By Cole Cusumano
Everyone loves pizza. It’s cheesy, easy-going and gets the job done, much like Brayton Laster, who is quite possibly the living embodiment of mankind’s greatest, edible achievement.
When Laster makes his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Knoxville Raceway for Reaume Brothers Racing on June 18, you’ll know who he is. Follow the cartoon “Pizza Man” pit sign and that’s where you can likely find the 19-year-old sporting his trademark pepperoni pizza helmet.
Laster’s nickname, “The Pizza Man,” stemmed from his early go-kart racing days at the Indianapolis Speedrome, where he would purchase a slice any chance he could get. Throughout school, many would associate him with the Italian delicacy, thanks to his deliciously abstract accessories and attire ranging from backpacks, pants, shoes and more.
“I became known as the pizza kid throughout school and racing,” Laster told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “It kind of became more of a personality trait than anything. I want to be known for something that makes me unique, but also makes me approachable and everybody can relate to pizza.”
While pizza may be in Laster’s genetic makeup, it simply serves as a compliment to his passion for racing. Looking ahead to his Truck Series debut, there’s reason to believe this Indianapolis native has all the ingredients to be a recipe for success in NASCAR
Step 1: Stretching the Dough
In order for a pizza to be made properly, there must be a solid foundation. Luckily for Laster, this is one of his most striking attributes and there are two people who helped mold him into the driver and person he is today.
Laster took early inspiration from his father when turning to motorsports as a potential career. The pair would often spend their nights at the track, where Dane Laster would compete in Outlaw Figure 8 events, as his son absorbed everything.
At eight years old, Laster began racing Junior Faskarts until he was 12 and moved up to competing in Thundercars. Next year, he followed in his father’s footsteps by running his first Outlaw Figure 8 event at the Indianapolis Speedrome.
By all accounts, Laster has been a wheelman since his racing career began. Having never owned a newer car to this day, he was taught to make the most with what he has – and he holds his own.
Laster frequently pilots Frankenstein cars using parts he rebuilds from his father’s automobile scrapyard: Indy Auto Recyclers. He works tirelessly in the shop five days a week with his crew chief Kyle Downey on his hand-crafted machinery.
“Brayton’s had mediocre equipment at best,” Dane Laster told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “There’s times where I look back and I feel bad about some of the stuff I put him in over the years. But he’s had to drive his heart out, he’s had to learn to work on it to get speed out of it.”
“I never dreamed what I was creating.”
As for who played the largest role in shaping Laster’s career to this point, it’s his hero and National Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer C.J. Rayburn. Rayburn, 81, passed away earlier this year and was a pioneer in crafting dirt late model chassis.
Rayburn met the Lasters at the Speedrome when Brayton was about 10 years old and he took him under his wing. “Ole’ C.J.,” as Laster referred to him, was responsible for initiating his dirt racing career.
“If it wasn’t for [Rayburn], I would’ve never gotten into dirt racing,” Laster said. “He took me in at a young age and led me down the path that somehow led me to making my NASCAR Truck Series debut. I didn’t really know that he was a legend to many.”
Laster and Rayburn had a “special bond,” according to his father. Shortly after their first meeting, he worked for free at his new mentor’s shop one Winter, shadowing his mechanical craftsmanship.
Now in the midst of a dream-like year, Laster is entering his fifth season of dirt racing and about to get his shot on the biggest stage possible thanks to Rayburn’s guidance.
Step 2: The Sauce
Sauce can be deemed the most important aspect of a pizza. It serves as a contrast between the crust and cheese, meaning it can make or break a good pie. Though difficult to master, a strong base is what defines the product.
Laster’s dedication to his racecraft is something that sets him apart from the rest. Since making his first start on dirt in 2018 at 15 years old, he hasn’t let off the gas.
In his first year running for points at Brownstown Speedway in Super Late Models, Laster won rookie of the year and finished 10th in the standings. This is in addition to living, sleeping and breathing racing.
Laster aims to race up to 10 times a month, and when there’s an off-week, he’ll turn to Figure 8 events to sharpen his reflexes or local dirt tracks to keep busy.
“We want to keep me racing as much as we can to keep my skills sharp,” Laster said. “We’re kind of going the Kyle Larson approach. Rick Hendrick keeps [Larson] in a car as much as possible and I think that’s why he is as good of a driver as he is. He’s constantly in a car, he’s in a different variety of cars and he’s kind of forced to adapt, which makes him a better driver overall.”
Finally, the unique zest Laster brings to the table resides in his go-getter attitude. This year, he made his ARCA Menards Series debut after connecting with Mullins Racing on TikTok.
He reached out and pitched himself in hopes to participate in an open test session at Daytona International Speedway and got the opportunity of a lifetime, even with asphalt racing limited to Outlaw Figure 8 outings.
“Brayton was very passionate,” Willie Mullins told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “He doesn’t have a lot of asphalt starts, but the kid wanted to move up and he believed in us and we believed in him.”
Laster, who said turning laps at Daytona was “out of this world and greater than any dream I could’ve come up with,” rose to the occasion. In his ARCA debut, he finished 13th out of 36 cars.
“The sky’s the limit really,” Mullins said. “He goes out there and is able to tell his story and tell everybody who he is. That was a large part of why we wanted to continue with him and continue in the future with him, because he’s definitely his own advocate and that’s what you need nowadays.”
This successful run spurred a second start at Talladega Superspeedway, where Laster unfortunately got caught up in “the big one.” However, in a situation where many drivers would react in displeasure, he got out of his car, threw both fists up and received a roar of applause from the crowd.
Through the constant racing and success, Laster hasn’t compromised who he is.
Step 3: Extra Cheese
Cheese serves as the character of the pizza, which is a perfect adjective to describe Laster’s “goofy” personality according to friend and teammate Brad Perez.
“Brayton is kind of one of those people who’s unapologetically himself,” Perez told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “He kind of reminds me of how I’ve always thought about racing. I feel like when you get to this point – even ARCA or Trucks – there’s kind of like a professionalism aspect where it almost takes the fun out of it sometimes, and Brayton’s one of those kids where it doesn’t matter to him.
“He’s not afraid to show he’s having fun.”
Perez met Laster at the ARCA test and they developed a friendship that led to a deal. The young motorsports journeyman made his Truck Series debut this year driving for the Reaume Brothers, whom he helped get them in contact with.
With additional help from family friend and owner of TopGun Racing in IndyCar, Gary Trout, the Lasters got their golden ticket to Knoxville. While the glowing recommendations were a plus, what sold the Reaume Brothers was the Pizza Man’s humbleness and determination.
“He doesn’t do it for the glory, he doesn’t do it for the attention, he just loves to race and he’s always thinking how to go faster,” Dane Laster said. “His mind is always working. He lives and breathes it. That’s his passion. That’s what fuels him.”
Step 4: Topping It All Off
The final step before throwing a pizza in the oven is some fine-tuning with toppings. Laster, who’s never raced at Knoxville, has developed his own training to prepare for his first Truck Series start.
He’s been practicing at the half-mile track on iRacing, using a ButtKicker to better simulate bumps and abrasions. Laster also watched last year’s event about three times, noting lane choice, different racer’s styles and more.
This is all of course on top of the intense racing schedule he holds himself to. Laster is feeling confident heading into his Truck Series debut because of his dirt experience, but also the fact he’s been running swingarm suspensions, which equate similarly to the Chevrolet Silverado he’ll be running.
“It’s not my backyard, but I’d say it’s my playground,” Laster said. “Not a lot of those guys have as much dirt experience as I do, but it’s obviously going to be my first time in a Camping World Truck and the power-to-weight ratio on those things, if I had to guess, is vastly different. It’s going to take some getting used to, but we have plenty of practice that weekend, so hopefully I can adapt pretty quickly. I think top-20 is definitely a reasonable expectation.”
While his on-track ability isn’t in question, Laster likes to sprinkle a little dose of reality into his lifestyle. Even with the opportunities presented to him in 2022, he considers himself a student first.
Laster maintained straight A’s all throughout school and now he’s extending that trend into his second year at Liberty University. When he isn’t working on cars, he’s attending online classes for business as a safety net.
“As much as I love racing, as much as I’d love to make it a professional career, I have to be very realistic and I have better odds of going out here, winning the lottery and getting struck by lightning in the same day than probably making it as a professional race car driver,” Laster said. “Racing at the level I’ve made it to – racing in the ARCA Menards Series and now making my Truck debut – is leagues above where I ever thought I’d get to run at. I want to make sure I always have a backup plan.”
Step 5: Cook and Enjoy!
Now that you’re familiar with the Pizza Man, it’s time to welcome what could be one of NASCAR’s undiscovered talents with open arms. The kid from Greenwood, Indiana took an untraditional path and defied all odds to make his dream come true.
“It’s crazy the fact that five months ago, we were planning on doing Figure 8 and dirt stuff this season primarily with no ambitions whatsoever of running any NASCAR sanctioned race for the foreseeable future and now we’re sitting here talking about making my Truck debut,” Laster said. “It happened very fast and I’m super grateful to just get these opportunities. Not many people get them, especially kids from my background and people from my area, so I’m trying to take the opportunities I get, run with them and make the most of it.”
“I told him at Daytona, ‘This race isn’t for you,’” Dane Laster said. “‘You’re racing for every racer that’s been told they can’t – they’re running the wrong tracks, the wrong class, they don’t have the right last name or a rich dad. It’s your job to represent and open the door up for those guys.’”
Join the pizza party on June 18 at 9 p.m. ET on FS1 for the Clean Harbor 150 from Knoxville Raceway, where Laster will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut.