Ryan races toward his dream

Published 12:03 am Thursday, April 24, 2014

CONCORD, N.C. — Payton Ryan will race in the .40-mile South Boston (Va.) Speedway for the Denny Hamlin Foundation this evening, and if it weren’t for a courageous move by his parents Jackie and Kelli Ryan, Payton’s journey toward becoming a professional racecar driver might have never occurred.

Years ago, Payton, 15, who lived with his family in Jonesville, attended races with his family over the years. After enjoying multiple smaller car races, such as Bandolero and Legend races with his father, Payton decided that’s what he wanted to do.

On his 10th birthday, Payton received a birthday gift in the form of a Bandolero car, which sparked his racing appetite. The only problem was racetracks around Louisiana were limited, and a move was necessary for Payton to chase his dream.

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That’s when Payton left Cathedral School in fifth grade and moved to Concord, N.C., where he attends Cannon School as a ninth grader and races as a rookie late-model driver.

“Once he started, he was hooked,” Kelli said. “It’s been a whirlwind since.”

After moving so her son could pursue his dream, Kelli witnessed Payton face elite competition in Bandolero races, hold his own in Legends races at the age of 12 and watched him make an impact as a rookie in the late-model standings. Payton will be the first to tell you — he’s not racing for a title.

“I’m not running for a track championship, because I’m just trying to get as much experience as I can,” Payton said. “I’m hoping not to be in late-model racing for a long, extensive time. They’re really fun, but I hope to make my next step up the ladder soon.”

Payton’s ultimate goal is to one day become a NASCAR driver, but the next step would be to take part in the K&N Pro Series next year, hoping to gain sponsorships for televised racing events along the way.

“It’s the level right before the truck series,” Kelli said. “Chase Elliott and a lot of those guys have done that.”

Along the way, Kelli has watched her son take a few spills. One that most notably made her heart sink occurred February in Auburndale, Fla., when Payton was leading a race before a car pushed him head on into the wall. Payton climbed out of the car and fell to the ground, where he waited on someone to attend to him. Kelli rushed towards her son.

“I can still run, I just didn’t know I could until then,” Kelli said.

Despite needing two pins for his thumb, Payton has been fortunate to walk away from wrecks without major injuries.

While wrecks strike fear in his mother, they bring up a different emotion from Payton. Frustrated because he’s not able to win the race, wrecks alarm Payton because of the loss it presents.

“I’ve always done it for that adrenaline,” Payton said. “It never really scared me. I just like to go fast.”

Unlike his Legends cars, Payton has been fortunate enough to avoid many wrecks in his late-model car, steering clear of any derailment as he continues to pursue his life-long dream.