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How Out NASCAR Driver Zach Herrin Navigates Life in the Fast Lane

Out NASCAR Driver Zach Herrin

Having competed in his first NASCAR race, the out driver shares the most important moments in his life.

Zach Herrin doesn't let roadblocks get in his way. The out NASCAR driver, whose love for racing runs in his family's blood, masterfully maneuvers his path forward through life with the trained precision of a driver going 180 on a closed loop. A man on a mission, Zach is proving himself to be a leader for the LGBTQ+ community by championing racing to become a more inclusive sport. Zach's pride in his gay identity is so important that he gave up racing to focus on becoming the man he wanted to be today. But now having finished his first NASCAR race, this speedster sits down with Out to discuss his journey and what's up next around the track.

Tell us about your journey to becoming one of only a handful of LGBTQ NASCAR drivers racing today. You took a detour from racing and then returned this year. Why is that?

Racing's been a part of my entire life. I practically was raised at the racetrack and getting to this point today, I wouldn't have had it any other way. I started riding bikes when I was about two. I started racing when I was around five. Ultimately, that led me to start racing professionally at the age of 16. Thankfully, I have an older brother who still races professionally today, who's gone on to make a great career for himself. So, I was able to utilize the tools that my parents were able to offer him to see what it took to get to that level. And I was able to experience everything in a way through him, kind of all the excitement around it, all the work that would go into actually making this a career, not just a weekend hobby.

And once I was able to achieve that goal and dream of mine of making it a career, ultimately I still felt that I knew something was always holding me back, part of my identity that I was never able to actually engage with. I was never able to find a comforting or a welcoming place to even begin to tap into that zone to figure out how I wanted to even express myself. It took a decision that was probably something harder than anyone will ever understand for me to just step away from everything I had worked towards. Because I knew at the end of the day, I wasn't putting in 120%.

But I knew it was important for me in my long term future to figure out how to find happiness again, how to express myself, how to be welcomed and perceived in today's world. And I knew nothing of what that looked like. So once I was able to try and identify with that, I was able to come out to my family and friends. And from there, I've solely been able to connect to the community and express myself and learn what it's like and to be happy being a gay man in today's world, because that can be challenging for everyone. And now it's brought me to a place where I can be really happy with where I'm at and the life I've created for myself. But this other part of me, which has been an athlete my entire life, was missing. I needed to get that back.

And how did you get that back? How did coming out get you back into racing?

To be at a stopping point and not know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life was something that was going to always be a challenge and always going to be on the tip of my mind, because my brother is still racing and most of my friends are still racing. I decided I was going to race tracks during my off weekends. But that wasn't enough, I had to figure out how to make this work as a career. So at the beginning of this year, I just made new platforms and said, 'Hey. This is me. I don't really know what I should be doing. I'm going to figure that out along the way, but I'm going to get back out there and race.'

But what really helped was finding people that supported me as a gay man and a racer. Trying to build that support and finding people that I want there for me was so important and I believe I have a really great group of people behind me that I can lean on right now. What we need is to continue to find the people that will always be in our corners no matter what.

Tell us a story about one of the first times you raced and when you knew you wanted to make a career out of it.

Yeah. So let's see. Going probably about as far back as I can remember, I would always be at the race track with a small little pit bike. And I would always just completely hassle my parents to let me go ride in the back far parking lots away from everyone while my brother was racing. Or maybe at the end of the day, I got to do that because that's all I wanted to do, because I sat and watched him race all day long. And then I started to realize, 'Okay. This is something I want to do. This is all I want to do.'

We would load up after school on Friday and we would drive all night long to go somewhere halfway across the country and we would arrive in the middle of the night and race and then we would load back up Sunday night and go to school and live our lives. And from there, it just built. And then once I was able to see success in my younger stages of my career, then we knew at that point, especially my parents, that it was worth it to continue investing all their resources to ensure that we could continue that.

So I think, at a young age I was able to really lock in and concentrate on that and then realize that, even at that age, it could be something much more than just a weekend hobby for me or a weekday game that we would go to. And it was because my family was a part of it. It was something that my entire family would go to. I wanted my family to be a part of my life in that way, so I pursued racing.

What was it like when you raced your first NASCAR race? Tell us all about that moment.

So, this has been something that I've been working towards for a long time. When we set out for the beginning of the year, I set two goals, just after announcing that I would be making my return to racing. And those two goals were, one, to attend the NASCAR pre-season testing, which happens in January in Daytona International Speedway. And that was to just kick off the year that would place us among everyone who's ready to race that year, just so we can see where we're at. And then my second goal was to make my NASCAR debut at some point throughout the year.

But getting behind the ball to get partnerships took a lot of time, so that led us to literally the last race of the year at the NASCAR championship weekend, a weekend that I probably wouldn't have picked to begin with, only because I knew that all of these drivers have been on track racing almost every single weekend throughout the year. And at the end of the year, they all have a bunch of meat in the game and they're fighting for points to close out their championship. So, it's a really difficult weekend to go into. It's a difficult weekend to not in a way want attention to be making my debut, but there's a lot of things going on, there's a lot of people to talk to. But it started off great, being able to have people around me that I knew were really supportive of whatever I was doing. So, it put a lot of motivation into my on-track efforts.

When it came to the practice qualifying session, I went out there and ran my 52 laps and it put us 25th on the board, but we didn't change any tires, we just were driving laps so I can learn the track and learn the car, because I've never spent any time in either of those. So going into the race, I was probably more nervous than I've been in my entire life. I woke up every 20, 30 minutes of the night, thinking I was going to throw up.

But somehow the sunrise, it literally calmed me and it set my day and I didn't feel a bit of nerve come about the rest of the day. And then going into the race, we knew what our goals were and going in our goals were to run every lap. That's always a big accomplishment in the sport of NASCAR, because at the end of the day, it's almost endurance racing. So to complete all of those laps, it's a big feat. But I also wanted to end up in the top 20. Starting 25th, we knew we had to just move up a few spots to even get to that point. But I was able to drive my way up to 14th all the way from 25th throughout the race. So, for our first race, we all walked away really happy with everything that came from it.

And now looking towards the future, tell us about the moments you're looking forward to having in the future (Family, career, personal goals, etc.).

Right now we're taking these past few months that we've been in and the current next month or so to continue the conversations to build my schedule for next year. We're hoping to be on track for six out of 20 races. And those six races are ones that I hope to find myself in years to come on those same tracks. So I'm building for the long term, because there's no stepping away this time. This is a complete restart of my career and I want to ensure that success at the end of the day is what the main result is.

But, if we can find the partners to build a bigger season or to contribute to that season of six races, that's our short-term goal. And then, my long-term goals in the sport of NASCAR, I'm just in the initial latter step of multiple steps above to make it to the NASCAR Cup series to race on Sundays. Ultimately, that's the long term end goal. But ensuring that I have success each step of the way, is probably as equally important to me as making it to racing to the Cup series. I want to always ensure that I have a deserving spot on that grid based on my talents. And, success off track is always important to me as well. I want to ensure that I'm building a great brand and identity for myself, for the LGBTQ community to be represented well and always be supported as I continue to not only build myself up, but my community also.

I think it's always great when we can move in waves together, because we move stronger together. And I am so thankful for everyone who played a big or small part to help restart my career. I'll forever be thankful to Rebuy Engine and Quick Quack Car Wash for supporting my on-track efforts. I felt an instant connection with the teams behind these awesome brands and it made our partnerships even more successful. They were willing to step in at the beginning to encourage and support me while also being willing to take a stand to support the LGBTQ community. I'll always be thankful to them and everyone who has stood beside me.

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