Berry's Journey to 100 Victories Ends in a Late Model Victory Lane

Photo Courtesy of Philip Goodman

Ron Lemasters | 11/29/2022

Josh Berry News

Josh Berry won the Thanksgiving Classic over the weekend, notching his 100th career win for JRM.

MOORESVILLE, N.C.  (Nov. 29, 2022) -- Like most feel-good stories, Josh Berry's journey to 100 combined victories for JR Motorsports started small.

Reaching the century mark with his triumph in the Nov. 27 Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park, which carried a $50,000 winner's check, however, was a pretty big deal.

Berry played the strategy game to perfection in the 250-lap event, emerging with a fast Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet over the final 43 laps to claim the big money, a gigantic Turkey trophy and career victory No. 100.

"That's an amazing number," an emotional Berry said upon his 100th career triumph for JRM. "There's a lot of really high-quality victories in there too, besides the Xfinity Series wins. We won pretty much all of the big LMSC shows, at tons of different tracks. That's what means the most to me. We pretty much won at every race track within the mid-Atlantic, we won in different series, won big shows, just a lot of success in there that I'm really proud of."

The story of how Berry went from iRacing to U.S. Legend Cars and local racing in his native Tennessee to a touring series champion in just six seasons is the ultimate bootstrap. From local racer to regional star to national champion took 10 years, with occasional star turns in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and ultimately, the NASCAR Cup Series.

He had no idea he'd ever reach 100 victories, let alone have five NASCAR Xfinity Series wins to his credit. It was the farthest thing from his mind.

Berry made that point with a poignant recollection.

I remember when I won my 50th race (a CARS Tour event on Sept. 8, 2018 at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, N.C.), Kelley (Earnhardt Miller) told me, ‘well, now we've got to get 100,'" he said. "I remember thinking that felt so far away. Time would work against me, right? There's no way that this would keep working this way for that long. It did, and we're going to get there one way or the other."

When Berry came to JRM, it was to prove he could be a racing driver.

"I gave this no thought whatsoever when I came to JR Motorsports," he stated. "I was just trying to do whatever I could to keep racing. I remember how excited I was when we won for the first time. I didn't want all this to be a failure, and I felt like when we won, we made something of the opportunity. The last five or six years when we really got the Late Model program going where we wanted, winning all those races…it was just something I never could have imagined."

Through it all, Berry has been the ultimate student of the game, learning from long-time crew chief Bryan Shaffer—the man who oversaw the only two NASCAR major-series victories in the legendary Dick Trickle's career—and team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the way to the cusp of a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.

"Bryan has been a huge part of my career, obviously, and my life in general," Berry said. "I'm so thankful for him, and he doesn't get the credit he deserves. Bryan and I really don't give each other the credit that we deserve. We both did all this together. He's been there every day, and I still talk to him pretty much every day now. He's been a really big part of my life."

When Berry came to JR Motorsports, it was just him and Shaffer in the shop. As the team grew and started bringing in other drivers (William Byron, Christian Eckes and Carson Kvapil, to name a couple), things changed a bit.

"Our program is set up in a unique way, really," Berry said. "Me and Bryan worked really well at the shop, but for the majority of the time there, when we would go to the race track, Bryan's role would be the other race team. It left me in a unique spot.

"I had a lot of help at the shop, but when we got to the track, it was really kind of up to me. For me to have the same people every week…they all have real jobs, they're not at the shop every day. The sacrifices they made to be there every week and help me gave us some regularity. It helped everything go a lot smoother. We've had the same group for a long time. Things happen, of course, but that core group stayed together a long time."

That group consisted of Ryan Vasconcellos, who was with Berry since the very early days in 2010, who served as Berry's crew chief for many of the victories; mechanic and spotter Ernie Mayo, mechanic Justin Keeley, spotters Robert Arch and Matt Brooks, Toby Hoyle, Seth Kookier and Jordan Erickson. Engine builder/tuner David West is a constant presence at the track as well. Several others have come and gone.

The first of Berry's 100 victories came on April 30, 2011 at Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia, an extra-distance event of 150 laps. Berry led 50 of those, including the last one. It came in a Chevrolet with the number 72, rather than the iconic 88 or 8 he's run of late.

The wait between his first victory and his second was more than a year, coming June 2, 2012 at Motor Mile, a tough little .416-mile bullring. It was also 150 laps, and Berry led 16 of them, this time in the No. 88. It would soon be a theme that would last until his final full-time season in 2020.

Victory No. 10 came at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, a 50-lap regular weekly show, on July 12, 2014. Hickory would play a major role in Berry's surge to 100 victories, as he has won 33 times in the .363-mile oval, including multiple victories in the Bobby Isaac Memorial, the Fall Brawl and the CARS Tour's Throwback 276. Earlier this season, Berry took the inaugural Jack Ingram Memorial event, a 111-lap race honoring the legendary NASCAR star, topping teammate Carson Kvapil at the finish.

The biggest victory in the Late Model came in 2019 at Martinsville Speedway, where Berry simply dominated the ValleyStar Credit Union 300. Known as the biggest, richest and most prestigious Late Model race in the Southeast, on that weekend it was Berry's playground.

He set a track record in qualifying, started from the pole and led all 200 laps, outdueling the best of the best among Late Model drivers in the South to win his first grandfather clock trophy and a $44,000 check.

"You could argue, in my eyes and probably Dale's too, that winning at Martinsville in the Late Model was the biggest win of my career," Berry said. "Everything about that win…it's a long story, about how we got there, how that place had been really tough for me for a lot of years. On the LMSC side of things, I'd had a great career to that point, won a lot of races in the region and I think I was well-respected.

"In that region, you're kind of judged on whether you've won Martinsville or not, and I think winning that race did a lot for me. That was one I wanted so very badly to put on the list."

After being selected by Earnhardt Jr. and L.W. Miller to come and run the team's legacy Late Model, Berry was a bit wide-eyed.

"I remember how excited I was just to get an opportunity to drive a full-size car," Berry said. "That wasn't anywhere close to the financial possibility we could afford to do that at home, so to get the opportunity to drive one was just incredible in itself. The rest, the success and all that came along, you just hope to get the opportunity to race for someone like Dale and to do all that I did, it was amazing in itself."

Now it's Kvapil's turn as the driver of the most-feared Late Model in the Southeast, and Berry sees good things for him.

"I hadn't been around Carson a lot, and L.W. deserves a lot of credit for bringing him in," Berry said of the 19-year-old second-generation star. "He and Kelley kind of hand-picked him for that. I knew Carson, watched him race, knew he had success, but I didn't know him like I know him now.

"I haven't been around and involved as much lately, but watching the success he's had and the job that he's done…I'm really happy for him. I think the world of him and think he's an amazing talent. He has a great family behind him that has a lot of experience in racing, and I hope that we can find ways to get him opportunities as well. Hopefully, he can work on that and do it just like I did."

One opportunity the two will share is a relationship with Bass Pro Shops. Berry will have Johnny Morris' company on his No. 8 NASCAR Xfinity Series Chevrolet for 11 races in 2023, while Kvapil will have Bass Pro Shops backing for 20 starts in Late Models.

After hitting the century mark for victories, Berry has had some time to reflect on what it all means.

"A lot of things had to fall my way to get here," he said. "I had to really work hard at it, learn every aspect of it. No matter what happened in my driving career, I felt like I could be successful in racing in other aspects. Your work ethic plays a big role in that. I've been fortunate to have a lot of great opportunities and make the most of them, for the most part."

Now, the journey to 200 begins.

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • February 18 05:00 PM ET
    Beef. It's What's For Dinner. 300Daytona International Speedway
  • February 25 05:00 PM ET
    Production Alliance 300Auto Club Speedway
  • March 4 04:30 PM ET
    Alsco Uniforms 300Las Vegas Motor Speedway
  • March 11 04:30 PM ET
    United Rentals 200Phoenix Raceway
  • March 18 05:00 PM ET
    RAPTOR 250Atlanta Motor Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Dead On Tools 250

Martinsville Speedway | 10/29/2022
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Noah Gragson (P)40000
2Ty Gibbs (P)40000
3Josh Berry (P)40000
4Justin Allgaier (P)40000
5AJ Allmendinger (P)2297-1703
6Austin Hill # (P)2245-1755
7Sam Mayer (P)2231-1769