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March 15, 2023

Bryant family racing at New River All-American in honor of longtime friend in Ronnie Hetu Memorial

New River All-American Speedway
Brian Bryant (center-left) celebrates with Frankie Corbett (right) after Joseph (center-right) picked up a win at New River All-American Speedway in November 2022. (Photo: Toni Jolly)

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Brian Bryant and grandson Joseph will be racing in honor of the elder Bryant’s longtime rival-turned-crew chief in Saturday evening’s Ronnie Hetu Memorial at New River All-American Speedway.

Joseph Bryant, 18, from Winnabow, North Carolina, plans to compete in back-to-back races on Saturday, racing in a Mini Cup prior to competing in the 50-lap, $1,000-to-win Mini-Stock feature. Brian Bryant, 58, will guide his grandson along at a track he enjoyed plenty of success at when he raced regularly in a Mini-Stock.

“It’s going to be a busy weekend for me,” the younger Bryant said. “I’m feeling really confident. New River has grown on me a lot in the Mini Cup and Mini Stock. I love that track. It’s my favorite track to run at. I’m not as confident in the Mini-Stock, but the more seat time I get, hopefully, the better I can get in that thing.”

Joseph Bryant began racing in a Mini Cup at Dillon Motor Speedway in 2015. A couple years later, he began competing at Carteret County Speedway, where he won a championship. When New River All-American Speedway reopened in 2021, it quickly became his home track. Along with multiple Mini Cup wins at the track, he also has a handful of Mini Stock starts.

This weekend, however, has a special meaning for the 18-year-old.

“[Ronnie Hetu] meant a lot to me,” he explained. “Growing up, knowing him my entire life, him being my grandpa’s crew chief, I’ve grown kind of close to him over those 18 years of time. Me and Aiden [Hetu] got really close. We’ve been really good friends ever since the first time we met. It means a lot to me for New River to have a memorial race for him.”

Brian Bryant is a multi-time championship-winning driver, having titles at Fayetteville Motor Speedway and the now-defunct Myrtle Beach Speedway. While he does not plan to race this weekend, he plans to get plenty of seat time this season. Much of his success came with the help of Ronnie Hetu, who passed away in March 2021.

“Ronnie was, we kind of started out as rivals [at New River] when we first met,” the elder Bryant recalled. “He had the 01 car and I had the 38 car and we were rivals on the track for years. One day, he came to my shop and said, ‘I need a driver and you need a crew chief.’ So we went together and won a ton of races after that. Joseph knew him all his life. He started going to the races with me when he was six months old. Every time we went to the race, he went with me and Ronnie.”

Racing is one of many ways, though the primary way, the grandfather-grandson duo bond.

“It’s definitely a big way that we bond,” Joseph said. “It’s a huge part of both of our lives and he’s the only reason I’m in racing and I’m glad for it because I love racing and wouldn’t give it up for anything. It’s not the only thing we bond, we bond at work when we’re not butting heads over little stuff. Racing is a huge part of our lives.”

“When he started going to the racetrack, he had a little pedal car that we took in a trailer so he’d have it at the track,” Brian explained. “We had a playpen in the trailer. It’s been a long journey and I’ve watched him grow. When he started racing, we bought a lot of fiberglass repair kits. When he got his first new car, Frankie [Corbett] built it, he won a championship in that and won in just about everything I put him in since then. It brings tears to my eyes every time he wins.”

Later this season, Brian expects to have a Mini Stock he is currently building finished and ready to race at a track he has spent much of his career competing at. He also expressed his excitement about the track being consistently open since 2021 after sitting dormant for the better past of the late-2010s.

“I love it. We ran there from the time they opened to the time they shut down and I loved it. I’m so glad Tonya and Anthony [Goodyear] opened it up again. They’ve done great work with the track and the way it looks and the way they’re running it. I’m excited about running there more each year.”

The Ronnie Hetu Memorial is headlined by a 50-lap, $1,000-to-win Mini Stock race. Bombers, Champ Karts, Chargers, Jr. Mini Cups, and Sr. Mini Cups will also be in action. Tickets for the Ronnie Hetu Memorial are available online through My Race Pass and at the gate for $15 for adults while kids five (5) and under are admitted free.

Proceeds from the event will be donated to the family of 4-year-old Rylee Wysinger a relative of Dillon Motor Speedway racers Andy and Elizabeth Welch who is fighting Rhabdomyosarcoma and is undergoing treatment at a San Diego facility.

The second annual Ronnie Hetu Memorial will commence at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 18.