11-year-old Wyatt Flowers goes from backyard track to championship at Alaska Raceway Park

The list of NASCAR drivers from Alaska is short, but one young driver in the state has big dreams of becoming the next.

Wyatt Flowers, an 11-year-old from Palmer, Alaska, first began chasing his NASCAR dreams while practicing on a small race track he built in his backyard. His dad would often tell Flowers stories of his own racing days, and Flowers also started collecting hot wheels, racing go karts at a local track, and watching the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, where he could see fellow Alaskan Keith McGee and his favorite driver, Hailie Deegan, both compete.

“In kind of early 2021 I started to really follow NASCAR, and some of the drivers, whenever they‘d win and race, that motivated me to race a little bit,” Flowers said in a recent interview with NASCAR.com.

It was perfect timing for Flowers to get into racing, because last season was also the first year Alaska Raceway Park hosted a Bandolero class. Going from his small backyard track to the third-mile asphalt oval track at Alaska Raceway Park was scary at first, but Flowers caught on quickly.

“From my backyard, my small little race track I kind of made, it was small and for me the turns, they weren‘t as good. But going onto the asphalt track, it was way bigger and more open,” Flowers said. “We also practiced a lot in my race car … it was different because in my racer it was open and in my race car, it‘s not as open and there‘s a lot more high speeds, so that was definitely fun.”

Alaska Raceway Park, located in Palmer, Alaska, is the only NASCAR-sanctioned track in the state.

In seven Bandolero races last season, Flowers only finished outside of the top-three once. He finished the year with two feature wins, two heat race wins, and four poles on the way to a championship in the Alaska Raceway Park Extreme Fun Center Bandolero class.

There weren‘t enough cars to separate the Bandolero class into younger and older divisions, so Flowers was one of the youngest in a field that featured competitors up to 17 years old. He got training from his dad and advice from other drivers at the track.

The people at the track are the biggest reason Flowers really fell in love with racing.

“They‘d help me and tell me how the track would be,” Flowers said. “All the drivers, the track officials, they would help me and whenever they‘d go out they would say, ‘This is how the track is at some times and this is how the track is at another time.‘

Wyatt Flowers (center) with his father John (right) and mother Amy (left). (Photo: John Flowers)

“One guy helped me. He used to actually race my car at a different track and he was asking me about how I felt in the car and then he would recommend a line for me to run and after I ran that line I was really good.

“Everybody is so nice. They‘re all like a family to all of us. They‘re super nice, they help out with you a lot. If something happens to a car you go over there and they‘ll help you.”

Flowers said the biggest thing he learned was how to control his emotions on the track. He admits there was some fear the first couple times in the car.

“I think after the first race I understood that it doesn‘t have to be that scary if you just go out there and you practice a lot and you get used to the car and how it drives,” he said. “So I would say I picked up pretty quickly.”

In addition to driving, Flowers got lessons from his dad on how to get the car ready for the race track every week. While his dad helps with “the harder stuff,” Flowers said, he would often help by painting, putting on stickers and changing tires.

“It‘s pretty fun. I like putting it on because it makes me feel good,” he said. “I get into the race and can say, okay I‘m at the track, I feel good doing this and stuff. And then sometimes we‘ll take off a piece of the body panel, the back part, so we can take a look inside at the motor and oil and where all that is, so that‘s fun.”

Flowers will race Bandoleros for at least three more seasons while he waits to become old enough to move up to Alaska Raceway Park‘s next class — Baby Grands.

“That‘s the class I want to be in,” Flowers said. “They‘re kind of like the new Cup cars but a lot smaller.”

The young racer is excited to try all different styles of race car. He wants to eventually move up to Late Models and get to his ultimate dream of driving in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

McGee, who raced five times in the Truck Series last season and once so far this season, was the first Alaskan to race in one of NASCAR‘s top three series. He also got his start racing at Alaska Raceway Park.

Now that Flowers knows that racing isn‘t scary, he‘s ready to go as far with it as he can, and maybe one day add his name to the list with McGee.

“At first I would say maybe I was a just maybe a little bit scared in racing because it was something new to me, but going into this season we gained up to about 10 cars and I learned that it‘s not too scary and it became fun for me,” Flowers said. “I‘m feeling good. I feel like after a while I‘m going to have to get back on the track and get in the car again and get used to it again, but I‘m sure that‘ll come pretty quick because, like I said, this isn‘t as scary and stuff.”

Alaska Raceway Park will host a NASCAR/INEX open practice on May 13 and open then season on May 14 with GCI Late Models, Baby Grands, The Legends of Classic Country 100.9/Pruhs Construction Thunder Stocks, Alaska Army National Guard Bomber Stocks and Extreme Fun Center Bandoleros, all starting at 6 p.m. local time.

The track is also one of one 21 tracks competing in the NASCAR Advance My Track Challenge. The challenge, presented by Advance Auto Parts, is a fan vote that awards the winning track a $50,000 prize. To vote, visit www.AdvanceMyTrack.com.

“I‘m just looking forward to a little bit of racing, but one big thing I‘m looking forward to is seeing all the other drivers and being with my family,” Flowers said.