A 21-year-old who learned to race with an online simulator and didn't start driving competitively until 15 won pole position for the Daytona 500

Sean Gardner/Getty ImagesWilliam Byron didn’t start racing competitively until he was 15, but still had a good amount of practice before getting behind the wheel.
  • 21-year-old William Byron will start in pole position at the Daytona 500 this Sunday after posting the fastest trial ahead of the race.
  • Byron’s rise through the racing world has been swift, as he did not race competitively until he was 15.
  • Before then, Byron honed his skills with iRacing, a simulator that gives users a realistic racing experience and view.

This Sunday, the NASCAR Cup series will officially begin with the Daytona 500, and when the drivers start their engines, 21-year-old William Byron will be sitting in the pole position.

Byron, racing in the 24 car for Hendrick Motorsports, won the pole after posting the fastest trial ahead of the race, completing the 2.5-mile qualifying laps in a blistering 46.319 seconds.

Any 21-year-old racer winning the pole would be an impressive feat, but Byron’s case becomes even more striking when you consider he didn’t start racing competitively until he was 15.

Byron fell in love with driving when he happened across a stock car race on television at age 6, and attended his first race three years later. But he didn’t get behind the wheel in competition until he was 15 – relatively late for someone who would go on to race in the Daytona 500.

Rather than racing go-karts or driving in other competitions, Byron honed his skills with iRacing – a racing simulator used by fans and pros alike. The service emphasises realism – while video game series such as “Forza” and “Gran Turismo” are entertaining and often stunningly beautiful, iRacing focuses on giving its users a realistic view from the cockpit.

“I started racing on iRacing, which is kind of unique, and very different than other guys start racing,” Byron told FoxSports in 2018. “I didn’t run go-karts as kids. I didn’t grow up in a racing family.”

William Byron iRacingFox SportsBryon tests his skills on iRacing in 2018.

As Byron rose through the ranks in iRacing, his father eventually warmed to the idea of him driving a real car in competition. Byron joined the U.S. Legend Young Lion Division in 2013 and wound up winning 33 of the 69 races he started.

From there, he progressed through the levels of racing with astounding speed and wound up the driver for the iconic No. 24 car in 2018, his rookie NASCAR season.

While Byron is now spending more of his time driving in real races, he’s still gaining insight from his iRacing days.

“Most of the track layout is exactly the same, which is really helpful if you’re going to the racetrack for the first time,” Byron told Fox Sports.

Byron will only be racing in the Daytona 500 for the second time in his young career when he starts in pole position on Sunday, but chances are he already knows the track quite well.

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