Zach Herrin was born to race.
The Southern California native has been speeding around racetrackrs since the moment his foot could reach the gas pedal. By the time he was 14, he’d already outgrown the amateur SoCal circuit and his family moved to Georgia to be at the center of NASCAR. His parents even built him a track to practice on in the backyard.
In 2012, his pro racing dreams were realized at his Daytona debut, but he felt little reason to celebrate. Herrin, who was just 16 at the time, was still closeted, and soon made the difficult decision to walk away from the sport he loves in order to find himself. Ten years later, he’s not only found himself, but also his fiancée, Matt, and a life of joy and fulfillment.
Now the 26-year-old racer is finally getting back on the track, able to fully focus and bring his A-game. On Friday he’ll make his NASCAR ARCA Series debut in Phoenix, making it the perfect time to kick off our new Time Out interview series, catching up with the ever-expanding roster of LGBTQ athletes.
QUEERTY: Your first race since coming out was at Daytona in January, a decade after you’d left the sport. What was it like to compete without that secret hovering over you?
HERRIN: Instant relief! My partner was there by my side, reinstilling in myself that I had nothing to hide or be uncomfortable with, but to just focus on my task at hand… Getting around a 2.5 mile trioval with 31 degrees of banking going 185mph.
What brought you back to racing now?
Selfishly to just race again. It’s all I’ve ever known, my entire life has revolved around motorsports and I wouldn’t have wanted it any differently, with the bad and the good. Secondly, to help create a more inclusive and welcoming space for LGBTQ+ fans to feel welcome. At the end of the day, we’re all bonding over the same thing, racing. Thirdly, to inspire the next generation of motorsports athletes! I wouldn’t have walked away from living my dream if I had a role model to look up to and someone to help guide me as I chased my dreams and looked for acceptance at the same time.
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It can’t have been easy to be in the closet at 16 years old in the hyper-masculine racing world. In your experience, how has the environment changed?
Honestly, I always knew something was “different,” I was just never comfortable enough to begin engaging with that part of my identity. NASCAR has seen a massive increase in not only younger, but more diverse fans coming into the sport and I think a lot of that can be attributed to NASCAR’s efforts in expanding diversity. This year, they’ve begun hosting Pride events at NASCAR races, sponsoring local Pride parades around the country and for the first time, creating an official NASCAR Pride merch line. I know these are minor steps that should have been done years ago, but the sport is moving in the right direction and I’m along for the ride!
Did your friends and family understand your reasons for walking away?
Yes and no! Having them now understand the challenges that LGBTQ+ people face on a daily basis has really shown them why it was best for me to focus on me. It’s helped me create this person that I am today!
There’s a misconception that racing isn’t physically demanding – how do you like to stay fit when you’re not behind the wheel?
This one lol… The balance of person and machine will always be misunderstood until someone can experience just a fraction of what motorsports athletes are challenged with each time they get out on track. Simple misconception is thinking that the cars have AC. When it’s a warm and sticky day, the interior of the cars climb into heat ranges of 115-125 degrees Fahrenheit. Controlling your mind and body/heart rate in that heat while giving everything you have for over an hour at speeds of 170+ is just a fraction of what a modern day driver faces.
That said, cardio/heat training is top of the list for me, along with controlled heart rate exercise to help keep myself aligned with everything that my body would go through during the course of a race.
What’s the number one song on your workout playlist?
Halloween just passed, and since it would be cheating for you to go as a NASCAR driver, what’s your favorite look from this year or years past?
I seriously would live in a Halloween world year round! It’s my absolute favorite time of the year and I just love everything about it. I’ve gotta go back to 2018, four best friends went as the Sanderson Sisters and Billy! We finished 2nd in a costume contest and I’m still bitter about that. Also I wasn’t a gay man unless I went in drag at least once for Halloween…
We love that you’re hosting a charity event before your ARCA Series race, with proceeds going to Phoenix Pride. What made you get involved with that and can others donate?
Thanks for mentioning this! Not only am I really excited but also super thankful to identify partners such as Quick Quack Car Wash and Rebuy Engine that allow me to get them engaging with the LGBTQ+ community. As I get myself back out there it’s really important to try to get involved in the communities that my schedule will bring me to, I know how important it is for them to not only receive the recognition that’s needed but also to monetarily receive the support is even more important for them! Yes, please donate if you’re able to! (Note section – “Donation made through Zach Herrin Racing Partnership”) With that said, get involved with your local LGBTQ+ organizations as well!