E.A. Sports Today

Bret’s balancing act

Munford’s Holmes seeking balance between school, racing; will transfer classes to be closer to racing

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA — Bret Holmes was rooting through an old locker at his Munford house a couple weeks ago when he came across a letter he had written to himself as a fourth grader at Donoho.

In the letter he said when he grew up he was going to college at Auburn, get his degree and was going to drive racecars for a living.

It was such a simpler time.

He is doing both, but now that he’s older he’s finding the demands of balancing them to be quite a task.

Just the other day in fact he was scheduled for a media opportunity at Talladega Superspeedway in advance of the weekend’s races. He couldn’t make it because he had two finals and a paper due during the week.

And it’s not like he could just ask the professor for a pass because he had something to do for work.

Holmes wants to be a race driver and he is having some success in his full-time ARCA career; he’s currently leading the series rookie points and is fifth overall. But he also wants to go to college, to have something to fall back on in case his racing career goes behind the wall and to follow the advice of his dad, who told him once his only regret was not going to college and getting his degree.

But now as his career is taking off, the 20-year-old is at a crossroad. Why not drop out and concentrate solely on racing where he is obviously committed to succeed? Don’t think it hasn’t crossed his mind.

“I really thought about it a lot and honestly that’s what I really wanted to do, 100 percent put into that,” Holmes said Friday after rain washed out his General Tire 200 ARCA race and moved it to Saturday at 5 p.m. “I feel like doing both I’m not able to put 100 percent effort or 100 percent of my mind into both.

“I look at it this way: How many football teams are there and how many players are on each team? There are only 40 Cup drivers, around 40 Xfinity drivers, 40 Truck drivers. The professional field for this is really small compared to any other sport and there are only a handful of people who make it.

“College is always going to be there, but your chances of racing is only going to be there for so long. I’ve thought about that, too. … I’m trying to do as much as I can right now with having racing as the first priority.”

To satisfy both masters he is making a change. He plans to transfer to Jacksonville State in the fall, becoming a part-time student and living at home. It may cause him to graduate later than planned, but it will free him to stay closer to the race shop and continue his education on the asphalt oval.

“I feel like the more I can put into this, the more I can get out of it,” he said. “The more I can be at that shop in Statesville (N.C.), the more I can understand about these cars and the better it’s going to make us at the track.”

It is a little bit easier to juggle both when you’re driving in the ARCA or Truck series, but he knows if he ever got a ride in the Xfinity garage all his time and focus would have to be on racing.

“I’m going to go to school and if I make it to that level I’m going to stop, and I’ll come back if I don’t make it,” he said. “It’s all about timing and what comes first. If I can finish my degree before I get to that level, hell yeah I’d be happy to be over with some school.”

And it’s been an interesting education so far. He got a passing grade in anger management last week at Salem when lapped 15-year-old Raphael Lessard spun him out and damaged his family-funded machine when they thought they really hit on something. It doesn’t affect the team here at Talladega, but it forces them to use their backup car when they go to Toledo.

Holmes was ready to fight somebody after finishing seventh — just like in the good-ol-days of NASCAR — but composed himself to utter only a few choice words to the young perpetrator.

“I cussed the kid out,” he said. “(Their team) was apologetic and everything … (but) apologies don’t fix wrecked race cars, especially when the damage is worth like $20,000. I mean, that bent the frame, hurt the rear end, body. It’s really frustrating especially when it’s your own team.

“I know some people don’t like to see somebody get mad at each other or throw punches or nothing. I like to see that kind of stuff; it just shows how much heart you have into it. I gave him hell a little bit, but that’s not even close to what it cost us.”

As he talked, the sound of heavy rain pounded on the roof of his RV, where team members and friends enjoyed trophy-sized pieces of birthday cake. Holmes said he was more disappointed in not being able to qualify because of the rainout than not getting to race on his 20th birthday. He believed he had a fast enough car to qualify higher than the 14th he’ll start Saturday in a grid set by 2016 owners points and the qualifying run would have proven it.

Still, it might not be a bad starting position. Last year here he started 13th and finished 10th. This year at Daytona he started 14th and finished sixth.

“I’m really expecting a top five this weekend,” he said. “We’ve improved every race we’ve been to. That’s all I expect is improvement. I still want to win every weekend, but I don’t necessarily go and my goal be to win because we’re a new team racing against (Billy) Venturini and (Briggs) Cunningham who’ve been here for 20-30 years racing ARCA.

“You have to realize who you’re competing against sometimes and some of these guys you’re out here with and just take baby steps. We’re a competitive enough team to win, but we just don’t have the experience as many others do.”

Starting Grid

(Saturday, 5:13 p.m.)

77 Dalton Sergeant, Boca Raton, Fla.
55 Noah Gragson, Las Vegas, Nev.

25 Tom Hessert, Cherry Hill, N.J.
52 — Austin Theriault, Fort Kent, Me.

78 Kyle Weatherman, Wentzville, Mo.
22 Shane Lee, Newton, N.C.

15 Spencer Davis, Dahlonega, Ga.
27 A.J. Fike, Galesburg, Ill.

10 Ed Pompa, Ballston Spa, N.Y.
9 Thomas Prayton, Mobile

34 Willie Mullins, Fredericksburg, Va.
2 Eric Caudell, Piedmont, Okla.

48 Brad Smith, Shelby Twp., Mich.
23 Bret Holmes, Munford

69 Will Kimmel, Sellersburg, Ind.
3 Ray Ciccarelli, Ellicott City, Md.

06 Don Thompson, Carlisle, Pa.
0 Con Nicolopoulos, Columbus, Mich.

18 Riley Herbst, Las Vegas, Nev.
88 Brandon Lynn, Penn Yan, N.Y.

42 Bo LeMastus, Louisville, Ky.
32 Gus Dean, Bluffton, S.C.

28 Justin Haley, Winamac, Ind.
66 Mark Thompson, Cartersville, Ga.

5 Bobby Gerhart, Lebanon, Pa.
08 Ricky Sanders, Stockbridge, Ga.

80 Caesar Bacarella, Parkland, Fla.
98 Leilani Munter, Rochester, Minn.

57 Bryan Dauzat, Alexandria, La.
7 Codie Rohrbaugh, Petersburg, W. Va.

75 Benny Chastain, Tallahassee, Fla.
33 Terry Jones, Amherstburg, Ont.

02 Andy Seuss, Hampstead, N.H.
37 David LeBeau, Daytona Beach, Fla.

46 Sean Corr, Goshen, N.Y.
67 Cody Lane, Port Richey, Fla.

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