WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — When Brad Perez climbed out of his car on the heels of a 24th-place finish at Watkins Glen International, he wept.
“Real sad tears,” he repeated, trying to laugh them off while wiping them away.
The tears were not of sadness, but of joy. He felt joy for the opportunity, for all that had come to fruition and to have those who matter to him most on hand as witnesses.
He was not supposed to get this far.
“My life in racing has been a lot of ups and downs, a lot more downs than ups, but the common denominator of everything is that I’m grateful to be here,” Perez said with a smile. “Honestly, this this whole day is just a dream.”
As Perez gathered himself, and as every competitor in sight sought him out for high fives, fist bumps and hugs, the Hollywood, Florida, native helped push the No. 60 JW Motorsports Chevrolet back to the garage.
Most who congratulated Perez had been friends with the 24-year-old long before his ARCA Menards Series debut in the Clean Harbors 100 at The Glen was even an idea. From members of the ARCA powerhouse Venturini Motorsports to those representing family-run organizations, all enjoyed sharing the moment with the first-timer.
Few have an electric background on and off the track like the one Perez brought to Watkins Glen. A tire specialist for teams competing in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series and Truck Series, Perez has raced Spec Miatas for years.
He also has worked as a shift manager at a frozen yogurt shop, a customer service representative at Kohls, a valet driver at the beach, a patient transporter at a Florida hospital, a driving instructor at the BMW Performance Center and an editor at a video management company. When he feels like it, he performs as a DJ on Twitch.
His aspirations, though, have always revolved around racing. And the path to his debut driving a stock car was soaked in improbability.
Perez used the money from “Yogurtland” to fund his legends car racing. Simply, his goal was to stay in the driver’s seat and gain as many competitive reps behind the wheel as possible.
The legends car competition took Perez to tracks like Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he then began to develop relationships throughout the NASCAR community. One thing led to another, and he eventually befriended fellow South Floridian Josh Williams, an active NASCAR driver and the owner of the JW Motorsports driver development program.
The two outgoing personalities forged a relationship and clicked immediately.
Which is why the partnership for Perez’s ARCA debut made so much sense; two grinders from South Florida trying to beat the odds. JW Motorsports had not started a race on the platform in almost six years, but with Rackley Roofing providing financial support for Perez’s ride, the timing was right.
— bread perez (@bradxperez) July 30, 2021
Of course, getting the car prepped, transported to the track and up to speed was going to be a challenge in itself.
“That race car was literally chassis and a body, and it had absolutely nothing else on it,” Williams said. “No crush panels, no duct work, no wiring, no brake lines. It was a full-blown bare chassis (a week and a half before the race). We worked nonstop. And here we are.”
Williams said Perez was with the team wrenching on the car every night “until he’d fall asleep in the seat.” That was the least Perez could do, though, because Williams sacrificed his birthday on Aug. 3 to work on the car into the wee hours of the morning.
This on top of Williams’ preparation for his Xfinity Series start at Watkins Glen scheduled for the day after the ARCA race.
“If you experience it, if you’re a hard worker, you know what it means,” Perez said. “And for me to be able to experience that, for me be able to be part of this team, it still goes beyond speaking like this, man. (Williams) didn’t get to celebrate his birthday because of how much he cared about this, and how much he wanted us to succeed.”
Brake issues in the combined practice/qualifying session at Watkins Glen prevented Perez from gaining legitimate on-track experience prior to the evening’s race. He did not get a chance to turn a circuit at full speed on the 2.45-mile road course until Lap 1 of the main event.
💥 @bradxperez says his right front brake rotor exploded entering the bus stop. Team is fixing it now but won’t make any more practice laps.
Perez is helping out with repairs, too. pic.twitter.com/bmIPz7rGZ5
— Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter) August 6, 2021
The same brake issue ultimately led to his 24th-place finish in the race, but not before Perez proved his ability. Before he was forced to pit, he was recording lap times that were just 0.2 seconds off the leader’s pace.
“I think he did a hell of a job,” Williams said, hands and uniform dirty from working on the car all day. “I mean, having an issue in practice not getting any laps and driving up almost to the top 10? That’s impressive.
“I think Brad’s a good driver, and hopefully we can put something together and do this again.”
Road-course racing ace Will Rodgers, a three-time winner in what is now the ARCA Menards Series East, spotted for Perez at Watkins Glen. The two are good friends, with Rodgers having coached Perez on his driving technique.
“He did a really good job,” Rodgers said. “I’m glad I was up there in the bus stop to see what he really could do behind the wheel of a stock car. I knew his capability already, but behind a big, heavy machine like this, he showed he could do it. I think he was among the top five when it came to performance through that section, and I think it showed all the way through the track.
“He took a car that was probably less capable than a lot out there and did a lot with it for the time that he had. Super proud of him. Really hope the opportunities will keep coming.”
Although the day didn’t end the way that @bradxperez and all of us had hoped, I couldn’t be more proud of him for the effort put into his first ARCA start! He proved that he belongs at this level and I’m so thankful to be part of his journey. #bradperezgood pic.twitter.com/GonbuAqReq
— Will Rodgers (@willrodgers65) August 7, 2021
Another racing connection Perez has made is with Myatt Snider, an ARCA Menards Series winner who won his first Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February. The two are roommates, and it was Snider who repeatedly nudged Perez to pursue the opportunity he eventually received with Williams and Rackley Roofing.
“I got to see the stress that he had from trying to put this all together,” Snider said of Perez. “You don’t get that chance very often, so it’s worth it if you reach out.
“He was on par with the leaders at times (at Watkins Glen), outrunning guys with bigger rides than he has, and this is just his first ARCA start. The fact that he did so well really impressed me. He was doing a lot of things right from an execution point, and that’s all you can do, which is control what you can control.
“I’m over the moon; I’m so proud of him.”
Brad’s pretty emotional right now. But I see that as passion. Couldn’t be more proud of him. I think this showed him that he can do this. pic.twitter.com/ddjWPD7PNW
— 𝘔𝘺𝘢𝘵𝘵 𝘚𝘯𝘪𝘥𝘦𝘳 (@MyattSnider) August 6, 2021
Perez admittedly was proud of himself, too, but more so for the journey. Through what seemed like a constant stream of tears, he kept smiling.
“All the things that went wrong don’t matter, because all my family’s here, all my friends are here,” he said. “A lot of people work seriously hard to be able to give me my dream. A lot of people built their businesses up, these are their babies, and they did not have to do this. I just hope I did them proud.
“I got to do the coolest thing in the world, and I hope I get to do it again.”
Snider explained that, in an era when drivers are more vanilla as a result of sponsor and societal pressures, Perez embodies the antithesis.
“He is unapologetically himself; that’s hard to find,” Snider said. “He’s a very fresh change. He dances, listens to odd music, shares weird art, but that’s how Brad is. He’s not going to change for everybody, no matter what. He just shows off his personality.”
Added Williams: “The guy will literally do anything for anybody. He’s just a nice person, and he works his (expletive) off nonstop. I think that’s why everybody’s attracted to him. Because there’s not a lot of people that are like that and see themselves in him.”
The driver known as “Bread” said he is not sure why people seem to drift his way. All he wants to do is “just vibe” with everyone.
“I’m going to see somebody randomly in the street, and if y’all wanna vibe with me, you can vibe with me,” Perez said. “And if you don’t, that’s fine. Like, you don’t have to vibe with me. Your own life is super important. Everybody’s lives are important.”
— Brad Perez Racing (@bradperezracing) August 10, 2021
Perez also said he was proud of himself for not cursing in post-race interviews with media. All was going well on that front until he realized he could not find his phone.
“(Expletive), I gotta call into SiriusXM right now,” he said. “Where’s my phone at?”
Perez found his phone camouflaged between the black paint on his car and a hat sitting on its rear decklid. It was then when he saw the hundreds of texts and tweets still lighting up his phone.
“I’m gonna have to look at these later,” he said, dumbfounded. “Damn.”
He called himself a few more choice words for not easily locating the phone sitting in plain sight. He then leaned against the pit wall and made the call.
“(SiriusXM NASCAR Radio host) Claire B. Lang just interviewed me?” Perez asked in disbelief as the he hung up after a 15-minute conversation. “What is life right now, man?”
He attempted to describe why he was so emotional, and his eyes again filled with tears.
“I’m getting out (of the car), and I’m staring at the ARCA Menards Series trailer,” he said. “This is a real thing. Like, I watched ARCA when I was a kid. I was and still am an Andy Hillenburg fan, an Ed Pompa fan, Dave Mader, Tim Steel, you know, all the greats. And I’m standing here walking by the dang ARCA trailer. I saw (series president) Ron Drager. You know, that’s big. Like, I’m a fan. I’ve always been a fan because I wasn’t able to drive.
“I can walk into work tomorrow with a smile on my face knowing I got a chance to do this.”
Yesterday he was a race car driver, but today he’s just doing his usual job.@bradxperez, the @Rackley_WAR tire specialist. Will do the same later today for @TeamMartins in Xfinity as well. pic.twitter.com/IFmvD37501
— Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter) August 7, 2021
That’s exactly what he did. Perez went about his business Saturday at Watkins Glen with Rackley W.A.R. in the Truck Series before changing uniforms to do the same for Martins Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. He was stopped by few friends to chat about his run the day prior, but for the most part, he was looked over by spectators as just another crew member.
That’s not what he was Friday. For one summer day in upstate New York, Perez got to live out a dream once considered unattainable.
“I’m just so damn appreciative of all this, man,” he said. “I’m standing on the front stretch of Watkins Glen International. I first drove this track on NASCAR Thunder 2002. I was like five years old. And I did it.
“This experience was just unforgettable. I knew it was going to be worth it in the end. And it was.”
— bread perez (@bradxperez) August 7, 2021