Philip Morris had already been to victory lane once on Saturday night at Dominion Raceway and looked poised to go there again before crashing hard in the nightcap. When the smoke cleared from his crash that nearly sent his car flipping over, his backup driver and crew chief Travis Byrd was leading the race.

Morris’ night was done but Byrd, who Morris had just laps informed his crew to tell Byrd to finish this race and not park past halfway, was now the leader and Morris told him “go win this thing”. Byrd did just that and only surrendered the lead momentarily before putting Morris’ car back out front and driving away for the victory.

For Byrd, who is no stranger to victory lane himself winning races and the 2015 Hickory Motor Speedway Limited Late Model championship while driving for Ashley Huffman, it was the opportunity of a lifetime and he made the most of it.

“It was a great opportunity and I took advantage of it,” Byrd told RACE22. “It was a Mike Looney winning Martinsville type deal, kind of an underdog getting a great chance in great equipment. I was able to make something happen.”

Byrd said everything just kind of happened to make this possible with Morris telling him to run the whole race and then the wreck that took Morris out.

“I was sitting on the backstretch under that red flag and thinking holy crap I’m leading this race now,” Byrd explained. “He (Morris) walked up and said ‘go win this thing’, I was like ‘yes, sir I’ll do my best’. I was literally getting ready to pull down pit road when my guys came on the radio and said ‘Phil said to run the whole race’.”

Byrd says the last five years have been a roller coaster. This year is no exception as he didn’t start the season even working in racing. Byrd has spent the better part of the last three and half years working for Forrest Reynolds but left over the off-season to take a job closer to home to spend more time with his wife and newborn child, only to return following Reynolds’ suspension from NASCAR for an incident under the red flag at South Boston Speedway in April.

“Me and my wife had our first son and I was going to try and get a job close to home,” Byrd said. “I live in Hickory and Forrest’s shop is all the way out in Concord so it’s an hour and ten-minute drive each way every day. Before the suspension even happened I was already missing it. It’s my itch, I’ve always been around racing and I wasn’t getting it anymore. I was already talking to Forrest about coming back and that happened and I’ve been on Philip’s deal all year.”

Byrd’s been crew chiefing in Reynolds’ absence for Morris all season and together they’ve won 13 races and have found themselves in the hunt for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National title all season long. Morris is a longshot to win it heading into the final weekend of the season 12 point behind Mike Looney.

Byrd’s win was bittersweet for the former driver turned crew chief as he had to watch his driver crash out of the race and lose an opportunity at valuable points in the quest for his sixth National championship, all the while he drove his backup car to victory lane. The victory gives Byrd mixed emotions about whether he wants to continue the path of being a crew chief or getting back behind the wheel of a racecar.

“Right now I’ve got mixed emotions,” Byrd said with a chuckle. “I will say working with Forrest and working with Philip made me a better driver sitting back behind the wheel. Just the things Philip has taught me, I soak a lot in, he’s been doing this for a lot of years. His feedback and the way he breaks stuff down, his feel for stuff, that’s probably helped me out a lot. I’ve said it before I wish I would have met him five years ago, I would have been an even better driver than I was then.”

Byrd wants to race but he also knows he has bills to pay.

“Obviously, I want to race but with a wife and kid at home I’ve gotta make money before we can spend money,” Byrd continued. “Our goal starting back Monday was to get back in the shop, we’ve still got a National title to win. Whatever happens from this happens. I feel like Philip was happy and impressed with what happened. I feel like he was pretty ecstatic. It was kind of weird just mindset wise sitting on the backstretch thinking this National title is gone maybe. Then for him to walk up and tell me to win the race my driver instincts kicked in at that moment.”

Byrd said the messages from guys like Justin Carroll, Mike Looney, and Josh Berry and their crew members meant the world to him after getting the win. He quoted Looney explaining how he felt about it.

“I think Mike Looney said it best when he said ‘there’s a lot of talent out there in Late Models and people don’t see it”, Mike is a perfect example of it. He’s got a Reynolds Racing Chassis, a badass Charlie Long motor, he’s got the best he can get right now. He’s showing the underdog can still do it and that’s the biggest thing I hope comes from this. Obviously, I gave up on driving. If there’s a Saturday night racer out there right now, I hope they see this whole deal and realize work hard and keep digging and one day there’s going to be an opportunity that breaks through. The same thing happened for Mike with Billy (Martin).”

Byrd says he can’t thank Forrest Reynolds, Philip Morris, his wife, and mom and dad enough for everything they’ve sacrificed for him. He also wanted to give a shout out to “Herb Nation” Anthony Samelwich, who helps the team part-time driving back and forth from Connecticut while his dad is fighting cancer.

Byrd’s win might be overshadowed by the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Championship battle but it was a huge win for the little guy who got a chance to showcase his talent and ended the night in victory lane. Where Byrd’s career goes from here is anyone’s guess but whether it’s behind the wheel or turning wrenches he’s proven his worth.

Cover photo by Peyton Bartlett.