PHOTO BY CARLOS OSORIO
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press Knoxville driver Trevor Bayne, left, and Tony Stewart talk in the pit area before qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., last Saturday.
MARYVILLE — Trevor Bayne roared around Smoky Mountain Raceway late Wednesday afternoon with a flume of red dust trailing his car.
Bayne had a blast in his first time driving a late-model dirt car — even though it was just a few practice laps.
The 2011 Daytona 500 winner from Knoxville may have found the perfect hobby while he’s not driving NASCAR’s top two circuits.
There’s nothing like driving a fast car on dirt.
“That thing is awesome, man,” Bayne said after climbing out of the car. “I didn’t expect to get it going that quick. I’m just glad the right side’s still on it. I had a lot of fun. It’s definitely something I want to do a lot more of and I think it will help me even with the pavement stuff just because of the car control that you’ve got to have here.”
Bayne was driving a car that is co-owned by Maryville’s Larry Garner while getting tips from the car’s driver, Tommy Kerr, a veteran of dirt track racing.
“I was happy to give him a chance,” Garner said. “I was impressed that he took enough time to not go out there and try to hot-dog it, but when he got comfortable with it, he was impressive. He was real impressive.”
Bayne improved his time throughout each of his first two 10-lap runs around the dirt track, which is four-tenths of a mile.
One of his first laps was turned in 18.5 seconds – an average speed of 77.84 miles per hour.
Later, Bayne made a lap in 17.8 seconds — an average of 80.9 mph.
Bayne hit speeds of almost 120 mph before making the turns.
“These things are just so fun because you can manipulate ’em as a driver,” Bayne said. “You can change it with a throttle and the brake and the steer
ing wheel, whereas our cars (in Sprint Cup and Nationwide), when they’re tight, they’re tight, when they’re loose, they’re loose.
“These (dirt cars) you can still move around. I’m sure in a race somebody’s car might be better than yours and you might get frustrated, but out here just running by yourself, there’s a lot you can do behind the wheel and you can really have a lot of fun with it.”
It’s certainly a lot more fun than being a spectator while he’s idle without sponsorship.
Bayne is scheduled to run 10 more Cup races this season in the Wood Brothers Racing’s No. 21 Ford and probably only one more Nationwide race (at Bristol Motor Speedway) with Roush Fenway Racing.
Bayne doesn’t expect much more to develop sponsorship-wise this season. He finished 43rd in Sunday’s Sprint race in Brooklyn, Mich., after having engine troubles. It was his fifth Sprint race of the season.
“I don’t think there’s much going on for the rest of this year,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to get deals going and get it put together, so in the meantime, I’ll just be hanging out doing some of this stuff.”
By that he mean dirt-track racing.
Bayne, who now lives in Charlotte, N.C., didn’t give details or specifics about his dirt-track plans.
“I’m just wanting to have some fun out here, so I’m going to do this and maybe run some (dirt-track) races this year, but I don’t have a schedule or anything like that put together yet,” Bayne said.
While Bayne is new to running dirt cars, he’s not new to the dirt tracks. He raced go-carts on dirt when he was about 11 years old before going to pavement.
“I understand the concept of dirt racing, and car control is car control, and you’ve got to figure it out,” Bayne said. “I did expect to do a little bit worse, to be honest.”
Dave Link is a freelance contributor.