By: Ashley McCubbin
After scoring a 13th-place finish last year at Daytona International Speedway, Brayton Laster will return to Mullins Racing in 2023 to run both superspeedway ARCA Menards Series events. The Indiana native recently shared his thoughts entering the event, as well as the road to get to where he is now, with NEWS FROM THE PITS.
What are your thoughts on going back to Daytona and Talladega in 2023?
To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement. We went there last year without a lot of experience. I never thought I’d get an opportunity to race at Daytona or even on a NASCAR level like the ARCA Menards Series. Before Daytona, I’d raced for 13 years – mainly asphalt on the past five or six years, but had never been on an asphalt track better than a three-eighths mile before Daytona. So jumping from a three-eighths mile flat oval, it wasn’t really high banked, to Daytona, was a big jump and learning curve.
We tested down there at the end of January with the ARCA Series. We had six or seven practice sessions across the weekend there and that’s how I got the approval – I didn’t do a lot of group drafting, just five, six cars draft. As far as race experience, I had not even close. So I went down there last year trying to get our feet a little bit wet, looking for a top-25 finish, just wanted to be there at the end as they have a lot of big wrecks and I didn’t want to be in a bad place at the wrong time. So if you can finish there, I can be happy.
We brought it home 13th last year with not even a scratch really on it and we were happy with that. Got to run Talladega. It was kind of the same boat where we were just trying to get experience. I got experience with being in the big one – that was cool.
So going into this year, I don’t have a lot of experience – but I have a lot more experience than I did last year. So I think it puts us in a good spot to be in. The team, I’m with the Mullins Racing, same team as last year. They’re great people, they have great equipment, they have a brand new mustang body – this will be the superspeedway debut for the mustang body in ARCA. It’s ran at Pocono (Raceway) and a couple short tracks and intermediates, but never Daytona or Talladega before. It will be interesting to see what the difference is because the ARCA Menards Series still runs the 2014 composite challenger body and this is the 2021 mustang body. Obviously, there’s a seven year generational gap for the most part so we’re interested to see the difference is and hopefully it helps us out. But regardless, the mustang body looks really, really neat and really cool.
So I’m thankful to be in good equipment and with good people. I’ll have the same spotter I had last year so I think we have a fair shot at a top-five maybe – maybe top-10, but I’m rooting for a top-five if nothing happens to us.
Well last year you went down there, you had the 13th place at Daytona – and you speak about the experience that you were able to gain. What was some of the other big takeaways from running last season that you feel will benefit you now returning for 2023?
I want to say the race know-how for that track. Not just the experience, but having the race knowledge of trying to read the situation. If you’re going into a corner three-wide, you know the outcome will not turn out well for everyone involved. So you have to see when these situations are developing and be able to track them a mile ahead, and prevent putting yourself in those situations. I think having that experience helps me.
You know, I come from a background of dirt late model and outlaw figure-eight racing as it’s a big deal in Indianapolis. With the figure-eight racing, you drive through an intersection avoiding other cars. I hope the reaction time from years of figure-eight racing that puts me up on the field – I think I’m the only figure-eight racer in there for the most part. There’s a lot of older NASCAR guys that have come up figure-eight racing like Benny Parsons. He was a figure-eight champion at Flat Rock (Speedway).
It’s kind of cool having that experience and I can directly relate to that the whole superspeedway thing. They’re pretty much the same. You know you’re going to wreck at some point – it’s just a matter of when and can you avoid it somehow. So having that know-how, reading the situation, and trying to not put myself in a situation where I know we’ll end up turned around, in the grass, or upside down, something like that. it’s about avoiding the situation. You can’t read every situation, but trying not to put yourself in one.
I find it interesting how your relationship with the Mullins began through you reaching out to them on social media. What kind of gave you the want to reach out to them originally to get the deal rolling?
Growing up, my generation, social media has been a huge thing on and off the race track. The past couple years, I’ve always tried to grow my social media because it was a tool that I had going up against my competition because I’ve always raced in classes that way above my age level. I was 12-years-old racing against 40, 50-year-old stock car bullrings throughout Indiana. Growing up, I saw the power of social media and tried to grasp it. That was something my competition never really did.
When I moved to dirt, Tiktok had just come out in 2018, I quickly got on-board with that and started making videos. At first, I was making little stupid gaming videos about my 2002 Hyundai Elentra GT which is my daily driver – I put a spoiler on and LED lights on, and I was making stupid videos about that. I was like, “Hey, I’m going to take this to my racing platform here and I’ll make it my TikTok thing.” I became – I don’t want to say big on TikTok, but I have a couple thousand followers, a lot more than I did.
Through just browsing on TikTok one day, the Mullins Racing page was recommended to me. One of their videos came up and it was recommended to me and that’s how I got introduced to the Mullins. I watched their videos. At first, I watched their 2021 Daytona test videos and I thought it was really cool.
I knew of ARCA. My dad actually put together an ARCA car in 2004, and ran one race with it as a car owner – it was the 2004 Salem race, I believe, and thought it was too expensive. I’ve heard that story. So I knew of ARCA but didn’t know too much about it at the time. I knew of the Mullins. I knew their platform and they raced in ARCA, but that was about it.
One night, I want to say December 22 last year of 2021, my dad comes into my room at 10 o’ clock in the morning and I’m on Christmas break from college so I’m sleeping in a bit, and my dad comes in to wake me up to get me up for work. He goes, “Hey, I was thinking last night what do you think about running the 2022 ARCA Daytona test?” And I’m like, “What’s that? I don’t really know what that is for the most part.” I knew the Mullins went there last year, and up to this point, I hadn’t spoken a word to the Mullins. They didn’t even know I existed. So he goes, “Well, take a look and see what you can find out.”
I knew the Mullins existed. I knew they did this thing called the ARCA Daytona test. I went to their Facebook and Tiktok and sure enough, there’s a video and post up saying, “Hey, we’re looking for some drivers to come down to the test with us.” Shot them an e-mail, and the rest is pretty much history. A week or so later, I had a contract in hand to come down and do the test for them. We went down there, had a blast, and got approval.
I’m like, “Dad, it’d be really cool to do the race. I don’t think we’ll be able to funding-wise, but it’s a once and a lifetime opportunity.” He’s like, “For sure,” and we had a month basically. We sat there for a month and dollar for dollar, tried to get the funds together to go race Daytona and we did it. It’s the fact that I got to race at Daytona and that was the whole catalyst of this past year. It was crazy, fun, career high for me. I got my NASCAR (Craftsman) Truck (Series) start, ran at Daytona and Talladega. I’d never thought I’d get this opportunity through social media. It’s crazy how everything had to line up in a perfect array of stars to happen.
You see so many people playing around with social media that you’d never think it’d lead to a career opportunity. That’s why when I saw you got this deal that way, that’s a neat way of doing it.
It was definitely – it’s crazy how fast it came together. Like I said, it was December 22nd that my dad came into my room and the test was like January 14 or something. So we had to put it all together in two and a half weeks for the test. it’s crazy how fast that happened. I never thought I’d get the chance to test at Daytona or turn laps there in a competitive matter, so getting to do the test, that was beyond exciting. It was mind blowing, breath taking, and I was content just doing the test.
We talked about doing the race and thought it’d be cool to do it, once in a lifetime opportunity, but I’m content here. I’m fine running dirt late models and the figure-eight stuff. Now if we did the race, that’d be cool, but it doesn’t happen, I won’t be upset. Surprise, surprise, it happened.
So like you just said, you’re content with things are – but you can hear the excitement in your voice. So down the road, could we see your ARCA schedule expand?
I wish. I’m not really sure what the future plans. I don’t really ever see this being a career for me. I don’t have the last name. I don’t have the rich uncle that runs a fortune 500 company. I don’t really have – I don’t want to say natural talent, but I have to work for speed and I put in the work and try what I can to be fast. But the big thing that dominates racing today is money and we are unfortunately lacking the cheque book with three commas in it.
We’d like to expand to intermediates and run some short tracks – that’s my background, short track bullrings throughout the Midwest and those parts. ARCA runs the two dirt races, and that’d definitely be really cool to put a deal together for that. Now talking about miracles here, if I could somehow make it up to the Truck Series or (NASCAR) Xfinity (Series) full-time for a season, that’d be more than content. I mean, I’m content where I’m at but if I made it to that level, I could retire at that point.
The end goal, I’d say, is to try and make it for a full season in Truck or Xfinity in five-ish years. Obviously, we plan on running Daytona and Talladega this year, but we’d like to and if the funding arises, it’d be fun to do a Kansas, an Iowa, a Flat Rock, Kansas, IRP, to run those races if we can.
The Mullins, even though they’re a small team, they’re a small big team I like to put it. They have a lot of equipment. They have two or three short track cars, two superspeedway cars. They have a road course car. They don’t have an intermediate car per say, but they have a lot of good equipment. They ran Bristol (Motor Speedway) with Mason Diaz and he had a top-five run before an oil line busted. They definitely have a good equipment and they’re the right people to be with if I want to expand my career – but I don’t think we’ll expand too far outside of Daytona or Talladega unless we hit the lottery or powerball.
With everything that you’ve done in your career, what’s one piece of advice that you’d give to kids getting started?
Don’t quit. I started at a young age and I skipped a lot of birthday parties, a lot of social events. I didn’t go to a single football game in all four years of high school. It’s hard. It’s an emotional hard road for a teenager trying to grow up racing. I never had this a career outlook to make it to the top level. I was kind of doing it as a passion and hobby. With the short track stuff, I work on all my own cars. I build my stuff and I was in the garage if I wasn’t at school. It’s easy to quit and throw the towel in.
It can be emotional tearing at times, but at the end of the day, seeing that checkered flag on Friday and Saturday nights, that’s the end game. That’s the satisfaction right there. Getting to go fast, the hours of research and development to be successful, it feels great when you’re successful. We went through a couple year stretch there with dirt where we only finished only a handful of races a season, and we were running 30, 40 races a year. That was real rough.
It’s easy to quit, but don’t, because your haters will watch you quit but you got to prove them wrong. You got to keep going for it as like me, you never know what could happen. You never know how fast things can turn around.