model and balance that with the Xfinity Series stuff we’re doing. GMS Racing is doing a lot with helping develop future drivers, getting them through Trucks and up to the Xfinity ranks. I think I’d like to be on board with that and possibly if I’m not driving, help other kids come through and possibly help them race with a Super Late Model. I’d definitely like to see other kids come up, kind of give them the opportunity I had, too.
If somebody else was reading this and they’re in the situation, they’re like, “I really don’t want to give up my driving dreams yet, but maybe I need a stable income while I’m still trying to do it.” Would you say that it’s still possible to find a career doing both where you’re able to balance them?
Yeah, it’s been very difficult, but the one thing’s that got me through and got me the opportunity to drive the race car is the hard work that it took. It’s a full time job trying to do the mechanic stuff in the Xfinity and Trucks Series. But I’d still work on my Legend cars late at night, and I think the GMS Racing gang and Mike Beam saw that and saw how bad I wanted it, so they’ve given me this opportunity for no other reason at all, really. So I always believed and heard that hard work pays off at the end. You might not always see it, but it definitely does, and I think if anyone has that dream and ambition to keep driving, just keep chasing after it. You don’t know where it will take you.
I never thought I’d end up here when I was 10 years old racing go-karts in Australia. And I might not make it to the Cup level, but I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of good experiences along the way.
I understand what you’re saying about losing your accent since being over here, but I can still hear it. Do your family and friends in Australia say, “What’s happened to your accent?”
Actually this offseason is the last time I’ve been home in five and a half years, and so everyone there thought I sounded like an American. I tried to go home for a month and try to get my accent back a little bit.