Zach Herrin didn’t think it was possible to be an out gay pro race car driver.
He’s about to prove himself wrong.
Herrin, an auto racing prodigy who started driving professionally when he was 16 years old, walked away from the track when he began dating his boyfriend. Nearly six years later, he’s ready to turn. But this time, as an out gay man.
“No other kids should grow up feeling they can’t chase their dreams because they don’t fit in a box,” Herrin said. “I want to have someone look up to me the way I would’ve liked to (look up to someone), so I wouldn’t have had to leave.”
Herrin comes from a racing family. Growing up in Los Angeles, he learned how to ride bikes at four years old and started racing shortly thereafter. Soon, his amateur racing prowess outgrew the West Coast. Herrin’s family moved to Georgia, the heart of NASCAR country, to accelerate their son’s nascent career.
They built a track in their backyard and started homeschooling Herrin when he was 14, so he could spend more time racing. Herrin’s brother, Josh, is a professional motorcycle racer.
Zach Herrin’s eyes were focused on the next race in front of him. The idea of his sexuality was located firmly in his mental blind spot, where he couldn't see it.
Then those thoughts just popped out of nowhere — like a car running a red light.
“I never actually had the opportunity to discover who I was as a person, and what that other part was, once I realized I was gay,” Herrin said.
While Herrin is blessed with a supportive family, he wasn’t sure how much acceptance he would find in motorsports. He heard the slurs around the tracks and couldn't think of another gay driver. Since auto racing is such a sponsor dependent sport — drivers need sponsors to support their teams — Herrin feared partners would be uneasy about working with him.
So he quit. From 2016-19, the boy who literally grew up with a race track in his backyard was walking away from the driver’s seat
“I knew there wouldn’t be a welcoming place for me at those times with my current partners and sponsors,” he said. “So, just realizing that was the hard part for me, because I had focused my entire life at that point.”
As any LGBTQ person will attest, coming out is a journey. First, there’s the announcement. Then it’s time for action. Herrin and his boyfriend, who had also recently come out, started immersing themselves in the gay community.
The two of them met at Atlanta Pride.
Herrin, as one might expect for a baby gay, remembered the experience as “overwhelming.” But it left a lasting impression.
“I left having an amazing time and I met an amazing person,” Herrin said. “So it was a very special weekend to me.”
Herrin started racing again more often in 2020, and next year, will compete in the ARCA Menards Series, NASCAR’s fourth national traveling series. The ultra-macho culture of NASCAR has slowly been changing in recent years: Devon Rouse, another out gay pro auto racer, was recently featured on NASCAR’s Twitter page.
Herrin’s new manager, Michael Spencer, the legendary action-sports agent who represents Gus Kenworthy, has been busy finding partners so Herrin can return to racing full-time. But this time, as himself.
“I don’t really know what next year’s going to hold for me. I don’t know what the emotions I’m going to go through,” Herrin said. “But I’m prepared to just accept and own and just feed on everything I get from it.”