When his NASCAR Cup Series career essentially ended following the 2018 season, you might say Trevor Bayne stopped and smelled the coffee.
Now, instead of competing in NASCAR Cup, the Knoxville, Tennessee, native has traded for a different kind of cup — a coffee cup, that is – and his second career is percolating quite well these days.
Bayne stunned the sports world in 2011 when, in only his second career NASCAR Cup start and one day following his 20th birthday, he became the youngest driver in history to win the Daytona 500.
Driving for the legendary Wood Brothers, the longest of long shots in that year’s edition of the Great American Race was pushed across the finish line to victory by fellow Ford driver and future Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards, changing Bayne’s life forever.
Unfortunately, just seven years later, he lost his sponsorship and his ride with Roush Fenway Racing, leading Bayne to sit out the 2019 campaign entirely.
But at the same time, it was also somewhat of a rebirth for Bayne.
“When I left NASCAR, I probably went dark to a lot of people, just got off the grid a little bit,” he told NASCAR.com. “But that wasn’t on purpose. We just got busy and don’t post on Instagram very much. So we’ve got three kids now, a fourth on the way in December. In July 2019, we started a coffee roasting business and opened up a coffee shop here in Knoxville called Mahalo Coffee Roasters. And that took up a large part of our 2019 to finish that year. And then last year, we added a second (coffee shop in Knoxville) and our wholesale coffee roasting side has really been growing.
“So that’s where most of my time is consumed, working on roasting, fulfilling online orders, working at our coffee shops, managing that, trying to grow that business. And then when I’m not there, I’m at our farm, taking care of it, taking care of the kids and doing a little bit of racing every now and then.”
For decades, NASCAR drivers have parlayed their on-track success into business success. NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace owns several auto dealerships. Dale Earnhardt Jr. co-owns an Xfinity Series team with his sister, as well as having financial interests in a bar, media company and an air-filter supply company. Kevin Harvick has a company that manages the career of several athletes, most notably MMA stars.
But no present or former driver has a couple of coffee shops like Bayne.
“In NASCAR, we were fortunate to get to travel around a lot,” he said. “We’d go to a lot of different cool cities and … we found coffee roasting places all around the country and we’d go to coffee shops. It was a good way to get some energy boost to ride my road bike or drive the race car – even though my crew chief didn’t like when I’d drink too much coffee because I talked too much (due to the caffeine, he said with a laugh).
“We had an espresso machine on the motorhome and coffee’s just an international thing. You can go to Australia or wherever and there’s coffee. So it was a hobby that was a passion and turned into a business. It’s kind of crazy. I don’t think I ever thought this is what I would be doing. But it’s been really fun to build a culture and build a business and really see it flourish and grow.”
While racing prospects have been few the last couple years, the coffee business has proven to be very good for Bayne and wife Ashton. They’re set to open a third Knoxville-area coffee shop in October, just a couple of months before their fourth child is due.
“We’re keeping things in Knoxville for now just so we can be hands-on and help grow these things,” Bayne said. “But we do have our online stuff going on and we do a lot of roasting for restaurants, hotels, other coffee companies that maybe have a private label and things like that.
“So there’s been a lot of growth, and we’re really excited about it. We’ve got some new products coming out that make it really easy for somebody to brew coffee. Like if you’re traveling, they’re kind of like a tea bag, throw the hot water in. And if you’re on the plane, or you’re traveling or whatever you’re doing, you can throw that in and have a good cup of coffee.”
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Even though he won the sport’s biggest race just seven years earlier, Bayne’s NASCAR career ended much sooner than he expected. The combination of sponsorship going away and Roush Fenway Racing replacing him with Ryan Newman in the legendary No. 6 for the 2019 season caught Bayne somewhat by surprise.
“To me, at 28 years old, I didn’t want to be done with NASCAR,” he said. “There was kind of a misconception amongst some fans that maybe my health was an issue or something like that. That wasn’t the case at all. When things didn’t work out at Roush Fenway Racing and our current sponsor at that time decided to leave the sport after that season, it left me looking for a sponsor and a team all at the same time. And that’s tough to put together in a couple months.
“The sport has very much shifted to if you have funding, you can have a ride. But if you don’t have it, it’s tough to hang on to. In all fairness, I don’t feel like I got to prove what I could do in the 6 car. At the time, we were just struggling on performance. And it’s not like football, where you can see if the quarterback’s throwing good passes, or the receiver’s not catching them or whatever, you don’t know what the issue is. I don’t feel like I really got to showcase what I can do in the Cup Series. And because of that, I didn’t have another opportunity and would have loved to. I would love to run Xfinity or Cup again.”
What would it take to get him back into a full-time ride?
“Not much,” Bayne laughed. “I mean, if it was a good deal. I still love racing, I still feel like I have the ability. I’m 30 years old, I don’t feel like I’ve peaked in my life by any means.”
At the same time, though, Bayne fears the ship of dreams of a NASCAR comeback has all but sailed for good.
“I would like that to happen, but I don’t know that two years out, I’m even a topic of conversation in the (team) competition meetings,” he said. “There hasn’t really been an opportunity. I don’t see that really just coming out of thin air. It’s something I did my whole life, I started when I was five years old and did it till I was 28. It was tough to just let that go, you know? We did well, we made a run at it and it’s what I’ve always done.
“It’s tough to be around it and not be driving. For me, if I’m not driving, it was really hard to be at the track. Now two years later, I’ve kind of gotten through that, processed it and said, ‘OK, I could be around the track some and not drive if there were opportunities like TV or something like that.’ I think now at this point, I could handle it and not be bitter about it. You know, every time you see this driver is moving (to another team) or this car is available, at first I was like, ‘I need to call them or try to get into that place.’ Now, it’s kind of to where I’m like, ‘OK, that’s probably not an opportunity that I could land,’ so my heart doesn’t start racing every time I see a driver moving cars now.”
There’s no question Bayne misses NASCAR racing. After sitting out the 2019 season, he had a brief return to the sport last season, competing in eight races for Niece Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series, earning one top-five and two top-10 finishes.
“The Niece Motorsports deal came about for me to go and run eight races with them and try to help out with some feedback and evaluate their program with them, and that was fun,” Bayne said.
With sparse NASCAR opportunities, Bayne has returned to his racing roots this year, competing in a handful of dirt races with his own team “to scratch that itch a little bit,” he says with a laugh.
And of course, he’s promoting his coffee business at the same time.
“It’s been cool to have Mahalo on the dirt car,” Bayne said. “Growing a business to a place where it’s able to help support a racing program is really cool. That wasn’t the goal behind starting a business, but it’s cool that it’s been able to do that some.”
Two weeks ago on the dirt track across from Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bayne showed he still has what it takes behind the wheel, qualifying second in a massive 62-car field and wound up finishing fifth in a late model American Crate All-Star Series event, his third race of the season.
“I’m a race fan,” he said. “I love racing. I love being in the car and like I tell Ashton, my wife, there was probably a year’s period where I didn’t get back in a race car, and then when I went and ran this dirt car, I told her ‘this is where I feel the most like myself, when I’m working on a race car, I’m thinking about (set-up) changes, I’m driving the car, it’s like that dynamic at the track comes natural. It’s easy for me to be in that environment. I don’t really even have to think about it, it just naturally comes to you when you’ve done it your whole life, so I love that part of it.’”
Even though Bayne was diagnosed with early onset of multiple sclerosis in 2013, the disease is medically under control and Bayne looks great physically these days; full of energy and with an ever-present smile on his face. Coffee helps, obviously, but he says he’s feeling great and is in good shape.
“Like racing, if we’re going to do it, we’re going to be all-in,” he said. “So with Mahalo, I’ve tried to be all-in. It’s not just an investment or a passive business thing, it’s what we spend the majority of our days doing and working on. We spend a lot of time learning how to roast properly and have great coffee. And so we’ve worked on that hard, and then our culture with our staff has been really good.”
Bayne now has 16 full-time employees, with more soon to be hired for the upcoming third shop. Surprisingly, even with his name and his Daytona 500 triumph and racing career, Bayne’s coffee shops do not have any type of racing theme.
“I totally separated it,” he said. “I love branding, I love marketing stuff. And one of my passions is just being near the ocean, being in Hawaii, being in surf culture kind of places, and I wanted to create a lifestyle brand. Racing is great and I have a good following there, but I wanted to do something different. And so it’s called Mahalo Coffee Roasters, which is a Hawaiian word for ‘Thank you.’
“If you come to our shop, it’s kind of casual, just has a surf shop kind of feel to it. So people come in with families, and it’s not a pretentious environment where you feel like you’ve got to be quiet and be on your computer working – although we do have people that do that. It’s really cool to see families or people on friend dates or whatever, just hanging out at our shops.”
And coffee is good for both the body and soul.
“I’m drinking it all the time, I probably have five or six cups of different stuff that I’m trying at the shop, great quality stuff, tasting different things,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “My wife is pregnant now, so she’s on decaf — but we have pretty good decaf.”
One element of his NASCAR career that remains a constant is Bayne is still a fan favorite. Fans regularly stop into his coffee shops and some even have gone to great lengths to catch him racing on the grassroots level.
“What was cool at that race a couple weeks ago at Charlotte, I mean, I haven’t been around there for a couple years and several fans in full-on 6 car gear showed up,” Bayne said. “They had all kinds of die-casts and bumpers and doors and all kinds of stuff.
“In the first dirt race I raced this year, I even had a fan drive all the way from Kansas the night before, when they found out I was going to be racing.
“With the coffee business, we’re not far from (tourist attractions like) Pigeon Forge and that kind of vacation area. I get five or six people a week that come into the two shops looking for me. They kind of seek us out and get stuff signed and things like that.
“So it’s really super cool to see that they still feel like I’m relevant, I guess, that I still have that kind of support and those fans around.”
Bayne doesn’t reflect back too much on the 500 win. He last watched a tape of it nearly two years ago.
“It really doesn’t seem like the same lifetime, to be honest, it feels like a totally different deal,” he said. “It’s not really something I think about that often, as far as my daily life stuff. You just kind of move into the next thing. And, now it’s like, alright, how are we going to sell more coffee?”
The Trevor Bayne file:
* Age: 30
* Hometown: Knoxville, Tennessee
* Notable: Began racing go-karts at the age of five and over the next eight years won three World Championships and over 300 feature wins and 18 state and track championships. … Was Rookie of the Year (13 years old) in the Allison Legacy Series in 2003, and then won its championship in 2014, at 14 the youngest driver to ever do so. In 41 starts over those two seasons, he earned 14 wins, 30 top-five finishes and 19 poles.
* NASCAR Cup career: 187 starts, 1 win, 5 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. Best season finish: 22nd (in both 2016 and 2017).
* NASCAR Xfinity Series career: 152 starts, 2 wins, 25 top-five and 73 top-10 finishes. Also seven poles. Best season finish: tied for sixth in both 2013 and 2014.
* NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career: 8 starts, 0 wins, 1 top-five and 2 top-10 finishes.
* ARCA Menards Series career: 1 start, 1 win. Also 1 pole.
* NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and East (combined): 16 starts, 1 win, 6 top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. Also two poles.
* X-1R (formerly Hooters) Pro Cup Series: 39 starts, 3 wins, 15 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. Best season finish: 2nd in 2007 (despite running in only 13 of 21 races).
Veteran motorsports writer Jerry Bonkowski is writing a number of Where Are They Now? stories this year for NASCAR.com. Check out stories he’s already done on Ken Schrader, Shawna Robinson, Sam Hornish Jr., Bobby Labonte, Greg Biffle, Ricky Rudd, Darrell Waltrip, Mark Martin, Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya. Also, follow Jerry on Twitter @JerryBonkowski and @TheRacingBeat, as well as The Racing Beat podcast, available on most podcast platforms.