Over nine months ago, Sam Mayer knew what the second half of the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series season looked like for him: Competing.
Last September, Mayer, then 17 years old, was named the primary driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports once he turned 18. By rule, drivers can’t run a full NASCAR tour until they’ve entered adulthood.
“The last nine months have been a long time,” Mayer told Jayski.com over the weekend at Pocono Raceway. “The first eight months of that was probably like, ‘Oh my God, can I just get in this car already? Can I at least test? Do something?‘ But, ‘Nope, nope, nope.‘ So I had to wait, and the last month went super fast.”
Since the September announcement, Mayer clinched the 2020 ARCA Menards East championship. Prior to that, he won the 2019 K&N Pro Series East title at just 16 years old.
The hype around Mayer is real, dating back three years ago, when he first signed with JR Motorsports. Back then, he was brought to the company by industry veteran Lorin Rainer.
Running for JRM’s late model program, Mayer won one race during the 2018 season at Wake County Speedway and finished fifth in the championship standings.
But he established a relationship with the Earnhardts, specifically Kelly Earnhardt Miller, who is the co-owner and vice president of JRM.
“Once he did get to the late model team, I got to know him very well,” Earnhardt Miller said. “L.W. [Miller, director of motorsports at JRM] and I both spent a fair amount of time on that program, just because it‘s close to our heart kind of roots.
“A lot of times, when we have young talent like that, which we‘ve had a few times in the late model program, just like most everything else I do I kind of do my motherly thing, looking out for him and paying attention, just seeing what‘s going on.”
Mayer became enriched in Chevrolet’s Drivers Edge Development program. The program aims to help groom the next generation of racecar drivers through a tiered competition pipeline coupled with comprehensive off-track education.
Still, even though Mayer felt he was ready to make the move to NASCAR’s national touring division, he had to wait. But once he turned 18 years old at midnight on June 26, 2021, he was a mere 36 hours away from buckling into a racecar at Pocono Raceway, piloting the No. 8 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series.
Hype 😁 pic.twitter.com/T8BJBCwyLE
— Sam Mayer (@sam_mayer_) June 29, 2021
The story of Mayer‘s racing career thus far is running in a series as soon as he‘s eligible. And he‘s been successful along the way, including winning a Camping World Truck Series race last fall at Bristol Motor Speedway in just his seventh series start.
“We always had the mentality with [Rainer] where we were like, ‘Hey, we‘re here so young and we‘re winning already in late models and legends cars, so we might as well go up to the next step because you‘re going to use all the time you have,‘” Mayer said. “We pretty much moved up as soon as we could at every single level.
“I got into an ARCA car and K&N car at the age of 15. We moved really, really fast. But it worked out really well because I got the year and a half, two years to learn all about these cars and to win races and championships. I‘m three-for-three in championships right now in the big car stuff, so I kind of want to keep that going because that‘s a huge accomplishment for me.
“I‘ve been blessed with the ability to get used to these cars really fast and go out there and win in the first 10 starts of each series I’ve run.”
Mayer didn’t join the Xfinity tour this year just to ride around. He expects to break records.
The first is the hope of winning in one of his first three career starts. If he can accomplish that feat, he’ll edge past Joey Logano as the youngest driver to win in Xfinity Series history.
After finishing 20th at Pocono over the weekend, he has just two shots remaining.
“When I won my first NASCAR championship, I was the youngest NASCAR champion,” Mayer said. “We‘re out here to break records. And hopefully, we can go out and win a championship in the next year and a half.”
Admittedly, Mayer wants to be the first driver in NASCAR history to win eight Cup Series championships and eclipse Richard Petty’s 200 Cup win total. Like it or not, that’s the mentality Mayer is showing up to the track with on a weekly basis.
“I‘m the kind of guy that wants to shoot out so far and reach so far out of distance where it‘s impossible to get,” Mayer added. “I want to break all these records that all these amazing drivers have set in years‘ past. I want to shatter those records.
“That‘s what I‘m here for and that‘s the reason my dad (Scott) has put up all of his effort, time and money into me to break records.”
And if Mayer can’t accomplish those goals, he won’t get discouraged.
“I never get disappointed because, if you think about it, I shoot out so far,” he said. “Where if I shoot out for 201 Cup Series wins and I only get 150 — I say only respectfully — that‘s still a lot of race wins. Even if I don‘t get the goal, I‘m still very successful.”
Earnhardt Miller has always seen Mayer as someone who is confident in his on-track abilities. She said Mayer getting the nod from Josh Berry was all she needed to be impressed.
And her expectations are also high for the upstart rookie, even though he’s facing different scenarios from his prior racing experience having tougher competition, even running against some Cup drivers.
“Sam has a ton of confidence; that‘s one thing he doesn‘t lack,” she said. “That‘s so important because that confidence in our sport can really help you going into [a situation] without practice. The fact that you feel good about it mentally yourself is great. To me that‘s a leg up.
“Sam, based on his previous experiences and what he‘s accomplished to date, honestly, top fives aren‘t out of the question. I don‘t think it‘s out of the question to see Sam in victory lane this year.”
She also believes there‘s such a thing as being overconfident, noting, “If you use Pocono as an example of just making that mistake on pit road. As long as you can back up that confidence with owning it: Owning yourself, owning your mistakes, owning something that didn‘t go your way, it‘s kind of a wash when it‘s all said and done.”
Since Mayer moved to the Charlotte area in May, Taylor Moyer, crew chief of the No. 8 car, has gotten to know the driver quite well. He said Mayer stops by the race shop quite often while the team prepares its racecars.
For a number of weeks, the team has begun preparing Mayer in its pre-race meetings.
Moyer, who has worked with 14 drivers over the past three seasons at JRM, added, “The 8 team is a football team and we took out one quarterback and we‘re putting in the other.”
Add Moyer to the list of people who don’t think Mayer is setting himself up for disappointment by setting such high goals.
“It‘s really hard to make racecar drivers go faster; it‘s a lot easier to slow them down if they‘re being impatient,” he said. “I would much rather have a kid with a lot of confidence and a heavy right foot than have one that‘s not really fast and drives slow.”
To get prepared for the Xfinity opportunity, Mayer is using iRacing as a tool to stay fresh. He’s run approximately 10 races this season, with three of those being Truck Series starts and one ARCA event.
Ultimately, though, he feels like he has a lot to prove.
“There‘s a ton of fans that believe in me and tons of fans that don‘t believe in me at all and don‘t think I deserve to be here,” Mayer stated. “But I‘m here to prove to the fans that believe in me right and to prove the fans that don‘t believe in me wrong.
“I don‘t see any pressure on me. I‘m just going to go out there and do the best that I can. I think doing the best that I can, can get me wins.”
Pocono really can‘t come soon enough. I have things to prove.
— Sam Mayer (@sam_mayer_) May 29, 2021
So come early November at Phoenix Raceway, Mayer is hoping to be like his ARCA rival, Ty Gibbs, and have an Xfinity Series trophy or two by his side.
If he can do that, it will be a success.
“I want to win a couple of races this year,” Mayer said. “That‘s a lofty goal, but I‘m a lofty goal kind of guy. Times change and things change as we go along, but I want to win races and run up front, make everyone happy and proud of me.”
The end goal for the No. 8 team over the next four months is to fully prepared come the 2022 season and chase after the championship.
Moyer said, “I think it‘ll go well. [Mayer] and I seem to get along really well, so as long as we‘re rowing the boat the same, everything will be good.”
Mayer‘s second Xfinity start will come this weekend at Road America, his home racetrack.