Ryan Vargas has an infectious personality. The young racer is seemingly always smiling no matter how good things are or how trying times have been in his racing career.
As a result, the 22-year-old driver has blossomed into a social media superstar, and he’s trying to fit the pieces in place to make his on-track product match the success of his massive TikTok following (more than 539,000 people as of now).
Vargas was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to TobyChristie.com about his upcoming NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut with On Point Motorsports at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his path to the NASCAR National Series, and to talk about how he has survived his racing career potentially ending several times.
Interview Table of Contents
- Excited about the opportunity with On Point
- Partnership with Leargas Security is Crucial
- Dealing with a season that has started off very rocky
- Nearly losing it all
- Getting to the NASCAR Xfinity Series
- Impressing in Xfinity Debut
- Scoring top-10s in the NASCAR Xfinity Series
- Living with Myatt Snider
- Dealing with hate
- Realistic expectations for Atlanta
Ryan Vargas has fought tooth and nail for everything he has in his racing career to this point, so pardon him for being a little excited about his part-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule with On Point Motorsports. But the California native is very excited about the partnership.
“Yeah, this has been a lot of work in the making. Obviously, this is the first real on-track major campaign that we’ve done with Leargas Security. Beautiful truck designed by Davin Cornelius, Drive Through Designs. I am really excited about this. I’ve never done a Truck race. I’ve never done anything in the series. To be able to jump into a pretty competitive truck with On Point Motorsports and their No. 30 Toyota Tundra, it’s a really big deal for me,” Vargas explained. “It’s something I’ve never done. It’s something for me to try. This is the year for me to say, ‘Screw it, I’ll drive it,’ that’s kind of my mindset here. I want to expand my footprint in the garage area. I’ve done the Xfinity Series now for a few years, and I’ve had some successes in different areas. When I looked at opportunities available for this season, I really thought about it and said, ‘Let’s hop into a competitive truck, let’s see what we can do.’ With Atlanta coming up, it’s going to be an awesome time with my friends at Leargas.”
So, is his slate of races in the No. 30 Toyota Tundra the best opportunity that Vargas has had through the course of his NASCAR career, from a competitive equipment standpoint?
“With all due respect to the other teams I have driven for, I would say yeah,” Vargas admitted. “I have some high regard for this organization and I think this is easily one of the better opportunities I’ve had. Just kind of a given with On Point Motorsports’ pedigree. There’s a lot that goes into these things, and a lot of factors. But it’s definitely one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had in NASCAR.
“It’s getting real. Now, I’m starting to talk about potentially contending and being there at the end of these races. We’ve seen what On Point has been able to do in the past, so, it’s time for me to nut up or shut up, I guess.”
While Vargas would like nothing more than to score a win in his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut at Atlanta, the young racer isn’t getting carried away with expectations. He also knows the primary goal is to bring the truck home in one piece at the new Atlanta Motor Speedway, which has proven to be as treacherous as Daytona or Talladega since its reconfiguration.
“Atlanta, as you mentioned, is kind of like a superspeedway so you can only take so much of it with a grain of salt. There are only so many things you can do by yourself. Really, it’s all about the draft and being in the right place at the right time, but I do see Atlanta as an opportunity,” Vargas said. “I’m going into it with the mindset of obviously keeping the truck safe and finishing and being there on the white flag lap, but realistically, I see it as an opportunity to maybe snag a good finish or even contend at the end. It feels good to say that, I haven’t been able to say that in a long time.
“The folks at On Point Motorsports are building me a good truck. It’s all becoming real. I’ve always been a big fan of the Truck Series. I love the Xfinity Series and I love the Truck Series almost as equally. It’s crazy to see how things have been over the last few years. I never thought I’d be racing at one of the top three levels of NASCAR period. But to have 67 Xfinity starts, two top-10s, and now being able to do my first Truck start with an organization like On Point, it’s pretty surreal. I’m glad I took the jump that I did this year. I’m happy, and I think that’s the big thing.”
Vargas taking a gamble on himself and walking away from the team that initially took a chance on him — JD Motorsports — in favor of part-time opportunities, including On Point Motorsports, which should allow him a chance to compete closer to the front more frequently, was only possible due to support from his sponsorship partner Leargas Security.
How did Vargas get hooked up with his new partners?
“Where all of the interest kind of game about, we finished sixth at Daytona last Summer and I ended up having an interview with Dave Moody on SiriusXM, and Patrick Kelley, the owner, founder, and CEO of Leargas Security and Critical Path Security, happened to be listening,” Vargas explained. “We had talked a little bit here and there before that, but this really set it off. That interview with Dave Moody, it really drove Patrick to want to do it. It made me his guy.”
With Kelley showing a true belief in Vargas’ talent, Vargas has begun getting very hands-on with learning all about cyber security.
“It means a lot to have his support, to have his family, his team’s support, and them wanting to work with me. It’s been amazing the last several months getting to know Patrick more,” Vargas stated. “Work with them more hands-on, and go on various trips and meetings with them. It’s been a whirlwind of new and exciting — it’s been exciting learning about cyber security and all of the things that go into that. It’s super — I keep saying exciting because that’s a theme of how I feel, but Patrick he has a lot of passion for what he does. He has a lot of passion for anything he dips his toes into. When he does it, he goes all the way. That’s what he’s done with his companies Leargas and Critical Path Security, and that’s how he plans to do it with racing. I’m just happy and blessed to be carrying his company’s name.”
While you’d never know it from talking to him, Ryan Vargas has had a very trying start to his 2023 NASCAR racing season — a lot of it out of his control. Despite going 0-for-3 in attempts to make the field for NASCAR Xfinity Series races this year, Vargas is remaining his usual upbeat self.
“I think it kind of goes back to expectations but also understanding that you can only control the factors that you can control. And there have been a lot of things this year that have just been entirely out of my control. I’m not letting those things hang my head,” Vargas explained. “At the end of the day, I know I’m good enough to be out there. I know I’m quick enough to be out there. And I know I have the skill set to compete. I know on paper, things there didn’t look too hot, but in all reality, there have been a lot of positives, both internally at CHK, and also with me and trying to build what I’m doing. It’s been a slow burn, but I’ve been maintaining good spirits, thankfully. It sucks sitting on the sidelines, but with Atlanta coming up, and being able to hop into this On Point Motorsports Toyota Tundra, it’s going to be a blast and I can’t wait for that.”
Vargas never got a chance to even turn a lap in qualifying at Daytona International Speedway, as his CHK Racing Chevrolet Camaro did not clear pre-qualifying inspection. Then, the following week in Fontana, Vargas missed the show when qualifying was rained out. This much adversity in a season would be enough to break some people. Yet Vargas remains happy-go-lucky. It’s all about perspective.
“I feel like I’m wired to understand things from all perspectives,” Vargas said of how he keeps his cool in trying times. “There’s only a decent handful of people who get to race at NASCAR at this level. Not many people get to do that. To be one of those drivers out there every other weekend, and to have raced as much as I have, and to have the opportunities I have coming up this year — both at CHK and at On Point — you have to keep that in mind and understand how fortunate you really are to be in these spots.
“At the same time, I’ve learned to take things more — to look out for myself a little bit as well. I think that has been a big thing for me, just making sure I’m good. I’m doing well. Looking out for myself. I’ve had a lot of bad moments in racing, I think every driver does. One big thing as to why I am the way I am, I’ve been so ridiculously close to losing it all several times in racing.”
The dream of making it to the NASCAR National Series was nearly over for Vargas before it ever truly began, as it looked like his racing career was over six years ago.
“I remember back in 2017, my parents sat me down at our dinner table and told me we couldn’t afford to race anymore,” Vargas recalled. “And now, here we are six years later, and I now have 60-plus Xfinity starts and I’m getting ready to make my truck debut. Everything happens for a reason, I’m just fortunate to go for this ride.”
What is it like, mentally as a budding race car driver to hear that it’s most likely all coming to an end?
“I was very aware of the expense of racing. As a driver, and as someone in racing, you can’t allow yourself to be oblivious,” Vargas said. I remember that feeling when I was 16. I’ve seen people lose almost everything trying to afford racing. I remember telling my parents at a very young age, that if we couldn’t race because of money, we need to sell everything. I was very aware of that at a young age because I didn’t want to put us in a bad spot just to chase a dream. Yeah, it’s a dream and I feel I’m capable of being at this level, but at the same token, if you’re not able to do it, it’s a challenge.”
Is there a level of guilt that Vargas felt as his family was putting it all out there in order for him to chase his dream of racing cars in circles?
“Not necessarily guilt, but it’s pressure to do better. And it goes for any time anyone invests in me, right? If I have a sponsor on my race car, for instance, Leargas Security on my truck this weekend, I have expectations that I set for myself. I need to represent them in the best way that I can,” Vargas explained. “My parents, growing up, they wanted me to represent myself well because we knew we weren’t going to be handed something in racing. We were going to have to work for it and put ourselves in a position to meet the right people, to win races when we were at the late model level. They pushed me to be better every single time.
“When we got to the point where we couldn’t do it anymore, I didn’t look at it as, ‘this is awful,’ I looked at it as, ‘well, we did everything we possibly could.’ That’s the only way you can look at it. If you put everything you can into it, and if it just doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. That’s the way I feel about that.”
While things were looking very bleak for Vargas, sometimes the night is darkest just before dawn.
“We were working out of our garage at points with our late models racing against teams with Truck Series budgets. We were racing with them and beating them, but at the same token, that all comes at a cost and I knew we wouldn’t be able to keep doing it,” Vargas said. “It just so happened about a month or two later, I got a call from the Diversity program to join them for a season.”
Now, Vargas just prides himself on remaining in the NASCAR garage these days, as he feels that his career is living on borrowed time, essentially.
“Every year is a blessing. Every year I get to drive a stock car is an added year to my life,” Vargas laughed. “That’s the way I feel. My career should have ended in 2017, but it has continued on. I’m in year six past 2017, so I think I’ve added six years to my life. I feel that’s pretty good.”
In 2019, Vargas got the chance of a lifetime to make his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut for JD Motorsports, but the path to that start wasn’t clear cut. Nothing in Vargas’ career ever is.
After a season driving for Rev Racing in the NASCAR K&N East Series, Vargas lost his ride. It was at this point that the young racer thought his best days were already past him.
“I just ran that one year in the K&N East Series, and it went okay. But I definitely was a bit of a fish out of water my rookie year in K&N, but having gone from having a ride to suddenly no ride, no sponsorship, and no plan on what my career looked like at that point, I was really kind of drowning,” Vargas admitted. “I thought at that point, at 18 years old, that I was washed up. I thought I was done.”
With his back against the wall, Vargas went to work on a plan to at least stay behind the wheel to give himself a fighting chance to work his way back into the NASCAR National Series conversation.
“I had just uprooted my entire life and moved to the East Coast. I wasn’t going to let myself go back to California after just one year and say, ‘Well, that sucks,’ I needed to prove to myself that I belong here,” Vargas said. “And that was a big thing, and that has kind of been the big theme to my career. Trying to find a sense of belonging. It was really cool, when I got that late model opportunity back in 2019, my first race back, and we won. And in a convincing fashion. I think we led all but a few laps. That was a big one for me. It’s crazy to think just a late model race could change my career, but to go probably three or four months not in a race car not knowing — I had just lost my ride — if I had a place here.
“I show up, go back to a place I hadn’t been in forever and just win, and win convincingly like that. It was a big thing for me because it showed me I can do it still.”
After deep conversations with Jefferson Hodges and Mike Davis, Vargas opted to make a presence inside the NASCAR Xfinity Series garage. From simply being in the garage, Vargas was able to forge relationships that led to his dream becoming a reality.
“Throughout 2019, I was walking through the garage area, handing out business cards. I guess you can say I was doing the Carl Edwards thing of meeting team owners, and shaking hands with as many people as I could,” Vargas recalled. “And through that, I actually met Johnny Davis I think at Daytona in 2019 and I met Bryan Berry, who was the competition director [at JD Motorsports] and is still a key individual in my career. I had those conversations a few times here and there, and things really started ramping up once we got towards, I would say, Coke 600 weekend.”
After working with the team for a few months, the possibility of Vargas making a NASCAR Xfinity Series start with the JD Motorsports organization became more and more feasible. Eventually, Vargas was allowed to pick a race, and the rest is history.
“I was looking at the schedule, and the one that stood out to me was Iowa. Because, if you go back to that 2018 K&N race, we were battling for the top three in that race toward the second half. We ended up having a part, a whole exhaust piece, go through the nose in the K&N car, which killed our race. But we were in the top three and potentially going to win in that race, had that not happened. It was a track that I knew I could perform at,” Vargas said. “After numerous conversations and meetings and trying to figure out how to make it all happen, we finally set everything and put ink on paper and made it happen.”
After seeing his hopeful racing career nearly come to an end, Vargas had worked his way, miraculously to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with JD Motorsports. It was an incredible story, but there was no time to celebrate for Vargas. The young racer knew he was in a do-or-die situation at Iowa Speedway.
“I remember showing up to the track, and every driver will say, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m not nervous,’ they are lying to you and I can tell you they are nervous as heck,” Vargas quipped. “I was so blown away because I had been watching these guys, this team not just the series, but the team that I was racing for. That was the team — the Flex Seal car. Landon [Cassill], Jeffrey [Earnhardt], and Ross [Chastain] drove for this team. And I’m racing against Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, all of these different guys. All of these different teams that I’ve watched on TV. And I’m out there with them. And I’m like, ‘God, I can’t go out there and make an ass of myself.’ If I go out there and run 33rd or 35th or if I go out there and crash, this is all for nothing and I don’t belong.”
In addition to being fearful of crashing the car and ruining his relationship with JD Motorsports, Vargas also had to worry about possibly upsetting the sanctioning body if he were to look unprepared for his debut.
“Oh yeah, that would have been my career, because you know I wouldn’t have been able to do another race,” Vargas explained of if he were in a crash. “It’s my rookie year, and you also have to think, there’s an approval process in NASCAR. If I went out there in my debut race and wrecked it, who is to say NASCAR lets me go out there and do another race? Or that the team owner, Johnny, lets me hop in a car again? You have to prove yourself. There were a lot of things weighing on me that day, all good things, but it was just pressure. I was glad I was able to go up there and show that I could handle it.”
Despite the nerves, Vargas was able to out-qualify his three JD Motorsports teammates in his debut race with a 23rd-place effort in qualifying. And the youngster followed up the impressive qualifying effort with an even more impressive 17th-place finish in the race.
While he was great in the race, Vargas quickly learned that he wasn’t quite conditioned for NASCAR National Series racing after he climbed from the race car.
“One thing I will never forget, getting out of the car, I was winded. I was not physically where I needed to be for that race,” Vargas said. “I was sitting on the ground, and I would say it felt like every other guy on pit road walked by me, shook my hand, or gave me a fist bump. Chris Rice came over and talked to me, and other drivers came over and talked to me. People from all across the garage area came up and just gave me an attaboy. Which is crazy, I mean to a lot of people 17th isn’t anything crazy, but we did something that day. And I feel like that day itself proved to me and to a lot of people that I at least had a place here.”
While Vargas’ 17th-place finish was incredible considering the situation he was in with it being his debut race and having so much pressure to succeed, that is not the strongest race of the driver’s young career.
Vargas ranks his eighth-place effort at Texas Motor Speedway in the fall of 2020 near the top as far as the best races he’s run in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition.
“I would put that one definitely as a race that I felt showed what I could do,” Vargas said of the 2020 O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. “I felt that race, we brought a very fantastic race car, a very fantastic setup. Everything just clicked with that race car that day.”
Vargas was a little off at the beginning of the race that day and had actually lost a lap in Stage 1, but he and his No. 6 team, which was sponsored by TikTok that weekend, battled back.
“I actually got lapped in Stage 1,” Vargas remembered. “Mind you, Texas was my second-ever mile-and-a-half race. I hadn’t run many mile-and-a-half tracks at that point. I had run like 10 laps in Kansas the week prior, but we broke. I just remember Stage 1, I got lapped just before the end, so I ended up getting my lap back.
“My crew chief asked if there was anything they could do to the car and I said, ‘Other than stability, the driver just needs to grow a pair,’ I literally said that on the radio. He also said my car chief had a hammer if I needed it, which I declined. But that race, as the race went on, we kept getting faster and faster and faster. We started passing some really good cars.
“We were passing the DGM guys, the Martins Motorsports guys, my teammates. I was running up there with some really good cars. I think the next car ahead of me at the finish was Justin Haley. Not that I was close to Justin, but that was the next position. So, it was like, oh wow. We actually did something here. The thing is, you could look at that race and there were some incidents and attrition, but even before the attrition we were running 13th-14th. So, it’s not like we were on our way to a mediocre day. We were heading to a top-12 to maybe a top-10. Definitely, a day where we showed out.”
Another interesting tidbit about Vargas is that he lives in a house with fellow NASCAR Xfinity Series competitor Myatt Snider. According to Vargas, it’s nice living with a roommate that understands the rigors of what he goes through on a week-to-week basis in NASCAR, and that both drivers have leaned on each other in times of need over the last few years.
When Snider had his wild crash at Daytona last February, it was Vargas and some friends that helped Snider through one of the scariest moments of his racing career.
“I’ll tell one, and this was the day after the big one at Daytona. You know, that one. Where Myatt did a kick-flip. Obviously, that day/night, when that incident happened, we were all shaken up. I literally gave Myatt a big ole hug that night and after I saw him out of the infield care center, I was just happy one of my best friends was okay,” Vargas recalled. “The next day comes around, and it’s Daytona 500 day. Everybody is just chilling around the house. I think it was myself, Brad Perez, and my buddy Mark Sebetka, and Myatt with his foot up, because he was nursing his foot the day after his flip.
“We’re all sitting in the living room talking about the thing, and he’s in really good spirits, and then we were like, ‘Okay, can we make fun of you now?'”
The group was able to cut the tension of the horrendous crash, and they all were able to laugh together. It’s a two-way street for Vargas and Snider in the shared living space.
“If I have a bad race or a bad day, Myatt is a really good support guy, and the same thing with Myatt, if he has a really bad day or something happens, I’ll be there to talk to him about it,” Vargas explained. “It’s nice to have someone who gets it that you’re friends with. You compete against this guy, but at the end of the day, you’re both trying to accomplish the same task. And that’s this career and this dream in racing. But to have that support behind you means a lot to each other. You’re able to relate to each other and really lean on each other when things are not going well. I know there were a lot of times last year where I was talking to Myatt about a lot of different things and he gave me a lot of really good advice.”
Just know, if you leave your roommate hanging at Daytona, you’re going to hear about it at home.
“It’s also good to joke with each other. I remember after the Daytona August race, I bullied Myatt,” Vargas laughed. “He pushed me for one whole corner, then ditched me and proceeded to get in the wreck where Noah Gragson did a 360-degree no-hander in mid-air. And I was like, ‘If you had just pushed me, you simply wouldn’t have crashed.’ And he was like, ‘Damn, celebrating that sixth place with nobody finishing,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, well at least I finished.’ It’s banter and it’s fun to have banter like that.”
While Vargas is a young fresh-faced racer with a great attitude, he isn’t loved by all. Vargas understands there is a stigma associated with drivers like himself that have been stuck in equipment only capable of finishing mid-pack.
“In any professional sport, people are going to dislike one player or dislike one team. And if there are people out there that think I suck, and I know there are, I know there are people who don’t think very fondly of Ryan Vargas the race car driver. That’s fine. They don’t have to like me. Not everybody has to like me,” Vargas stated. “I’m one of those people that likes when they do like me, but if somebody doesn’t like me — they see me the last few years running top-20, top-25, just kind of chilling mid-pack, I get it. They probably see me as a mid-pack hack.
“But those who follow me and know my story and have actually taken the time to get to know everything I do, all of the factors that go into every weekend, the teams I’ve driven for, and stuff like that. When people learn a little more about what is going on, I think a lot of people have gravitated to what I do, which is fantastic. It means a lot that so many people care about me.”
Vargas understands that when you boil his career down to the raw stats he hasn’t set the world on fire, but even with his situations in the past not resulting in incredible results, Vargas is proud of the following he has built.
“I always say, if you look at Racing Reference right now — we all know whatever mechanical failures I’ve had or incidents or equipment I’ve been in — take all of that out — and I’m a 25th-place average finishing driver,” Vargas said. “Take all of those outside factors out, and on that site, I’m a 25th-place average finishing driver. But I don’t know any other 25th-place average finishing drivers that have been as fortunate to have the fan base that I have had. And that’s really cool. I think that’s really special that so many people decide to support me, regardless of that.”
While he has a massive section of folks rooting for him, Vargas does unfortunately take cheap shots on social media from people spewing hate about his race or his appearance due to being born with craniosynostosis. For those who have hate in their hearts, Vargas feels there’s sadly no changing their minds.
“Like I said, there are people who aren’t going to like me, and that’s fine. I’ve had to deal with some really ugly people, who decide to not like me for things that are unrelated to racing, like my race and stuff like that,” Vargas said. “And for those people, there’s no breaking through to them, unfortunately.”
To be hated simply for his appearance and his family’s cultural background, and nothing that he has actually done is quite upsetting. But Vargas takes solace in the welcoming environment that NASCAR has built around the sport in recent years.
“It sucks. It sucks that there are people that exist that have so much negativity and allows that kind of hate to get through,” Vargas said. “It’s crazy. It’s not something that I was ever worried about or thought about. And when I say this, the sport NASCAR as a whole it’s done a fantastic job being a very welcoming environment for any minority or female that wants to get into racing. Everyone in the industry welcomes minorities or females, or whoever, or whatever they choose to identify as. We welcome all people with open arms in racing. In any society, there is always the ugly. There’s always that. It’s however you shut that out. You try not to give it too much attention.”
Back to the task at hand, Vargas has a date with a 1.54-mile quad oval in Hampton, Georgia on Saturday. Vargas is heading into the weekend with an open mind about how he feels he and the No. 30 team should run.
“For me, I’m not going to target a specific finish, but if I could leave there with a top-10 to top-15, I’ll be okay,” Vargas explained. “If I leave there with a top-10 or a top-five, that’s really mission accomplished. And if we mess around and end up contending for the win, well, then that means we have accomplished all of the goals I have set for my career.
“You also have to be realistic. This is my first-ever truck race. It’s Atlanta, which is a now a superspeedway essentially. There are a lot of things that could happen. We could get mired deep in the pack. Another thing too, I have five or six more opportunities to go out this year and have an opportunity, so I can’t hang everything on one race. But for me, I want to come out of there with a strong finish and a clean truck.”
But what if Vargas is leading in those closing laps?
“If I’m leading on the white flag and get turned, I won’t be too mad. I’ll be mad that I lost, but I’ll be stoked that I was leading,” Vargas stated. “I haven’t really been able to go out and contend for a win at this level yet, so if that happens, and I’m not expecting it, but if we go out there and end up being in the mix like that, it’s going to be a really big day for myself, my partner Leargas Security and the team On Point Motorsports. We know what we’re capable of, but we also need to leverage expectations as well.”
Tune into the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series FR8 208 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday, March 18th at 2:00 PM ET on FS1 to see how Ryan Vargas does in his first start with the No. 30 On Point Motorsports team.