“The thing that drives you the most pushes you to do the craziest things because you can’t live without it,” Brad Perez told me in a recent interview with Jalopnik. The 24-year-old was referring to his upcoming ARCA ride at Watkins Glen International, where he’ll be making his NASCAR series debut behind the wheel of the No. 60 Josh Williams Motorsport.
Perez, a Hollywood, Florida native, has been looking for a way to break into motorsport for years. He grew up with parents who were first- and second-generation Americans that were well able to provide but couldn’t afford the massive investment that it takes to put a child through racing. On top of that, Perez grew up in a family firmly outside the automotive industry, so connections were slim.
“It kind of all started where I was collecting Hot Wheels that my grandmother would get me, and I was super interested in them, and I would try to name cars in real life because I was like, oh my God, these toys are real things!” Perez said with a laugh “I’d go out to parking lots and be like, that’s a Pontiac Bonneville, and I’m a whole four years old. Like, what is wrong with this kid?”
It was a NASCAR poster that taught Perez racing was a real thing. Before long, he was watching NASCAR races on television, and his father took him to Homestead-Miami Speedway to see these unbelievable cars in person.
“I was super stoked, and I think since then, it was like, ‘Dad, I want to do this.’ And he was like, ‘Haha, that’s cute,’” Perez said.
All that said, Perez’s family gave him a shot. They put him behind the wheel of a go-kart at Miami GP Raceway in Opa-locka, Florida, where his test session was something of a disaster. Perez, though, couldn’t shake the racing bug, even as his family encouraged him to try other hobbies. Perez said, “My parents were like, number one, we can’t afford this, two, it’s just not feasible, and three, focus on a career-based thing.”
It wasn’t until Perez was in his late teens that he was able to pick up racing again. While attending high school, he was also working to save up as much money as he could to compete in go-karts.
“Honestly, I was not having a great time,” Perez admitted, “At least when I was living in Florida. I had to juggle wanting to be a kid and wanting to enjoy things and go out to the club and hang out with my friends with doing not-cool things. I had to look myself in the mirror and be like, if this is really what you want to do, then work toward it properly.”
That’s where he hit the internet and, specifically, the sim racing world. Here was a group of people who not only loved racing, but many of them were transforming an online racing career into something tangible and real. They were racing in real life. Perez started to realize that he could do more than just work to afford racing: He could work in racing, doing something that he loved, and start making those much-needed connections to embed his name in NASCAR racing.
At the time, he was racing Spec Miatas, which Perez pegged as being an incredible help. Not only was the car cheap and similar to a street car, but the low horsepower and low speeds made for competitive racing that helped Perez hone his race craft. He called it “all-encapsulating,” where he was not just able to learn how to race but how to network, make repairs, and understand what it meant to compete on a regular basis. He laughed, “There’s not much you can screw up [with Spec Miatas], let’s say it like that.”
Soon after, Perez decided it was time to move to Charlotte, North Carolina, the hub of NASCAR.
“Racing sponsorships come from one of three things,” Perez told me. Your family, your family’s connections, or a company decides that racing will be a legitimate part of its marketing plan, at which point you need to both know the company and know the right people to get in front of.
“That was the hardest part,” he said, “finding the people to [send sponsorship information] to.
“If you’re not in front of the right people or you don’t have an in, those people see an email with a bunch of words on it that they don’t know. What would provoke them to give you the chance to even talk? I understand that. Like, imagine if some random person came up to you on the street and said, hey, I have this great opportunity for you to spend a lot of money. What would you say?”
Sponsorship has proved to be the biggest struggle in Perez’s still-young career. He detailed his usual schedule to me: wake up at six in the morning, go to work, find a list of potential businesses on the local chamber of commerce website, and send them emails on his lunch break. On the weekend, he was at the track, either racing himself or working as part of a various NASCAR series crew.
“There were times where I felt like I wasn’t working, I was working, and times where I felt like I was working when I wasn’t working,” he said. “It’s the whole limbo of, ‘What do I do to find money today?’”
It would be an exhausting existence for anyone, but especially so for Perez, who admits that he “hates having to ask for things.” After months of putting together his sponsorship package — he’s been trying to put together an ARCA ride since last year’s road course race at Daytona International Speedway — he still needed that extra bit of funding.
So, Perez put it out on Twitter that he was looking to organize a ride.
“For all the money I got for this and all the support, only maybe 10 percent of it came from Twitter-related,” Perez said, “but what it did spark was people saying, ‘Man, I didn’t even know you needed help. What can I do to help you? Let me make a couple calls.’ Like, what?
“I think Josh Bilicki is a good example of that, where he didn’t know I was trying to do this, but once he did, he hit up Rick Ware, he hit up his own sponsors. He offered space on his Cup car. It was one of those things where I felt like if I’d have texted him, he’d have been like, ‘Okay, sure.’ It’s just me forgetting.”
That just illustrates the importance of connections in motorsport, part of which Perez pegs on social media. He’s used his Twitter and Instagram accounts like the average social media user, sharing jokes, memes, and details of his own journey into motorsport. As Perez said it, “I’m just people.” And that’s something fans, drivers, and mechanics have responded to, illustrated by the outpouring of support for Perez when he announced his ride — and by the sheer number of close friends and distant acquaintances who reached out to help along the way. Drivers like Will Rodgers, Cody Ware, and Josh Bilicki have dropped everything to help Perez on previous occasions when he was racing Spec Miata. It makes sense that they’d be at his side ahead of the ARCA event.
And that is, in part, how he nabbed some of his sponsorships this time around. Perez has made such an impression as an employee at Rackley’s Race Team that it made sense to support him. The hard work has been paying off.
So, Brad Perez is racing. He got his deal together just last week, with his race coming up this week. But Perez is optimistic about his opportunities.
“Honestly, this car is so capable. If you put a good driver in it, it’s super capable of being a top-five car,” he told me. “Realistically, I think a top 10 is very possible if I don’t do something stupid and top five if I figure it out and I’m on it. For me, a top 10 is what we need, and a top five is even better.”
But his overall goals are a little more complex: “The whole idea is that I need to get approved for the next two series, like Xfinity and Trucks, because it’s a feasible financial decision in the future to race those series instead of ARCA. Just getting approved, running all the laps, keeping it clean, not doing something stupid, not putting myself in a position to get hit by somebody stupid, and me not being that stupid person. Obviously, easier said than done, but I’ve done it with my own equipment before, so I have the frame of mind when I’m in that adrenaline mode to make a better decision. I think I have that advantage, at least.”
In terms of his larger goals, Perez admits that his big dreams — being a big-time Cup Series driver — are tempered by more realistic expectations.
“If I can one-off Xfinity races and be that guy people call for road races or be able to coach or race without having to spend a bunch of my money and live comfortably, I’d be fine with that,” he said. He added that he’d also love to start an organization dedicated to helping people like him — underrepresented racers who may not have any idea how to pursue a big-time career.
When I asked him who helped him in his career beyond all else, he had two names: Will Rodgers and Rudy Ramsaroop.
“Will Rodgers is someone who has believed in me and has sometimes put in his own money to help me out while he raced in NASCAR. He saw the talent in me that I didn’t believe I had at first, and he’s reassured me that, ‘Hey, you’ve actually got this. I’ve raced against people who are way worse than you. You do realize you can do this?’ That’s big. That’s huge for confidence. I think confidence is huge in racing,” Perez said.
“Another one I really want to thank is Rudy Ramsaroop,” he added. “He’s a first-generation America, he owned a business in Miami, Florida — Miami GP Racing, which is the first track I ever raced a go-kart on and RYSA Racing. He actually gave me the chance to race a kart for him when I started my real, wheel-to-wheel racing career, and he coached me through that rank and helped me understand racing and the work that it took so that when I went to Miatas, I wasn’t totally lost. And even still, in Miatas, he even offered to lend a hand and offered his people. They always used to help work on my cars, and they’re like family to me.
“Rudy has been a huge component of me even being here and getting to this point, and he was that person for other people. I didn’t realize this when I was there, but he started Emmo Fittipaldi’s racing career, Max Papis, the Montoyas. They have a long history of getting drivers to the top level. I hope to be that next one for them and be able to give back. I’m super thankful for him.”
To catch Brad Perez behind the wheel of his debut race, make sure you tune into ARCA’s Clean Harbors 100 at The Glen on Friday, August 6. It’ll be airing on both Fox Sports 1 and streaming on Fox Sports Go, with the race starting at 6pm ET.