Georgia State has produced a number of great racing drivers over the years.
Bill and Chase Elliott of Dawsonville, for example, are both NASCAR Cup Series champions. Joey Logano, who started his racing career in the state, is also a former NASCAR Cup Series champion.
And in the future, Georgia State may lay claim to another NASCAR star: 12-year-old Grantville native Baylor O’Neil.
O’Neil, who drives the #99 Bandelero through Georgia and elsewhere, dreams of making it to NASCAR, or maybe IndyCar or even Formula 1.
Last weekend, O’Neil and his family were in Charlotte collecting last season’s awards competing in Bandelero cars in Georgia and elsewhere, competing at tracks such as the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, the Lanier Raceplex in Braselton and Crisp Motorsports Park in Cordèle.
O’Neil won the 2021 Georgia State Bandelero Bandit Championship and finished 7th overall in the Bandits Division across the country.
“It was really fun when we were able to do that,” Baylor said. “We were lucky because we were able to go up to Lanier, and that was one of our turning points for that.”
His strong performance came from his consistent running up front.
“We had a lot of success,” said his father and crew chief Ryan. “No wins, but we were close. We were so close. All year we fought for wins.”
Different approaches for different ovals
Hampton, Braselton and Cordele tracks are all different. Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Legends and Bandelero track, commonly referred to as the “Thunder Ring”, is a quarter-mile flat oval that uses portions of the track’s straight and pit lane, with bends short connecting the two.
On the other hand, Lanier Raceplex and Watermelon Capital Speedway at Crisp Motorsports Park are both 0.375 mile banked ovals. O’Neil compared racing at these two tracks to NASCAR super speedway races at Daytona Beach in Florida and Talladega in Alabama.
At both of these tracks, NASCAR uses restriction plates on the engines to prevent cars from going faster than acceptable levels, with the goal of keeping cars grounded in the event of a car losing control and not not fly through the air. The side effect of this, however, is that the field of cars are unable to separate from each other and usually race in a huge field just inches apart.
The O’Neils said a similar plate is used on Bandelero cars to keep speeds within acceptable levels at Lanier and Cordele.
“You’re inclined, and we have to put on a restriction plate and a particular gear ratio. So it stacks them. They’re side by side, and you have eight, 10, 15 cars, and if you make a little mistake, it’s like Talladega, you go to the back. It’s flat foot.
Bandelero cars, when competing on a track like Lanier or Cordele, travel at speeds close to 70 mph.
Baylor O’Neil with his #99 camo is a force to be reckoned with on the quarter-mile ovals in Atlanta and Charlotte.
Climb up and down to turn left and right
The race for the O’Neil family extends beyond the Georgia competition. In North Carolina, the O’Neils competed at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, competing on both the quarter-mile oval there and the indoor road course known as the Roval.
Baylor competed on a circuit using part of the Charlotte Roval, a road course used by NASCAR for its October race weekend.
The Charlotte experience is a bit different from other tracks, as this area is considered the center of the NASCAR universe, as most NASCAR teams and drivers are based in the Charlotte metro area.
“In Charlotte, they run teams there. They have their full transporters, and they take out several cars, and they have team leaders and spotters. They run them like a big business there. Here it’s me and Baylor,” Ryan said.
The Roval is not the only road circuit on which Baylor takes part. In Georgia, the Atlanta Motor Speedway also uses an indoor road course for Legends and Bandelero cars. Additionally, in Dawsonville, Baylor raced the hilly Atlanta Motorsports Park road course, a track he said was one of his favorites.
“He still runs pretty well there,” Ryan said.
In Florida, the O’Neils competed at FIRM (Florida International Rally and Motorsport) Park located in Starke, located between Gainesville and Jacksonville.
This is where Baylor got to stretch their legs on the huge straights of the circuit, which was built from a former military airfield into a road course and rallycross track.
Baylor’s racing prowess goes beyond the ovals. Here he is seen at FIRM in Florida, a road course built on a disused military base.
In total, Baylor has contested 42 races in 2021 and expects to run roughly the same number in 2022. Its season kicks off this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the Furious Five Winter Series for Legend Cars on the track redone.
O’Neil will next race at the Florida Winter Nationals in early February at FIRM and Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, Florida.
The goal is to move to Legends cars, bigger and faster cars, for 2023.
The family that runs together, stays together
Motorsport is, for the most part, a family business. Families will bet on the sport of running to succeed together. Drivers such as Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty were part of successful racing families in the racing world.
The O’Neil family, who have always been racing fans, went from watching to driving after a Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“We always went to the Atlanta truck and the Xfinity race, because it was the same day and I got in for free most of those times, so we always went there and we always liked it. There was one time we saw Bandeleros there, and we were like ‘that’s cool!’ You had to be 12 years old to drive Legends cars, we saw that you had to be 8 years old to drive Bandeleros.
Baylor started racing Bandeleros when he was nine years old.
“We started by watching the race. The following week we were in the infield in the pits, and that was pre-COVID. They opened the doors and the kids were signing autographs and all that kind of stuff. The following week, my stepfather knew someone who was running there. They invited us to the pits, and within a month we had bought a car and were hook, line and sinker. Now we have three cars.
Baylor’s brother first wanted to race, but on his first race he witnessed a serious accident where a girl rolled over on her side.
“He saw it and said ‘I’m not ready,'” their mother, Tiffany, said.
“But ever since he was little, he said, ‘I want to drive NASCAR.’ OK. He started watching YouTube videos, and he decided he could do it. We were like, ‘OK.’ Then we went to see a race, and they came back and Ryan called and said ‘we can do this’, and I was like ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do, and we’re going to make it let that happen”.
Tiffany said they haven’t looked back since. In the process, the family bonded, working on the cars, getting them ready for the next race.
“It’s great for them. They spend a lot of time together on the track, in garages, working on cars.
Sponsorship: How fast do you want to go?
The cold hard truth about motor racing, at all levels, is that it costs money to compete, whether at the highest level of motorsport in NASCAR, Formula 1 or IndyCar, or at the local level of racing with Legends and Bandelero cars, racing is an expensive sport.
The budget for Bandeleros races is lower and the O’Neils are more focused on using those sponsors for entry fees.
“We’re always looking for something,” Ryan said. “Obviously, all of this is expensive. We are looking for him to try to help him. We are looking for sponsors for the registration fee, this part to help him and start this kind of relationship.
Ryan said they had conversations with a few people and had bits “here and there.”
Those interested in following Baylor can do so by visiting his Instagram page, @bayloroneilracing.
In 2021, Baylor O’Neil found success at tracks such as Watermelon Capital Speedway at Crisp Motorsports Park in Cordele, a 0.375 mile oval.