Nashville Natives Josh Berry, Jade Buford Gear Up For Hometown Race

Jade Buford and Josh Berry. Photos: Courtesy of Big Machine Racing and Jr. Motorsports

For the first time in 11 years, Nashville natives will get a chance to race in front of friends and family at a hometown race this weekend as NASCAR races a triple-header. Two local drivers who are looking forward to the Nashville Superspeedway race are Brentwood’s Jade Buford and Hendersonville’s Josh Berry who will both will driving in the Xfinity Series race on Saturday night.

The two drivers have different stories and paths that brought them to the track with Buford spending almost all of his racing career in sports cars, specifically Porsches in the Porsche Club of America Racing.

“From 2009 to2020 I raced all sports cars. It’s what I knew,” says Buford. “I always wanted to race NASCAR, but I didn’t know how to get there until last year when I got the opportunity to run the road courses in the Xfinity series.”

This is his first full season in an Xfinity car and he’s driving for the team Big Machine Racing team, owned by Big Machine Record Group founder Scott Borchetta. Borchetta is an avid racing fan and races himself currently in the Trans Am Class 2 Series. The two met while at the Circuit of the America’s in Texas and hit it off.

“Scott and I met at COTA a couple of year ago. I had the opportunity to work with him, show him around the track, and help him develop his skills as a sports car driver,” says Buford. 

However, Berry’s story is a little different. He started racing all over middle Tennessee in go-carts at 8-years-old and slowly moved up the ranks as a driver. “My dad raced go carts a little here and there. We watched the races on a TV and it was something I wanted to do, but it took us a little while to put it together,” says Berry.

It wasn’t until in 2008 when Berry met NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. at an iRacing event at the Nashville Fairground Speedway, that it was made sense. There was an instant connection between the two, and in 2010 Berry moved to North Carolina to work for Jr. Motorsports.

At that point in my life, I was 18 or 19 years old and didn’t have a set future by any means when it came to racing,” says Berry. “It started very small. I got a couple of opportunities and shortly after that I moved to N.C. and began working for Jr. Motorsports. Now, the rest is history.”

Both drivers have been looking forward to this weekend’s Tennessee Lottery 250 on Saturday, June 19, because they both have something to prove. For Berry, this is his last race in the Xfinity Series No. 8 car for Jr. Motorsports. This season, he won the race at Martinsville while also picking up a handful of top ten and top five finishes.

“Its bitter-sweet feeling for me this week,” shares Berry. “I’m excited to compete in Nashville and get an opportunity to bring my wife, daughter, and family there. At the same time, this is the last opportunity in the No. 8 car this year so it’s a bitter-sweet moment.”

Buford, on the other hand, is confident that the Big Machine racing team will start inching closer to a top 10 finish as the team keeps building. He has eight top 20 finishes, two top 15’s, and has finished in the top 17 in each of the last four races.

“I know we’ll eventually get there, but we’re going through some new team stuff. I think what we have done this year is actually incredible. We are four months old and we are consistently in the top 20,” says Buford. “When we go to the road courses, I think we’ll be a top 10 at minimum, but we should be racing for top five’s since that is my background.”

NASCAR hasn’t raced at the Nashville Superspeedway in 11 years, so many of this weekend’s drivers have never raced there before or haven’t done so in quite a long time. Buford hopes this gives him an advantage as he is still getting used to his Chevy Camaro stock car. “Nashville is a place that many of the drivers I’m competing against have never been to. It’s going to be a more level-playing field,” Buford says. “Many can’t rely on years of experience.”

Berry also thinks it will be a level playing field, but he says big tracks are his achilles heel. However, he knows that the lack of experience most of the Xfinity drivers have on this track will bring him some level of an advantage. Berry is excited to see the stands packed with local racing fans and to see motorsports return to a city that has changed so much since growing up in Hendersonville.

“Nashville is growing a lot and it’s amazing seeing motorsports becoming a part of that,” says Berry. “You want to continue to see that get fans get excited about racing. Hopefully some of the fans that come out for the triple-header this weekend can make their way to the fairgrounds for some short track racing too.”

Buford still lives in Nashville so he is witness to the ongoing changes and growth everyday. He moved with his family in 1997 from Houston at the same time the Titans–then the Houston Oilers–made the same move to Tennessee.

“Nashville is growing at an uncontrollable rate, but it’s growing for the better,” says Buford. “It’s amazing to see how this town evolved, especially with the Nashville Predators. We have the new soccer stadium going in right by the fairgrounds, and I think every sport we have here has been positive at bringing more to Nashville.”

The drivers will have a full weekend of practices and qualifying. Buford still has a lot to prove as a first year NASCAR driver with a new team, but sees success in the near future especially when he heads to road courses like Watkin’s Glen.  Meanwhile, Berry will also race in the Camping World Truck Series race on Friday, June 18 for local team Rackley W.A.R racing team. With the opportunity he received from Jr. Motorsports this season, he hopes to keep building off of it for next year.

“This was a great opportunity for to get 12 races at the beginning of the season and hopefully to prove myself that I can do it. I think we accomplished that,” says Berry. “All in all, its been positive and exciting for Jr. Motorsports as a whole and hopefully down the road we can continue.”

Column: How The Julio Jones Trade Represents The State Of Sports In Nashville

Titans helmet and footballs during the game between the Tennessee Titans and the Cleveland Browns at Nissan Stadium on DECEMBER 06, 2020 in Nashville, TN. Photo By Alison P. McNabb/Tennessee Titans

After months of speculation on where he might land, seven-time Pro-Bowler Julio Jones has become a Tennessee Titan, wearing No. 2 in navy and silver. The 2021 Titans are now set up to have Jones, Derrick Henry, and A.J. Brown as offensive weapons for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Jones is widely considered the best receiver currently in the game and statistics show that, in fact, he is. The future Hall of Famer has 12,896 receiving yards and 60 touchdowns in his 10-year career on 848 catches. He’s caught over 100 passes in three of his seasons, and he had at least 80 catches and 1,300 yards in every year from 2014-19 with an average of 104 receptions for 1,565 yards during that time period.

For those passionate Titans fans who remember, just six seasons ago this franchise went 3-13 and was at the bottom of the NFL. Yet so much has changed in those years both for the Titans and for the Nashville sports scene as a whole.

Over the past three years, the Titans have become one of the most exciting teams to watch as Henry has become the best running back in the league, winning the rushing title in 2019 and 2020 as well as Offensive Player of the Year 2020. On the same coin, the city also welcomed Tannehill as quarterback. Coming in from Miami in 2019 with little to no success and a season-long injury in 2017, he led the team to the 2019 AFC Championship and won Comeback Player of the Year.

Tannehill’s arrival coincides with Mike Vrabel‘s hire as head coach which has resulted in two playoff appearances in his first three seasons as the team’s skipper. Vrabel has built the team into one that people want to talk about instead of the one where people ask: “Do the Titans play in Nashville or Memphis?”

Since Vrabel and Tannehill have joined the team, Nashville has seen a boom in extra sports exposure and expansion. The city has seen a new MLS team and new stadium, the biggest NFL Draft in history, Nascar’s return, and IndyCar arriving. Not to mention that Music City is on the short-list for MLB expansion.

However, the growth in Nashville sports doesn’t stop there. The Predators have become one of best teams in the NHL, and Bridgestone Arena is arguably the most difficult hockey arena to play in since their Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2017. Every year the team is always considered a top contender, and the team proved this season that, even after a slow start, they have enough grit and leadership to fight for the postseason.

The Nashville Soccer Club kicked off their inaugural season in 2020 by fighting their way to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Now the team is soon set to open their brand new stadium at the Nashville Fair Grounds and is rapidly growing its fan base.

Top tier motorsports are also making their return to the city with Nascar racing over a nearly sold out Father’s Day Weekend at the Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon. This will mark the first time a Cup Series race has taken place in Nashville in 37 years. In August, Nashville will host the inaugural IndyCar Big Machine Music City Grand Prix with a street-course being built downtown and around Nissan Stadium.

In just a few years we have seen all of this expansion, but Nashville is no stranger to absurd growth as population has increased 12.84% in the past 10 years.

The signing of Julio Jones is the perfect example of how Nashville and its sport scene has grown into a market that strives to compete, win, and attract other people who want the same. With this most recent trade, Jones brings with him a hype and talent to an already experienced and talented Titans team.

As the roster stands right now, the 2021 Tennessee Titans look like a team that is ready to win it all.