The urgent text message was unlike any I’ve gotten from a race-car driver’s public relations person:
“Bret has a lab at 7. Can u call him soon?”
You’ll find a lot of different stories at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend. You’ll find very few who had to squeeze a 2½-hour Physics II lab into his race prep.
You may already know Bret Holmes from his previous appearances on these pages. Racer on the ARCA circuit. Dirt-track ace. Third year as an Auburn University student. Former Donoho School pitcher and all-around athlete there. Munford native. Soon to be legal, with his 21st birthday coming up May 5.
By geography, Holmes is the sentimental favorite for Friday’s General Tire 200 ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway (5 p.m., FS1 TV). He’ll again set a Talladega ARCA record under “Pit Passes for Friends.”
With the lamest of questions to begin, I asked, “Is Talladega still special?”
“It’s never not going to be,” he replied, a double-negative that might furrow some faculty brows at Donoho but which expressed the sentiment perfectly.
By logic, Holmes should be among the favorites, considering experience — and simply because the Racing Gods owe him one.
He was running sixth at ’Dega last year, looking to make a last-lap move on the backstretch, when another driver tagged him and sent him into a violent spin into the wall.
He was fifth going into the last lap at Daytona last February when somebody got squirrely behind him and sent him caterwampus into the wall. And into flames.
Not the best way to become famous, but his crashes have drawn thousands of YouTube hits.
In his three starts this year, he has the wreck at Daytona, a 10th at Nashville and a 13th last week at Salem, in what was marred by “that pit road incident.”
You have a sentimental favorite. You want a sentimental villain? (Has anyone ever been booed at an ARCA race???) That’d be Gus Dean, the 24-year-old from South Carolina who (1) won in 2016 in Holmes’ Talladega debut and (2) wrecked him at Daytona and (3) parked in his pit stall last week like your great-uncle at the Costco pumps, blocking Holmes and leading to a scary moment when Bret ran into one of Dean’s crew members.
“We’ve put everything together and starting where we need to and executing on everything,” Holmes said. “If we have a little luck, we could put something special together. All that has to work out.”
With the on-track calamities, there has been off-track drama. The Holmes team has been unsettled at crew chief. Ben Leslie, once a crew chief for Mark Martin, seemed to fit the bill, but got an offer he couldn’t refuse to return to the Cup circuit. James Wall, previously the car chief, was promoted to crew chief for Salem and will hopefully provide some continuity.
I noted more confidence in his voice than a year ago, and he agreed, saying, “I’m a whole lot more confident just because of the people we’ve got. I’m definitely taking the positives from everything. Every race we’ve shown we’ve been a top five car.”
The ARCA race is only part of his homecoming weekend. He’ll be driving his dirt car Friday and Saturday on the red clay of Talladega Short Track, where he still holds the track record.
That news came with an invitation.
“Come on over,” he said, “if you want to get some color in your hair (from the dirt) and watch some real racing.”
Long-time sportswriter Mark McCarter is a contributor to The Anniston Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.