By Matt Weaver — The upcoming Nationwide Series standalone event at Iowa Speedway on Saturday night is just one of 33 races for Chase Elliott, Regan Smith and the weekly competitors of NASCAR’s second tier tour but it’s the opportunity of a lifetime for JR Motorsports development driver Josh Berry.
The 23-year-old short track driver from Central Tennessee has driven Late Model Stocks for JR Motorsports since 2010 but has been tabbed to make his NNS debut on Saturday in the No. 5 entry typically driven by Kevin Harvick.
Berry has an interesting background to say the least.
He first met Earnhardt in an online racing simulator in 2007 while racing Legend Cars back home in Tennessee. The two quickly established a fast friendship that continued into iRacing over the next three seasons.
That friendship ultimately led to Earnhardt looking into Berry’s Legend results at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville and offering him an opportunity in the JRM Late Model Stock at Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia.
“I’ve always said that iRacing was the bridge of friendship between Dale and me,” Berry told Popular Speed on Wednesday. “We developed a friendship in some of the higher divisions online and we were talking about my career one day.
“He looked into my Legends stuff on the quarter-mile at Nashville and told me that he was looking to be more involved with the Late Model program. We met up and tested at Motor Mile and one race led to two and eventually into four seasons.”
It’s been a successful run for JRM and Berry. He earned the operation’s first track championship at Motor Mile in 2012 and is the current championship leader at the historic Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina. He has also scored victories at Greenville Pickens and Southern National Motor Speedway.
Berry said that a Nationwide Series start was never proposed to him until late last season and that he never asked, not wanting to seem ungrateful for the opportunities that he had been provided with Earnhardt.
“Maybe it was to my fault but I never asked for a Nationwide ride because I didn’t want to rock the boat,” Berry said. “I have a full-time Late Model deal where I wasn’t bringing any money and was more than satisfied about it.
“But they came to me last fall and said that they had an opening for the race at Richmond but NASCAR wouldn’t approve me. So we took a step back and readdressed our plans and made a point to get me in car this season.”
Berry made his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut this season with a pair of starts at Greenville and Richmond, earning his Nationwide Series license in the process. The deal was inked last month for Berry to make his debut at Iowa and the driver has set humble goals for Saturday night.
“Realistically, if we can run top-15 and bring the car home in one piece, I feel like we would have had a successful go,” Berry said. “I want the team to leave the track with a good feeling and tell me that they would want to do it again. And if we can somehow get a top-10, that would be a major success.”
To prepare for the race, Berry has spent time at the track, seeking advice from JR Motorsports affiliated drivers like Harvick and Elliott while also logging hours in the video room, watching in-car footage from the Iowa race in May with Smith, the third-place finisher behind Sam Hornish and Ryan Blaney.
“I feel like I am prepared as I can be,” Berry said. “Regan has been a huge help. Harvick’s feedback has been mind-blowing. It’s incredible how thorough he is and it’s totally clear to me why he is one of the best in the business. I know what I need to do now and it’s just a matter of getting it done.”
Lastly, Berry is the personification of the American dream in North American motorsports. He doesn’t come from a wealthy family and is a pure grassroots racer with lofty dreams of going NASCAR racing. It is one of the reasons he believes Earnhardt gave him the opportunity of a lifetime in the first place.
“He’s doing driver development completely different than how everyone else is,” Berry said. “I’m just a common racer. I work on my own cars and have come up the hard way. It’s your only option in the Late Model world. I think it’s just cool that he would reward a guy like that.
“He just has a different outlook on racing than most.”
The U.S. Cellular 250 from Iowa Speedway will start at 8 p.m. with ESPN providing the television coverage of the event.