Brandon Gray will be chasing a track championship at his home facility of Southern National Motorsports Park with one of the most promising young drivers from central North Carolina.
Fresh off a successful 2023 season, 15-year-old Carson Haislip is moving from Legends to Late Model Stock competition, where he will pilot the No. 84 for Brandon Gray Racing as he looks to build upon an impressive short track resume.
Having only competed in a handful of Late Model Stock events prior to 2024, Haislip expects to endure a learning curve at Southern National but believes he can thrive behind the wheel with Gray to lean on for advice.
“This will definitely be a good experience,” Haislip said. “I’ve got high expectations myself and I’m going to shoot for the goals that I’ve set. It’ll be really good for me and I’m excited to have this opportunity from Brandon for sure.”
Haislip’s passion for racing began during his childhood when he traveled with his father to watch the weekly shows at Wake County Speedway on Friday nights. It did not take long for Haislip to quickly develop an urge to compete and convinced his dad to help him pursue that dream.
After developing his skills in a Bandolero, Haislip emerged as a premier talent in Legends cars. The 2023 season alone saw Haislip win a track championship at Wake County while also earning the U.S. Legend Cars Semi Pro national title and Winter Nationals title.
With the accomplishments accumulating rapidly for Haislip in Legends cars, a move to full-bodied stock cars was inevitable. Haislip has already started to get acclimated to racing at Southern National, as he brought home a sixth-place finishing during the Thanksgiving Classic’s 75-lap Limited Late Model feature.
Haislip has learned a lot about Late Models in just a short amount of time but intends to keep expanding his knowledge so he can become just as efficient as many other legends in the discipline.
“One of my top goals was being able to compete with the really good Late Model Stock drivers like Josh Berry, Deac McCaskill and all those CARS Tour boys that are really good,” Haislip said. “I want to make it to where they are and one day be successful just like them.”
Haislip is confident the already strong relationship he shares with Gray will enable him to thrive on the track in 2024. The past couple of years have seen Haislip serve as a driver coach for Gray’s daughter Delaney, who has won several Bandolero events at New River All American Speedway.
Gray considers Haislip to be one of the most naturally talented drivers he has worked with during his time in the industry. He said Haislip’s passion will be an essential quality as he learns how to be patient and manage tires around Southern National’s older surface.
“Southern National is a very low-grip track,” Gray said. “When you look at Late Model Stocks and the tracks they run at, there are a bunch of extremes. Martinsville and South Boston are high grip with not a lot of fall off, while Southern National is super abrasive. One of the critical components young drivers have to learn is taking care of their equipment and that’s something we can help Carson with.”
The technical alliance Gray shares with Marcus Richmond and Jared Fryar is something he anticipates will also be beneficial towards Haislip’s development. Gray has no doubts about the strength of the equipment provided by Richmond, but he stressed the importance of having a CARS Tour champion like Fryar mentoring Haislip throughout the year.
Celebrating a title with Haislip at the end of Southern National’s upcoming season would be one of Gray’s biggest accomplishments, but his primary objective is to ensure Haislip has all the necessary fundamentals for long-term success in racing.
“A championship would be phenomenal, but this is more about what we can teach Carson,” Gray said. “If we execute, do the right things, and teach him what we need to, the track championship will just come along with that. While we’re going to compete for a championship, we’re going to take this race-by-race.”
Haislip specifically wants to focus on his mental fortitude when it comes to racing a full-bodied stock car. He finds himself more composed in a car now compared to a couple of years ago, but admitted going up against Late Model Stock elites even on an infrequent basis will expose him to new challenges.
Despite this, Haislip’s optimism has never been higher and considers himself fortunate that Gray has given him a chance to join Southern National’s long list of notable champions.
“Brandon and I have talked about our goals frequently,” Haislip said. “We want to win the championship and I feel like that’s possible. He has a lot of hope in me, and I have confidence in myself. A championship and winning five or six races is pretty reasonable for my first year in Late Model Stock racing.”
Haislip’s first race in Gray’s No. 84 will take place during Speed Week at Southern National from March 2-9, with the Late Model Stock opener occurring on March 6.