He tried to treat it like it was any other day, but Friday, August 6th, was anything but a normal day for Florida’s Brad Perez.
After years of hard work for a selection of teams within NASCAR, it was time for the one many call “Bread” to get his first shot in a NASCAR-sanctioned series.
Piloting the No. 60 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet for Josh Williams Motorsports, the start marked a long-awaited milestone.
Naturally, with how fast the deal came together and the magnitude of the start, Perez barely got any sleep the night before.
Perez said he was “super nervous” riding into Watkins Glen International with a few friends but tried to subdue his anxiety with traditional race day activity.
“We were in the car, just bumping music, just chilling out, and made it feel like it was any other day,” Perez told TobyChristie.com.”
His “any other days” at the racetrack are a tire specialty for Rackley W.A.R. and Martins Motorsports, but never as a driver in the NASCAR garage. This time, he didn’t walk straight into the garage to begin working on his team’s entry – he had to go through an ARCA driver’s duties. The uncharted waters for Perez brought many surreal moments, even with the day still young and the race hours away.
“It was funny when I was signing in and seeing all the other drivers,” Perez said with a smile. ” I was like, ‘Damn, it’s kind of hard to picture me in the same category as them.”
After signing in, Perez went to visit the team and get the car through tech. His “therapy” was helping the team in any way possible to help ease his nerves—everything from coolers to generators and setting up the pit box. But, as the minutes drew closer to that first-time on-track, the nerves became uneasy.
“One of the crew guys pulled me to the side and said, ‘Dude, frickin calm down,’” Perez said with a chuckle. The crew member assured the nervous driver that it was the team’s job to take care of those duties.
Perez started to mingle with others in the garage area, from crew members to drivers. His social media following is passionate, with Perez often sharing humorous content. But it was a day of seriousness, at least as best as he could for someone who is always high on life.
Then, it started to sink in.
this miata lookin duffy pic.twitter.com/ewT7OegNBf
— bread perez (@bradxperez) August 6, 2021
“That’s when it started to hit me when a couple of crew members I know that work for Venturini, and a few others that know me, and worked with me. They’re coming up to me and saying, ‘Man, I’m so happy for you, so proud of you,’ and then I was like ‘DANG, Don’t make me nervous!”
Nervousness aside, Perez was focused on familiarizing himself with the Glen. He got his helmet and firesuit on and forgot how to turn the car on. It was showtime for Bread.
“First time starting the car, I knew where the switches were, but I was acting as I didn’t – I was so nervous. Turn on the car, back out for the first time, and stalled it, of course, because I was nervous.”
It was a “sensory overload” for the rookie driver, especially when it came to his three spotters. When he is racing his Miata, Perez relies solely on his mirrors. Now, he had to learn and trust the voices in his ear on where to put his car and when.
It was two laps into his first ARCA practice, and Perez began to familiarize himself with the car’s boundaries and his own personal ones. As he exited the esses and full-throttle towards the bus stop, something was wrong with the car. It began to fight the driver’s input.
“I pump the brakes going into the bus stop, and the car did a little wiggle; I thought maybe it was because I wasn’t holding the wheel straight. I noticed when I was doing little turns to warm up the tires, the car began to roll quite a bit, and that was something everyone told me to expect.”
Then, applying more brake pressure, his No. 60 Chevrolet jolted to the left. He was able to keep it off the wall until he entered the carousel. Thanks to the excessive speed, Perez grazed the wall.
After bringing the car back to pit road, Perez jumped out, and his crew member instinct kicked in. He worked hand-in-hand with the JWM team to figure out the problem. Moments later, the culprit was discovered.
Brad’s got his work gloves on and he’s going to work helping his team get this thing fixed up.
Every second matters with only 25 mins left on the practice clock. pic.twitter.com/Oor3bF6vwk
— Jon Palmieri (@speed_visions) August 6, 2021
“The right front brake rotor exploded going up the esses; I still don’t understand why; we are diagnosing it at the moment. When it exploded, the bolts that held it in stayed but the rest of the rotor was absolutely destroyed.”
Before the race, GMS Racing was able to help the JWM team with a brake rotor to help get Perez back in contention for the race.
He overcame his first major hurdle of the day, but the nerves continued all the way to pre-race ceremonies. Everywhere he turned, another driver, fan, or crew member showed their support for his milestone achievement.
“When the national anthem came on, I think that’s when it really hit,” Perez explained. “I was like ‘Damn like I’m really doing this thing,’ it didn’t hit me at driver intros, it didn’t hit me anywhere else, but when we stood in silence for the national anthem, I blanked out.”
A member from Motor Racing Outreach delivered a personal prayer with Driver No. 60 before Perez hopped in his car. In addition, multiple drivers came over the radio during the pace laps to help coach Perez on the track, including Reed Sorensen and Perez’s good friend Will Rodgers. Both drivers were helping Perez as spotters around the Glen.
— Watkins Glen International (@WGI) August 6, 2021
The green flag flew, and Perez almost immediately realized the team was down on power. Thanks to the right front brake rotor being replaced, the car wasn’t as balanced as before the failure.
Perez had to start towards the back of the field but methodically began to pick competitors off one by one. He had to earn every spot and not force the issue and jeopardize the car or himself.
“I didn’t want to be that guy that’s starting last and packing air on the guy running 27th,” Perez explained.
As the race progressed and the car began to settle in with his driving style, Perez began to push harder. Racing down on power, the situation was likely the best case for Perez, as his Miata in his racing endeavors follows a similar power language.
A fuel pressure issue didn’t help the cause, but with the deal coming together in such a short time, getting the car to the track alone was a miracle.
The No. 60 found itself as high as 14th, with Perez marching towards a solid debut with JWM.
Perez came in for his first pit stop at the halfway break, with one of his Rackley W.A.R teammates in the Truck Series coming by to help pit the car. Perez was too tight in the corners and needed a looser race car.
Following the break, Perez was approaching the rear bumper of major names in the series, including Drew Dollar. But the brake problems were getting worse for the car. Kyle Sieg and Thad Moffitt overtook Perez, and his heart rate began to creep higher.
The brake pads began to chatter, and Perez was forced to start to nurse the car around the road course.
“Heading into turn six, I had no pedal travel,” Perez said. “I figured to just bring it in; It’s not worth wrecking a race car off of something like that; it’s not ideal.”
Perez brought the car down pit road to figure out the next step. Sadly, the car was retired, prematurely ending one of the most popular stories of the day on NASCAR social media.
On the verge of tears, Perez got out of the car and was immediately greeted by his friend and roommate, Myatt Snider, with another group waiting. Snider said he was proud of Perez for his effort into the day, which drove the Florida driver into an emotional rollercoaster.
“I was in absolute tears – I had to crouch next to a generator cart just so people didn’t see me crying because I hate crying in public. It helped me reflect on what an awesome day that was.”
The support from his friends and family at the track was almost no match for what was developing on his phone. After news got out that the team was done, words of affirmation, support, and encouragement began to pour in from the NASCAR social media space. His text messages and phone calls began filling up.
When asked about his reaction to the support, Perez had trouble pricing together the words to show his appreciation.
“I didn’t look at my phone for a good hour until after the race was over,” Perez said. “Not only was I in tears and not being able to comprehend life at that point, but I opened and saw the notifications and thought that it was going to be a lot.”
The emotions rose even more for Perez after seeing the reception on social media. That same group of fans helped get him his ARCA start, and now they displayed their allegiance to one of the most likable guys in the garage area.
“Seeing that type of reaction reassures me that in the future, that we can get that same type of support if I did anything else. That does make a difference.”
— bread perez (@bradxperez) August 7, 2021
Perez wholeheartedly is grateful for the fan support, and within his voice, you could feel his sincerity.
“That type of support is the reason why I am even capable of doing anything close to this, and I just hope they’ll go as hard in the future. That was so overwhelming; I’ve never seen something like that in my life.”
Once the clock struck midnight, the day as a driver was over, and Perez returned to his traditional tire specialist duties.
But at a team dinner with Martins Motorsports, Tommy Joe Martins and Perez had a chance to chat about the start, but more so the social media flood of support. Martins told Perez he almost playfully shut off his phone because what felt like the entire NASCAR Twitter space was all about the ARCA start.
Perez got one more chance to soak up the weekend again after appearing at Will Rodger’s Race To End Hep C display at Watkins Glen. Signing autographs and talking to fans from a driver’s perspective is something Perez hadn’t had any experience with, and it was a whole new vibe for him.
WE HAVE A SPECIAL GUEST!!
— Liver Health Foundation (@liverhealthfdn) August 8, 2021
“I’ve NEVER experienced anything like that in my life,” Perez said. “I was honestly expecting to be at the booth for 20 minutes just to help people do the surveys for Hep C awareness, and ended up signing hero cards, and hats and plates and stuff for people – that was super cool.
“I’m super grateful for Will and wanted to make sure his foundation was on there (the car).” When I found out they were doing the display; I always wanted to help out Will’s mother and father; they’ve always been very nice to me.”
As far as the future goes, he’s comfortable working as a tire specialist in the Trucks and XFINITY Series. But even though the start didn’t go as planned, Perez showed he could compete well in an ARCA car, and is hopeful that sooner rather than later, fans will see Bread speeding around the track once again.