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Auburn student Bret Holmes in hunt for ARCA racing championship

Auburn student Bret Holmes in hunt for ARCA racing championship

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As a senior at Auburn University, Bret Holmes’ week looked somewhat like the typical college student. The 23-year-old had two tests on Tuesday, and then on Friday he had an assignment he had to turn in. Time management is crucial for all students, but it’s doubly so for someone as busy as Holmes.

Holmes just so happened to have another big task in between those academic responsibilities: racing for 200 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway, the high-banked half-mile race track that has left even the world’s best drivers flummoxed and flustered.

When Holmes is not taking tests or turning in homework with his December graduation closing in, he’s often behind the wheel of the No. 23 Bret Holmes Racing Chevrolet as part of the ARCA Menard Series. The Munford native has had considerable success in his fourth season in ARCA, as he has one win and 11 top-five finishes and sits just three points out of first place in the season standings.

Juggling his workload between the classroom and the race track has been far from easy, but for Holmes it’s been a necessary challenge as he chases his dream of making it to NASCAR one day.

“I've had a few — not anxiety attacks, but I've been extremely stressed this week. I think the toughest time I had was my freshman year of college when I started ARCA racing. I was in college and making that transition from high school to college and how tough that is being on your own and also traveling a lot more with the ARCA Series,” Holmes said. “That's always been my dream — I guess my original dream, to make it into the top three series in NASCAR. I think when I do get there my dream or goal will change. I think the Truck Series is definitely the next thing I've got my sights on.

“Right now I'm just worried about winning this championship, but looking out for the next year or two that would definitely be the goal. It definitely would be a huge blessing to be able to be a part of that.”

Born to drive

Holmes has been going to local tracks nearly as long as he can remember thanks to his dad Stacy, who raced dirt late models at local tracks in his mid-20s as a hobby outside starting his own construction company. Holmes waited for his chance to drive and finally got it by racing go-karts for about four years before proving his ability and methodically working his way up the different divisions and ranks.

Holmes eventually began racing dirt late models himself — at which point Stacy stopped racing in order to support him — and before too long moved on to racing late models on asphalt tracks. By 2016, he began eyeing a move to ARCA when another Alabama driver — Fairhope native and current Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver Grant Enfinger — helped Holmes start his own team.

Looking back, Holmes explained the early years were tough as the new team found its footing in ARCA, a series that has long been the training ground for future NASCAR drivers and saw names such as Kyle Busch, Kyle Petty and even Hall of Famer Benny Parsons pass through on their way to the Cup Series. There were even times Holmes thought about quitting, but he said during those difficult days there was always a voice that told him to keep pushing.

By 2019, it became evident to Holmes and his crew that they had finally turned a corner.

Holmes and new crew chief Shane Huffman clicked, and the results spoke for themselves on race day. Holmes piled up eight top-fives and and 18 top-10 finishes en route to a third-place finish in the points, leaving Holmes feeling good about his career trajectory.

Holmes planned on racing ARCA part-time in 2020 and making his Truck Series debut, but the coronavirus pandemic created a backlog on the equipment he needed to race trucks so the team stuck with ARCA. The change of plans has proven worthwhile, as Holmes has been one of the cars to beat almost every race.

Holmes’ patience and consistency this season finally paid off in July at Kansas, where he led 82 of 100 laps and captured his first ARCA victory. The win solidified so much for Holmes, and even looking back two months later it remains a fulfilling experience.

“All of that was a really big relief, not just for my team but for me mentally. There was a long period of time there where I went without winning a race. That really provided a lot of relief for me and really boosted the morale for our team. When you've worked that long to build up your team and worked that long to get to that point, it makes it 10 times more special. That's why I was emotional after the race,” Holmes said. “That was definitely the biggest win of my career. I definitely think I've got the potential to do more. It's just kind of funny, just being from where I'm from. I'm from Munford, Alabama, so it's a town of like 1,200 people. This just doesn't happen to a lot of people around that area. It's just really cool to say the least that I'm getting to run these races, do well and get to do what I do on the weekends.”

Finishing strong

Holmes knows he’s in for a battle over the series’ final three races, but the team’s consistency has him excited about what’s to come. He said he would like to grab a couple more wins before the season ends but is keeping the championship in mind, which will likely mean taking fewer chances in order to preserve solid finishes over the next month of action.

Holmes has a sense of what he wants the next few years to look like, explaining he could see himself putting his building science degree to good use by working construction during the week and competing in the Truck Series on the weekends. Moving up past the trucks and into the Xfinity Series or Cup Series would require his full-time attention, and he’s hopeful that one day his efforts allow him to make that longtime dream a reality.

For now, Holmes is dead set on making the most of the remaining races, starting with the Sioux Chef PowerPEX 200 at Memphis International Speedway on Sept. 26.

Finishing the season with a championship would not only be a huge achievement for Holmes but also for his team, which has made more with less against some of racing’s premier teams and is on the cusp of accomplishing something truly special.

“I definitely think we're more than capable. There's a lot of big names that have won ARCA championships, and to be put in that category would really be huge for me and where I'm from. It would definitely give me the standard and the right to move up after that,” Holmes said. “We take a lot of care and care about the quality of our people more than we do about materialistic things. That makes the cars go fast. I think it would be a big statement if we pull that off. I definitely believe we're able to do that and we're hitting our stride at a good point in the season to do that.

“To come from where I've come from and my upbringing, it would be really big. That's really what I want more than anything: to make my family and my friends proud through the racing, and I think I can really do that by winning this championship.”

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