January 21, 2014 — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — NAPA, Calif. – James Bickford, the 2013 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model champion at All American Speedway in Roseville, CA, will move up to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West in 2014.
Bickford, who will turn 16 in March, will drive the No. 6 Sunrise Ford-sponsored Ford for the championship-caliber Sunrise Ford Racing owned by Bob Bruncati. Bruncati’s team has always been among the more competitive in the series, having won two K&N West championships including last year’s with Derek Thorn behind the wheel. Jason Bowles won the 2009 title.
“I was in class at school when my (father) texted me that Mr. Bruncati had chosen me as his driver,” Bickford said. “I almost jumped out of my seat, and I’ve been walking on air ever since.”
Bickford, who is a cousin to four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, started racing Quarter Midgets when he was five years of age and continued in those cars until 2011, winning a total of 16 championships and more than 200 main events. He then moved to a Legends car, and was 2011 Legends of the Pacific Rookie of the Year as well as Semi-Pro Champion. In 2012, he finished third in the Legends of the Pacific Pro Division with 10 top 5’s in 15 starts.
With primary sponsorship from Buffalo’s Shipping Post in Napa, he moved to the NASCAR Whelen All American Late Models and was in Victory Circle after only four starts in 2013, becoming the youngest driver to win at Roseville in the track’s 58-year history. He went on to win five more races and rookie-of-the-year honors with the final victory earning him the track championship on Sept. 11. Contributing to that championship was the fact that he finished in the top-five in all 12 events.
As icing on the cake, Bickford competed against a larger number of veteran drivers on Oct. 12 in the Late Model Fall Classic, sitting on the pole and winning the race.
Having caught the eyes of many people involved in racing and having built a huge fan base, Bickford was asked by Bruncati to test one of his cars at Irwindale Speedway in Southern California. That brought further attention from Bruncati who has dealerships in Fontana and North Hollywood.
“James turned great speeds from time he took to the track until the test was finished,” Bruncati said. “The kid is so talented and so smooth on the track. In short, he’s the most talented young driver I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Bruncati has an eye for young talent and has fielded cars for four series Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award winners – Bowles (2007), Luis Martinez Jr. (2010), Austin Dyne (2012) and Dylan Lupton (2013).