Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron became a Boy Scout at 13, about the same time he became serious about racing. He joined as a way to spend more time with four or five friends who were already actively involved in the group. His interest deepened quickly, and by the time he reached 16, he had grown to appreciate the goal-oriented nature of progressing through the ranks.
He set as a goal becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the organization. It was not easy. He had to earn 21 merit badges and complete an in-depth Eagle Scout Service Project. Only a small fraction of Boy Scouts reach that level, just as only a small fraction of racers ever reach the Cup level. In the history of Boy Scouts, only four percent of members have become Eagle Scouts. Byron was one of 54,366 Eagle Scouts in 2015, one of the biggest classes ever.
And he did it while racing almost every weekend. “With racing, I was trying to accomplish goals,” he says. “I had to stay pretty disciplined to keep going with the Scouts because I was racing all the time.”
In 2016, he raced full time in the Truck Series, winning an incredible seven out of 23 races and finishing fifth in points. He won four races and the championship in the Xfinity Series in 2017 (while still only 19), and since 2018 has driven full time in the Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports. He finished 23rd in points as a rookie in 2018 and 11th last year.
Byron, who turned 22 in November, talked with Athlon Sports about becoming an Eagle Scout and the difference doing so made in his life.
On his Eagle Scout project (building bookshelves and donating a piano for a retirement community)
“It was a huge undertaking at first. I had to come up with plans, go talk to adults to get their help in funding it and also to work with me. I worked in a woodworking shop for two or three months. I had to learn how to ‘bondo’ everything to make all the seams line up and shave the wood off.”
On the camping merit badge
“The most challenging one. ... I wasn’t a huge fan of camping. I had to overcome that hurdle and that obstacle. I liked everything else — tying knots, learning to make fire. I just don’t like being out there in the woods. I like my bed. The island that we stayed on, the bugs were so bad you had to barricade yourself in the tent at night.”
On the fishing merit badge
“I had to catch a fish, cut all the gills off, cook the fish and eat the fish. It didn’t taste very good.”
On the archery merit badge
To earn this badge, Byron had to be able to identify the various parts of a bow and arrow, explain safety techniques and hit a target. “The accuracy of having to shoot the bow and arrow was pretty cool.”
On the skiing merit badge
The rules require, among other things, that the scout “demonstrate the ability to ski in varied conditions, including changes in pitch, snow conditions and moguls. Maintain your balance and ability to turn.”
Byron puts it much more succinctly: “That was a good one. Skiing is just fun.”
“I like the fact I was spending time with my friends and also learning responsibility and accountability at the same time. Finishing a project was really rewarding. Finishing my Eagle Scout was about finishing a task and staying accountable.”
He attributes his ability to close out races to skills he learned by sticking with scouting. “I was racing every weekend, going to school during the week, and working on the [Eagle Scout] project after school. There was a lot of times I wanted to give up. But I stuck with it to continue doing it, and I’m proud that I did.
“I don’t give up on things. I don’t quit. It’s really easy to quit on a lot of things. I see a lot of people my age do that. I think it taught me that skill, that determination. I think it still holds true in racing and how I approach racing, working with the crew chief and all the crew guys. Those were big life lessons.”
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)