Payton Pierce is always smiling and for good reason – he has a lot to be happy about.
After moving to full-size sprint cars this year, the Bridgeport High School sophomore has strung together three straight victories.
But it’s nothing new. He’s just picking up where he left off. Payton won three national titles in go-carts and another national title in sprints before making the move up.
“When he started winning in the carts it was pretty obvious,” his father and crew chief, Richard Pierce, said. “He was just naturally faster. I don’t know what it is – he just has a knack.”
Richard raced dirt bikes and motocross as a kid and his grandfather Phillip was a drag racer. Three generations of racing have been instrumental in getting Payton where he is today.
“I’ve grown up in it and started racing motocross when I was 4 or 5,” Payton said. “When I was 11 I started racing go-carts and moved up in cart classes till I was 15. Then I started running the micro-sprints and now I’m in a sprint car.”
In 2010 he won the amateur Chili Bowl and amateur Tulsa Shootout to earn the coveted Driller. He’s believed to be the only driver from Texas to win the award.
It’s been a quick move up the ranks for the teenager. In his rookie season in the sprints he’s normally racing against guys in their twenties or thirties who have been doing this for years.
“The older guys have been real receptive,” Richard said. “At first there were some comments about putting a kid in that kind of car. Now they are getting beat by him.”
Payton started in the back of the field for awhile just to earn the other drivers’ respect. Once he did, they were ready to let him go.
Getting used to his current car has also been a bit of a transition. He’s sporting a 550-horsepower, 305-cubic-inch Chevrolet in his current car.
“These cars have a bigger engine, power steering and a bigger chassis,” Payton said. “Most of the things I have been in have been smaller, quicker cars. I’m having to get used to all the power and the power steering.”
The move has paid off. Payton is on a winning streak, and he’s getting the exposure he wanted at this level.
“He’s raising a lot of eyebrows on the local and national level,” Richard explained. “They like him because he is the total package. He’s got it on the track and off the track. He’s polite and respectful.”
Payton does all this while maintaining a 4.285 GPA. He’s currently ranked second in his class. Racing at least once a week and sometimes three to four times a week can make it tough. There are a lot of late nights of trying to get his school work completed.
He’s smart on the track too. Racing is expensive, but Payton does a good job of going fast without getting into much trouble. With a handful of sponsors and decent prize money, the Pierces make ends meet.
“As long as you can win and not tear stuff up you do OK,” Payton said. “Most of the expense is with your fuel and tires.”
Payton’s also getting the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the bigger names in the sport.
“Whenever I run the midget is when I run against guys that drive for Tony Stewart – Kyle Larson and some of the bigger named guys,” he said. “It’s fun to go against them because you know you’re racing against the best.”
While practicing for one of his midget races he had to dodge NASCAR’s Kasey Kahne after he spun out. He uses Kyle Larson’s old seat in his current car.
All the pieces are in place. If Payton keeps frequenting victory lane the big break he needs might be right around the corner.
“I’d run anything. Running on dirt is fun,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind running USAC or World of Outlaws. Doing that for a living would be really neat.”