Franklinton High sophomore Brayton Haws is typical of many 15-year-olds in North Carolina. He recently got his learner’s permit and is allowed to lawfully drive if accompanied by a parent.
On the weekends Haws drives alone. He gets behind the wheel of a Late Model Stock race car that can run 150 mph and presses the accelerator to the floor.
Haws has been driving race cars since he was 4 years old, when he climbed into a go-kart for some competitive spins around a dirt track in Newton, Iowa.
Haws has raced adults for years. Last year he won a race at Hickory Motor Speedway in the Limited Late Model series and made the jump to the full-sized Late Model Stock cars this season.
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“I grew up racing,” he said. “My father had started in go-karts and I did, too. One thing led to another.”
“We carried him to a go-kart race and he liked it and he sat in one of the karts,” Brian Haws, Brayton’s father, said. “He wanted to drive it. So we got him a go-kart. Driving kind of came natural to him.”
Brayton Haws has won hundreds of races, including 50 go-kart races in one year. He won the World Karting Association national triple crown for the purple plate light and purple plate heavy (different weight karts) and the champ karts when he was 10 years old. Those vehicles run 60 to 70 mph.
He jumped to the Bandolero class, which uses cars that are about half the size of regular cars and race on an asphalt track, when he was 11. He went to the Legends class when he was 12 and won two national titles – the Winter Heats at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Florida Nationals at Auburndale, Fla. – during a two-week period.
He was 12 years old and driving a car that could go 110 mph.
“I started young, but not that young,” said Haws’ crew chief Lee McCall, who headed NASCAR teams for Daytona 500-winner Sterling Martin and Michael Waltrip Racing in the past. “I was in go-karts when I was 13. Now, Brayton was in a race car when he was 14.”
Brian Haws said he is nervous before races but isn’t once the race starts.
“But I don’t think Brayton is ever nervous. I asked Brayton before a big race at Martinsville if he was nervous and he was as cool as could be,” his father said.
Brayton Haws is sponsored by his father’s Mechanical HVAV of Wake Forest and by Rheem. He needs sponsors because racing is an expensive proposition.
Haws may try to enter a few K&N series races next year in addition to his Late Model Stock races. His father puts the price tag at between $30,000 and $40,000 per K&N race, including McCall, the rest of the pit crew, car preparation and travel expenses.
McCall said Haws has the ability to communicate with the team about possible adjustments that need to be made to the car during a race.
“It is sort of like we have to read his mind and he has to read ours during a race,” McCall said. “Being able to communicate what the car needs is really important.”
Haws is still learning to do that, McCall said, but the young driver is making progress.
“He has always had the speed, but he is now learning how to conserve the car,” McCall said. “That is one of the hardest things for young drivers. You conserve the car – the tires, the engine, everything – so that you’ll have some car left at the end.”
McCall is working with several young drivers, such as Ben Rhodes, who has won five K&N races this year and is the points leader.
“I like working with the young guys, watching them develop on the track and as people,” McCall said. “A lot of them are sort of shy to start with. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now.”
Haws said having a crew chief like McCall, who is based in Traveler’s Rest, S.C., has been a big key to his success.
“Being successful is really a combination of things,” the young driver said. “You’ve got to have a driver who can run some good laps and you’ve got to have a great crew chief who can set up the car and adjust it.”
Haws is following the path of NASCAR standouts Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who grew up on the go-kart circuit.
But the next step is a huge one.
“At some point, somebody has to spot you and think you are a young talent,” Brian Haws said. “You’ve got to be able to attract the right attention and get the right sponsorship.
“NASCAR is the goal, and you’ve got to have help to get there.”
For the next few years, though, the young driver will continue to try to turn fast laps and beat all comers. He’ll smile all the way.
“Asking me why I race is like asking a football player or baseball player why they play their sports,” he said. “It is what I love to do.”
But he’s also excited about getting his driver’s license.