CONCORD, N.C. — Jaiden Reyna‘s parents did everything they could to convince him to pursue a different sport growing up.
They signed him up for basketball, tennis and swim. They even signed him up for tap dancing and theater.
However, none of those things could hold his attention quite like racing.
“I played a ton of sports,” said the 16-year-old Reyna, a Mexican-American from Yorktown, Virginia. “I played basketball, tennis, swim, even tap dancing, theater, stuff like that. But eventually [my parents] came to realize that racing was the only thing that kept my attention for a strong amount of time.
“I don‘t want to say I didn‘t take everything else seriously; it just couldn‘t hold my attention for very long apart from racing. I said I wanted to become a race car driver, and that‘s the only thing I wanted to do.”
Reyna is in his second season as part of NASCAR‘s Drive for Diversity program, an academy-style training program for minority and female competitors designed to develop and train drivers both on and off the track.
His family originated in Mexico, with his grandmother on his father‘s side coming to United States in 1968. She was sent to the United States by her mother to live with her grandmother in search of a better education. She later became a naturalized citizen in 1983.
Reyna‘s father Pedro was the first member of his family to be born in the United States. He eventually became a member of the United States Army, which is where he met Reyna‘s mother, Afton.
Fast forward to Sept. 6, 2006, and Jaiden Reyna joined the world.
The young racer is in his first season of racing Late Models for Rev Racing and veteran competitor and team owner Kres VanDyke. It‘s a path few in his family would have predicted only a few years ago.
“My parents and not even my grandparents knew much about NASCAR,” Reyna said. “The only thing I can say is my grandmother‘s husband, he was a big NASCAR fan. But that was on my mom‘s side, which was America the whole way. He was a fan of Mark Martin. Whenever I went over to my grandmother‘s house, NASCAR was always on the TV.”
Reyna got his start at his home track, Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, where he joined and competed with the Hampton Road Kart Club when he was 6. By the time he was 8, Reyna began racing Bandoleros and, not long after that, Legend Cars.
He did all that despite his family not having a lot of extra money to spare. He credits his parents with going the extra mile to make sure he could keep pursing his racing dreams.
“Their commitment to my dream was absolutely incredible,” Reyna said. “My mom ended up selling her car so I could get a trailer and my first go kart.”
His breakout season came in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when he dominated the Young Lion division at Charlotte Motor Speedway‘s Summer Shootout. He won 10 races that year at the Summer Shootout and captured the Young Lion division championship. He was selected for the Drive for Diversity program the following season.
“I‘ve actually been in the [Drive for Diversity] Combine three times before I was accepted,” said Reyna, who raced Legend Cars in 2021 before making the move up to Late Models this year. “It‘s been pretty decent so far, snagged a couple podiums. Battled for the win a couple times and choked it every single time. Still looking for that first career win in Late Models. I feel like I can definitely get a win with Rev Racing.”
In addition to the training and skills he has learned from his time at Rev Racing, Reyna got the opportunity this year to work with VanDyke. A multi-time NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series track and Tennessee state champion, VanDyke has been mentoring Reyna and helping him further prepare for a career in racing.
“He‘s made me work on the cars a bit, and I‘ve really been watching what he’s been doing car-wise so I can give better information,” said Reyna, who was among the 92 competitors who attempted to qualify for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 last weekend at Martinsville Speedway in a car prepared and fielded by VanDyke. “The equipment is good, and the learning is great, too.”
While he admits he‘s still a long way from being ready to race in a NASCAR touring series, Reyna said he hopes his efforts will inspire others to pursue their dreams of working and competing in NASCAR or other forms of racing.
If he had to offer one piece of advice to those aspiring to be a part of NASCAR, it would be to start early and stay committed.
“If this is really what you want to do, you probably need to start working at a really early age,” said Reyna. “Obviously I‘ve had a ton of help with everyone that was at Langley and all of my crew chiefs, too. They really taught me how to work the track, how to really get around a track in a car.
“Obviously you want to be paired with the right people and start working on your race craft, because people judge you very early.”
As far as what the future holds, Reyna said he hopes to continue racing Late Models while ultimately pursing opportunities to further his racing skills on dirt tracks and road courses.
Eventually he hopes to compete in Mexico, something he knows would make his grandmother on his father‘s side especially happy.
In a way, it would bring his entire family full circle.
“I want to run races in Mexico; that would be pretty cool,” Reyna said. “Then my grandmother, she would definitely come down for that. We could have a big family reunion.”