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Photo courtesy of NASCAR via Getty.

Throughout its history, the Daytona 500 has produced some of NASCAR’s biggest moments and, in the process, seen some of the sport’s legendary names win The Great American Race.  And that first race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season will always hold a special place for Trevor Bayne who, in 2011, became the youngest driver ever to claim the checkered flag at the Daytona 500.

Growing up in Tennessee, the now 26-year-old Bayne would often go to Bristol Motor Speedway to watch his favorite NASCAR drivers compete at one of the sport’s largest – and most distinct – tracks.  It helped put him on the path for what has become a challenging, yet very rewarding, career for Roush Fenway Racing.  And now, fresh off of a busy offseason, Bayne is hoping to claim another victory at the Daytona 500 – the only race he’s managed to win over the course of his nine-year career in the Cup Series.

We recently got the chance to speak with Bayne during Daytona 500 Media Day, where we discussed working on his pilot’s license during the offseason, the impact of faith on his racing and what he hopes to accomplish at Daytona International Speedway this Sunday, one day before he turns 27.

You can watch all of the action starting at 2:30 p.m. EST and only on FOX.

Dirtfork: What are some things you did this offseason to kind of take your mind off of racing?

Trevor Bayne: Man, we were really busy this offseason.  We actually moved back to Knoxville, Tennessee – we sold our house in Charlotte – and I’ve been working on my pilot’s license some, so the move took a couple of weeks and that didn’t feel like the offseason because that was a lot of work – it’s more work than driving a race car (laughs).  We did that and then, you know, in that transition time, we bought some land there, so just going out on my tractor and playing around.  And then we went to Hawaii for a couple of weeks for vacation – that was kind of the refresher that we needed, even though it’s kind of crazy flying nine hours with two kids under two.  We made it hectic for ourselves but we actually really did enjoy our offseason and I’ve tried to stay after it on the fitness side of things, you know, because you can’t really take a break on that or you lose so much, so I’ve been working really hard on my workouts, my cycling and all that – to be fit when Daytona time rolls around.

Dirtfork:  You mentioned getting your pilot’s license, can you kind of explain the similarities and differences of flying a plane and “flying” a race car 200 mph?

Bayne: You know, Carl Edwards had always told me there’s a lot of similarities to it and Joey Myers, who’s the spotter for Brad Keselowski, he’s a pilot and he always said some of the best race car drivers make the best pilots – and there’s a lot of truth to that, because what you do behind both windshields is the same.  You’re on the radio, having to communicate, you’ve got gauges that you really need to pay attention to and you have a feel factor of, you know, knowing what’s going on around you and feeling the aircraft, like feeling the race car, and so there are a ton of similarities.  But the first time I took off, I realized that there’s a lot of things that are different (laughs).  So, when I grabbed the yoke – and you can go up, down, spin, you can do all these different directions – that’s kind of different than a race car, where you can just go left or right.  So, it gets your attention pretty fast.

Dirtfork: Do you kind of instantly wait for someone to be in your ear like you’re on the race track?

Bayne: I’m a lot more nervous with that radio on the airplane, that’s for sure (laughs).  I feel like I’m going to mess it up every time.

Dirtfork: With things like flying and a vacation to Hawaii, how important is that kind of stuff to just recharge your battery and help you start the season with a clean slate?

Bayne: It is important because, you know, after 36 weekends straight of racing and traveling and dragging your family along, it’s important to do something for them and let your wife choose what you’re going to do for a couple of months.  They’re so dedicated to us and following us around and helping us and enabling us to do our careers, I feel like during the offseason I really need to give them more time than I do during racing – and I try to keep a healthy life balance, even during racing season.  But that’s good for me.  Also, by [the Homestead-Miami race], you’re normally run down on racing.  You’re like, ‘ah, I’m ready for an off weekend.’  But then, by like week three of the offseason, you’re ready to go to the race track again, so I always think it’s a good refresher to get your perspective right, you know, jut having some down time really fires you up to go to the race track and it’s always a reset button.  If you haven’t had the season you’ve wanted, well, here comes the new one to go and make it happen.

Dirtfork: Earlier you mentioned your bicycle and I’ve seen you post photos of it on your Instagram, do you try and stay in good physical shape during your time off or does it become kind of tedious?

Bayne: You know, I actually do, man.  I’m seven days a week on my workouts – even in the offseason.  I mean, in Hawaii I didn’t worry about my strength stuff as much but I flew my mountain bike there and I went out and surfed and, even on vacation, I worked out.  So, it’s really important to keep it going along with that mentality.  If there’s a day where I just don’t get there, I don’t stress about it.  You know, in race season I make fitness a priority and in the offseason it happens every day but it’s not a priority.  But it is important to keep that going just because you can lose it so fast.  And I want to be prepared.  I know that there’s not as much of a competitive advantage in being fit in NASCAR as there is maybe in football, or supercross, or something like that, but there is an advantage there.  And I want to make the best of that.  There aren’t many things, as race car drivers, we can do to make ourselves better but that is definitely one thing you can do.

Ahhhh the @iamspecialized #diverge #sworks… so smooth and fun to ride!

A post shared by Trevor Bayne (@tbayne6) on

Dirtfork:  Now, in today’s sports landscape, there are a lot of people who are outspoken about their faith – first one that comes to mind is Carson Wentz.  You’re a guy that’s clearly outspoken, which we think is awesome, can you talk a little bit about how your faith impacts your racing?

Bayne: You know, honestly, I think it makes me a better race car driver because I’m not doing this to make Trevor Bayne a superstar, I’m here for God’s glory, which is even more important than me being famous or being know as the best.  I represent him and so I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.  If I’m going to study, or workout, or something, I’m going to do it the best I can for the Lord.  And also, it takes a lot of pressure off because I know he is in control of the result.  If I’m doing everything I can to do the best I can, for his glory, and I trust him with the result, well that lifts all of the weight off.  You know, if I’m running tenth and that’s all I’ve got and I’m doing everything I can – then that’s all I’ve got and I have to trust that he’s in control and he’s satisfied in that.  I think that it comes right along in racing and it’s taken me time to figure out how to be a competitor and serve the Lord, because sometimes we feel like our will to win is more than our will to glorify God or, ‘if I’m not winning I’m not glorifying God.’  I’ve learned on the tough days that that’s when it speaks to people, more than the days that you win.  Like at [Indianapolis Motor Speedway] last year, when I crashed with the chance to win – I mean, the way you respond then is almost more important than the way you respond in Victory Lane.  I’ve learned a ton and it helps me keep good perspective and makes me thankful for the opportunity I have, so I’m just thankful to God for letting me be here.

Dirtfork: Do you get a lot of fans, or even other drivers, that come up to you and explain that they’re appreciative you’re outspoken about your faith and that it’s impacted them in some way?

Bayne: I definitely have some fans that share that and, you know, a lot of times it’s through social media – and sometimes it’s in person.  But sometimes you feel like you’re not making an impact, you feel like you’re just doing the same thing over again.  We kind of go to the same tracks, we go do the same thing, we do the same interviews with the same questions, and then when somebody tells you a story of how you actually impacted their life, that’s when it makes it so worth it and exciting.  I do this also because I love racing, I love being at the track but when you can impact people’s lives and point it towards Jesus, that’s a huge deal to me.

Dirtfork: Let’s not forget, you do have a pretty big victory under your belt – and it’s at the Daytona 500 in one of your first Cup races.  What was that whole experience like when you became the youngest to ever win the race?

Bayne: Well, my view right now while we’re on the phone is sitting here, looking out of the 500 Club [at Daytona International Speedway], it’s pitch black with lights on the front stretch with the big logo on the front and to think that I’ve had the chance to win here, in front of all the people filling these stands, and to win for the Wood Brothers and go to the Victory Lane, sitting right underneath me now, that’s pretty cool – it’s really hard to explain.  It’s kind of like kids.  I had somebody tell me once, ‘if somebody has kids you don’t need to explain to them how crazy kids are and if they don’t have kids, you’ll never be able to explain how crazy it is with kids (laughs).’  So, it’s kind of hard to explain the Daytona 500 in the same way.  If you’ve experienced it, there’s no words – you already know.  And, if you haven’t, it’s going to be hard to explain it.  But the best way I can sum it up is the day after the 500, when I got on the plane to fly to the media tour, I looked down and saw the 500 ring and, man, that was the first time it felt like this is reality, this isn’t just a dream, I get to have my on the Harley J. Earl Trophy with Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty, all of these guys that have won the Daytona 500 – that’s really special.  I’m really hoping we can do it again.

Dirtfork: Was that transition from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series difficult for you?

Bayne: The transition, initially, wasn’t that hard.  I was in really good race cars and I was able to go run well.  It’s actually been tougher the last couple of years because you want to improve all the time and it’s such a team effort that it takes more than will to win as a driver.  And you’ve got to elevate your crew chief, your spotter, you’re front-end mechanic, your car chief, your team manager – you’ve got to keep pushing everybody to be their best, to give their best, so that we can all have success.  They’re going to push on me to do the same and I expect them to.  But, you know, I would have loved to seen more success than I have at this level but, again, that’s where I have to say, ‘you know what, I’m doing everything I can’ and if I don’t look back and say I should’ve done more in this area or that area, yeah, I feel like I’m doing everything I can and so I’ve just got to trust that God’s in control and this is his plan for me.

Dirtfork: Do you like having the biggest race, and the biggest stage, at the beginning of the season?  Is that difficult, to get it done right away – would you rather it was later on in the season?

Photo courtesy of Getty.

Bayne: No, I actually really like this format.  You know, you still have the championship race at the end of the year, which is exciting and full of fans and a lot on the line, but to come to the Daytona 500 to kick it off, I mean, it’s really special.  It really is the best – everybody is so fired up after the offseason and then that’s what carries into Daytona and makes it so cool, like when you’re on the starting line up there, out waiting by your car to go race. I mean, part of what makes the Daytona 500 so special is because it’s actually the first race of the year and that’s what brings all of this energy into it.  We come here fired up and there’s a lot on the line.

Dirtfork: The ultimate goal, obviously, is to win another Daytona 500 race – especially right before your birthday, because that’d be a pretty awesome birthday present…

Bayne: That would be legit (laughs).

Dirtfork: What kind of goals do you have in place for Sunday – what are you looking to accomplish in the event that you don’t win the race?

Bayne: We need to start our season strong.  We need to go to Atlanta in good position already and Daytona, you know, can go either way.  You can crash out on lap one, which nobody wants to do – but it happens, or you could win the race and your season is set for the first 26 races, you know, you’re essentially in the playoffs if you can keep yourself in the top 30 and more than 16 drivers win, so you’ve got your spot marked.  So, it can kind of make or break your early part of the season but, I will say, if you have a bad Daytona, you go to Atlanta with it completely shaken off and say, ‘alright, our season starts now’ but if you win here, it really does set a great tone and take a lot of pressure off.  I look forward to going to win another Daytona 500 but if we can’t, we really want to get a solid finish – top five would be awesome here.  But, for me, it’s kind of all or nothing and I want to go win this race and make it count for us.

Dirtfork: How do you feel about the new playoff format – do you like what it brings to the chase?

Bayne: I think it makes every race equally important.  If you haven’t won and you get a win, then you can make your way into the playoffs and that’s really cool.  So, I like win-period kind of format and I like the playoff structure, that it’s rewarding somebody that’s run well all year – like Martin Truex Jr., he deserved to be in that last race in the championship and he won the championship.  I thought that was really cool.  The only part that is hard is there are mechanical pieces involved that you could dominate, you could literally win 35 of the 36 races, go to [Homestead-Miami Speedway] break an engine on the first lap and finish fourth in the championship title.  And that would be tough to swallow but that’s how it is in any sport – you got to be there when it matters, you’ve got to be clutch and finish strong.  I think our series has come up with a great structure to do that.

Dirtfork: You’ve raced all of these tracks countless times, which one is your favorite – which one do you wake up that morning most hyped to race?

Bayne: I normally wake up most excited – well, there’s two places that are cool to me.  Actually three.  Daytona, obviously, for the 500, but [Homestead-Miami Speedway] is a cool place – the way it’s worn out, slick and you can run right next to the wall.  And then [Bristol Motor Speedway], because it’s my home track and that’s what made me a NASCAR fan.  I’ve been going there since I was three-years-old and watching races, so going there and running well – that’s just a really cool race track.

Dirtfork: Does that special feeling of being on your home track ever kind of wear out for you?

Bayne: Not really, especially since my home track is Bristol.  That place is so cool and so unique, even if it wasn’t my home track it would be one of my favorites.