“I just want to be driving race cars for the rest of my life and that is my number one goal.”
For Ryan Vargas, a 22-year-old Californian with a humble background, the journey to reach that goal hasn’t been easy. The Xfinity Series driver has 67 career starts under his belt, all but one with the David-esque JD Motorsports, and has only two career top tens in 4 years racing part-time in NASCAR’s second-level series. Despite all that, however, Vargas looks towards the future.
Vargas was introduced to racing in his childhood in Southern California when his parents took him to Monster Jam events, which sparked his passion for “anything with four wheels and a motor”, as he said himself. A trip to Irwindale Speedway when he was 9 turned that spark into a 3 alarm fire.
“It's our local short track,” Vargas recalled, “and as we're there we see a recess aide from my elementary school and I'm just kind of thinking myself, ‘Oh, that's wild, that you’re here,’ and she just happens to tell me about her son's racing, a bandolero race car, and that they plan on actually selling that car. My eyes immediately light up and I'm just kind of like, ‘OK, this is something I want to do.’”
Vargas wrecked the car in his first time testing a bandolero; driving home from the test, his dad gave him a choice.
“He said, ‘Look, we could do one of two things. We can race. But if we do this, we're going to make sure that you're a champion by the end of this, and if not that's fine. We can go and race K1 Speed on the weekends with some friends and you just do your normal school stuff and all that and find a job.’
It took me about 5 minutes to decide that I want to drive a race car and we haven't looked back.”
After finding success in bandoleros, street stocks, and late models on the west coast, Vargas moved to the east coast to advance his career with Rev Racing’s Drive for Diversity program. The initiative is designed to create more opportunities in NASCAR for minorities and women both behind the wheel and in the garage. The 2018 class includes Vargas, then 18, Ernie Francis, Jr. (SRX winner and TransAm champion), Nick Sanchez (2022 ARCA champion with 8 career Xfinity races), among others. Moving to the east coast and fully diving into a professional racing career while still being a teenager helped mold Vargas into the man he is today.
“My dad moved here with me for a few months and once I turned 18 and was able to kind of support myself, he moved back to California with my mom and I basically took over trying to cover things and do my own stuff, do groceries and all that,” Vargas said. “I was freshly 18 years old and now living on my own for the first time in this area that I didn't know. And that was intimidating, but it was a lot of fun, and in 2019 when I was racing late models and stuff and making my Xfinity debut and stuff, I was racing my winnings from late model races to pay for rent and groceries through those deals that I got. It was a very big learning experience for me on how to grow the business side of being a racecar driver so that you can actually live doing so and that was a very important point in my life.”
His first career Xfinity start came in 2019 at Iowa Speedway for JD Motorsports in the 15 car, where he finished a respectable 17th. 2 more starts came that year, one at Road America when he finished on the lead lap, and one in the penultimate race at Phoenix.
He then ran 9 races in 2020, all for JDM once again, with the last 6 being the final 6 of the season with social media giant TikTok on the car. Vargas has a penchant for finding big sponsors; he’s brought in the aforementioned TikTok, Swann, Best Buy, Critical Path Security, Williamsburg Contracting, and Reddit to support his racing career. As to how he continues to draw big brands, Vargas isn’t entirely sure.
“It's funny 'cause I don't know,” he explained. “I try to be the squeaky wheel. I try to make sure I follow up, I'm very hands on with all of these programs that I put together. I'm very up front with all of my partners, I make sure that they know what they're getting into when they sign on with me. I want them to know that everything that is put out there is put out there by me, and that I have a direct influence on the partnership.”
“Putting a sticker on the car, that doesn't mean anything anymore,” Vargas said.
“It's about making sure that you actually return it for your partners and then everything will sort itself out.”
Vargas makes sure that the companies know that he’s behind the sponsorship deal at hand, and he alone focuses on making the deals succeed. The level of responsibility, however, is not lost on him.
“I'm aware that I have a lot on my shoulders when it comes to finding new partners,” Vargas said. “Obviously I email a lot, I do a lot of cold calling; it's definitely a lot, it's definitely stressful, but that's what you gotta do to be in this sport, and that's what’s kept me in this sport, so I'm willing to do whatever it takes to keep me here.”
Vargas’s grassroots sponsorship campaign allowed him to compete on a nearly full-time basis with JDM in 2021 and 2022, running 29 and 26 races, respectively. Each year he improved his points finish, and in 2022 he scored a career-high 6th place finish at Daytona in August.
“I think we accomplished a lot of our goals,” Vargas said. “We kept cars clean, I think I have the least amount of incidents of any driver in Xfinity, which is a very important stat to have.”
Following his successful 2022 season, Vargas announced this offseason that he would be moving on from JDM, with whom he’s spent the first four years of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career. He’s ready for the next step of his racing career.
“There's just things that you come to the realization of and you just kind of decide, ‘It's time for me to take a little bit of a leap,’” Vargas explained. “I wish John and his organization nothing but the best. But I do look forward to changing things up in 2023. Things are still very fluid at the moment. Things are still very, very much in the works. I'm very confident that I'll be able to figure out my plans here in the coming few days.”
Vargas has not announced his plans for 2023 and beyond yet, but he’s optimistic for his future in the sport.
“If I'm driving, my overall goal is to get into a highly competitive Xfinity ride in the coming years and run full time, chase wins, chase championships,” Vargas said. “But that does come with time, I do need more seat time, I need more experience at these bigger teams…But now, moving into the future I hope to find myself a seat at the table and hopefully one day, like I mentioned, chase the championship one day.”
Ryan Vargas is young, but he’s got a ton of seat time already. He’s got the personality, talent, and business smarts to grow a successful career in the upper ranks of NASCAR. He’s not a household name yet- but watch for Ryan Vargas to make a splash in the coming years.