Neal Reid | Office of Communications and Marketing | Auburn University
Just three days after zooming to the ARCA Menards Series championship, Auburn senior building science major Bret Holmes was on Zoom resuming a full slate of classes on the Plains.
The 23-year-old Munford, Alabama, native went back to work on his senior thesis project in the McWhorter School of Building Science in the College of Architecture, Design and Construction, or CADC, on Monday morning, less than 72 hours removed from claiming the season points title in the developmental NASCAR series. He had a new centerpiece for his Auburn apartment to keep him company—a shiny silver championship trophy.
“There were a lot of emotions,” said Holmes, who will graduate on Dec. 12. “I wasn’t really counting points or anything like that during the race. I knew, as long as we didn’t have a mechanical problem, we were going to be fine. “We kept it clean, the race went smooth and we won the championship.”
Holmes clinched the title on Friday night by nine points over Michael Self thanks to a runner-up finish in his No. 23 Chevrolet at the Speediatrics 150 presented by The NASCAR Foundation at Kansas Speedway—the same track he earned his first career ARCA victory on July 24. His father, Stacy, a former dirt track racer who has been Holmes’ biggest supporter, was on-hand to celebrate the victory. “We definitely got emotional after the race,” the younger Holmes said. “I can probably count on one hand the number of races of mine he’s missed in my entire life. He’s always been there for me, and this is something we’d been working toward for a long time.
“Just to be able to do it together is really special.” Another aspect of Friday’s festivities that made the day extra enjoyable was the presence of new sponsor Golden Eagle Syrup, a Fayette, Alabama, company co-owned and operated by Auburn graduate Temple Bowling V.
“I met the Bowling family through the building science program,” Holmes said. “It was a cool deal that we got to meet the Bowlings and it all turned out like it did.” Fellow Alabama native, Fairhope’s Grant Enfinger, was instrumental in Holmes’ early days in the ARCA Menards Series, serving as his crew chief in 2016. Enfinger, who won an ARCA title in 2015, is still alive in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs and remains a trusted mentor of Holmes.
“He’s a great guy and was really the person who helped start our team,” said Holmes, who received a congratulatory call from Enfinger over the weekend. “We talk almost every other week, and I told him it’d be really cool if he could win the truck series championship so we could have two guys from Alabama win titles this year. He said he was really proud of us and was happy to see that we’ve come a long way.”
For Holmes, his victory was proof that a home-grown, low-budget race team could accomplish great things at one of the highest levels of motorsports. “Doing it the way we did was different than a lot of people,” said Holmes, who began racing go-karts at the age of 6, then raced late models on asphalt before testing the waters in the ARCA Menards Series five years ago. “We started our own team from the ground up, and it was really tough. For us to beat teams with the resources of a team like Joe Gibbs Racing really means a lot to us.”
The triumph was a culmination of years of hard work and perseverance, despite the presence of uncertainty for Bret Holmes Racing. “Halfway through 2018, we stopped racing because we were running so bad and felt it was going downhill and not uphill,” he said. “My dad and I said we didn’t need to be doing it unless we could go to the race track and have a shot at winning.
“It’s taken a long time for this to come together, and for it to finally pay off is amazing.”
The addition of crew chief Shane Huffman last year was a game-changer, and Holmes responded by notching eight top-fives and 18 top-10 finishes to finish third in the points standings. Last season proved not only that Holmes belonged with the “big boys,” but also served notice he could compete for a season points championship.
Still, he entered 2020 not expecting to run a full schedule, especially since he was juggling classes at Auburn. Then the pandemic struck, forcing NASCAR to halt operations from early March to the third week of June.
Holmes and his team streamlined operations during the break, and he stayed committed to his dual goals of racing at a high level and finishing his degree. “When we came back from the pandemic break, that was really when we were better than we’d ever been,” Holmes said. “We thought, ‘We might have a shot at this.’ That’s when we decided going for it would be the best option for us, and it turned out great.”
It was a long, arduous summer, but he embraced the grind and emerged victorious after an intense final month to the season.
“We literally had one or two weekends off in four months,” Holmes said. “With school going on, it was tough, and we had a lot of stressful weeks. It’s definitely been a weird year all around, but I think we proved a lot to a lot of people.”
Holmes praised his CADC professors for working with him to manage a
demanding racing schedule while not losing ground on his path to graduation. “I can’t say enough about the building science program,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of really great professors who have worked with me. I’ve had to miss a lot of class to do what I love to do, and they’ve been extremely supportive of me every step of
“They legitimately care and want the best for me, so I’m really glad for that.” Now, he’s poised to complete his 100-page senior thesis—an elaborate construction project for which he has to plan every aspect and complete with varying types of analyses—and put an exclamation point on 2020 with a stroll across the graduation stage at Jordan-Hare Stadium this December. “This has been one of the best years of my life, really,” Holmes said. “Everything is just coming together.”
His family owns Holmes Excavating—a construction company specializing in dirt grading and utility line installation—and Holmes will have his CADC degree to forever give him options in the professional realm, but he plans to build off his ARCA championship and commit to racing going forward. Whether he remains in the series or moves up to the Gander RV & Outdoors NASCAR Truck Series remains to be seen, but Holmes is optimistic his star will remain on the rise in the sport he loves.
“My dream one day is to make it into the top three series of NASCAR,” he said. “We’re juggling options and trying to decide what’s best for our team in the future. A lot of it is dependent on sponsorship, and I’d love to say I’ll get to move to the next level, but the truth is, I don’t know. “I’d like to do it with my own team, and I think we’ve proven our right to do that.”
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