Photo by Gabriel Stovall
“We did this because we all really think I have a shot to do great and be in NASCAR one day,” Payton Ryan said. The Ryan family moved from Louisiana to Charlotte, N.C., to help Ryan chase his racing dreams.
Perhaps the most exciting ride Thursday Thunder driver Payton Ryan has experienced did not happen on a race track.
It didn’t occur with him in the seat of a Legends or Bandolero car, feeling the vibrations of a pulsating engine in his chest.
It happened almost three years ago while in a camper traveling across the highway on a one-way trip from Lousiana to Charlotte, N.C.
It happened when Payton’s parents, Jackie and Kelli Ryan, saw a passion for racing in their son that far exceeded the normally fickle nature of a teenagers’ career choices.
Payton Ryan, a native of Jonesville, La., fell in love with racing along with his father Jackie after a visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina to watch both Legends and Bandolero races.
Before journeying back to his Lousiana home, Payton was given his first bandolero car, participated in a beginner Bandits race and began a journey of family sacrifice to help him chase his racing dream.
“We did this because we all really think I have a shot to do great and be in NASCAR one day,” said Payton Ryan, who has logged over 100 races since 2009. “I started young with this. I liked other sports like baseball and football too, but making it in racing is definitely my goal.”
The Ryans don’t have any deep, historic ties to racing. They aren’t even an indirect part of some NASCAR racing pedigree. Passion is the Ryan family’s fuel to be the best in a sport that gets their blood pumping unlike any other.
“After we bought a car and started racing in Louisiana, we got pretty competitive . We just wanted more,” Payton Ryan said. “There’s not much competition on the Lousiana racing scene, and we knew that when it comes to racing, Charlotte and Atlanta is where it’s at.”
It’s the passion for racing that no doubt fuels Payton’s father to continue flying back and forth from North Carolina to Louisiana to continue running his oil company while keeping track of his son’s budding career.
It’s the passion for racing that keeps a smile of optimisim on Payton’s face even after an undesireable finish in last Thursday’s action.
After getting off to a fourth place start, Ryan experienced an unfortunate turn of events when an orange safety cone got caught under his car as he hugged a turn on lap three of the Young Lions’ divison race. His car was unable to finish.
But it’s also passion that causes Payton’s mother, Kelli, to put aside fear for her son’s safety and enjoy watching him do what he loves most.
“It’s a really competitive class out here and you know there are going to be wrecks and collisions,” she said. “But I just pray for Payton. I used to pray for him to finish in first place. Now I just pray for him to finish in one piece.”
And even though Payton may not like to hear it, Kelli Ryan says she and her husband also teach their son to not put all of his eggs in one basket.
“I made him put education first,” she said. “He’s a great student. He’s been learning to master Chinese for the last three years. He thinks I’m just hating on his dream when I say it, but we really want him to be prepared in the event that racing doesn’t work out.”
But for now, Payton says its full speed ahead toward achieving legendary racing status. And while most young racers know their favorite NASCAR driver down to the smallest detail, Payton has found a non-NASCAR influence for motivation.
“This used to be No. 13,” he said while pointing to the No. 23 that now adorns his yellow Legends car.
“I want to be the Michael Jordan of racing,” he says.