E.A. Sports Today

Holmes on fast track

Donoho pitcher balancing his two passions — baseball and racing

Bret Holmes climbs into his car during a recent race. On the cover, Holmes talks about his two passions -- baseball and racing -- after Donoho's game Monday against JCA. (Car photo courtesy Bret Holmes)

Bret Holmes climbs into his car during a recent race. On the cover, Holmes talks about his two passions — baseball and racing — after Donoho’s game Monday against JCA. (Car photo courtesy Bret Holmes)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – There might not have been a player more psyched to play in Donoho’s baseball game with Jacksonville Christian Monday than pitcher Bret Holmes.

The Falcons returned to the diamond for the first time in more than two weeks Saturday – and won to clinch a Class 1A playoff berth — but Holmes wasn’t with them. He wanted to be – badly – but he was off in Hickory, N.C., chasing his dream of someday becoming a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver.

That meant Monday’s area title showdown with the Thunder was his first live action since before spring break. And he pitched like he missed it, striking out the first five batters he faced and throwing a complete game.

It wasn’t like he wanted to miss Saturday’s game. Originally there was no conflict, but the rainy weather that has totaled everybody’s schedule forced Falcons coach Steve Gendron to reschedule that rainout for Saturday and Holmes had long been committed to race.

“I really wanted to go Saturday and with the circumstances I couldn’t,” Holmes said. “We’ve got a schedule where there’s a race we can potentially go to every weekend. When it rained, I knew what was going to happen. That being an area game, it really kind of ticked me off. I hate missing my high school games for a race, something I can do out of school.

“I can race out of school, out of college. I can race when I’m 50 years old, and missing an area game in baseball, it really bums me out. I had to quit football my 11th-grade year because we started traveling a lot more and I’d have to miss like half the games. I just don’t want to do anything halfway.”

Holmes missed a doubleheader earlier this year because of his racing schedule. With potential playoff series set for the weekend, he told his race team he wasn’t going to miss another baseball game as long as the Falcons stayed alive. That’s kind of easy when the team owner is family.

Holmes races a series one step below ARCA for his former dirt-track racing father Stacy’s H2 team out of their no-name shop in Munford. He’s run four times this year with four top 10 finishes. He was ninth last weekend at Hickory while his Donoho teammates were beating Faith and won one of the Twin 50s at Montgomery Speedway two weeks ago.

He hasn’t won a pole yet this year, but says that makes his finishes “look a lot better” because “we did good when it mattered.”

And that’s an idea Gendron reminded Holmes of when the left-hander’s was losing its sharpness late in games early in the season.

“We talk a lot about it, a good bit,” said Gendron, an admitted NASCAR fan. “Racing, you kind of hang out, hang out, and in the last 50 laps you’re trying to win it. That’s how he was on the mound in the beginning of the year; he was kind of just going through the motions, trying to be in the game.

“After the first Faith game he threw for me, I said every inning on the mound has got to be like the last 50 laps of the race; a sense of urgency is there every time. The last couple times he’s gone to the mound for me I can see that ‘I’m in the game, every pitch I throw matters’ and that’s nice to see out of him.”

Holmes has been racing since he was 7, following a path taken by many of today’s Sprint Cup stars. He won a crate late-model championship at Talladega Short Track a couple years ago, was Rookie of the Year and runner-up in the Southern All-Star Series, and set the late-model track record at TSS that at one time was held by his father. This year he’s moved to asphalt for the first time to continue his track to the big series.

“I want to go further, I really want to make a career out of it,” he said. “If I wasn’t wanting to do this the whole way I wouldn’t have been doing it since I was 7 years old. That’s the main reason we moved to asphalt racing, so I could have that experience when I moved up.

“If I wanted to stay where I was at I would’ve stayed in dirt and just raced local tracks. I really want to move up. I’m really hoping we can move up to ARCA or Nationwide and do well there and see where it goes. I’m in it for the long run. I want to do this.”

From what he has seen, his baseball coach has no doubt it will happen.

“I think he has the desire and I think he has the ability to get there at some point,” Gendron said. “To be able to go up on a whim this weekend and go race — and still be sharp out here — that’s impressive.”

The ARCA series will be part of this year’s Geico 500 weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. The International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200 is May 1. The Geico 500 Sprint Cup race is May 3.

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