IRL: Brian Tyler Looking to Take Next Step at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, April 21, 1998 -- Sometimes, Brian Tyler admits, he almost has to pinch himself to make sure he isn't just dreaming. Less than four years ago, Tyler was a frustrated sprint car driver, beginning to wonder if he would...

INDIANAPOLIS, April 21, 1998 -- Sometimes, Brian Tyler admits, he almost has to pinch himself to make sure he isn't just dreaming. Less than four years ago, Tyler was a frustrated sprint car driver, beginning to wonder if he would ever get the opportunity to take his driving career to the next level. Today, he is viewed as an accomplished champion who is on track to make his mark in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, and he is working overtime to work himself into a ride for the Indianapolis 500 on May 24. It was not an easy road for Tyler, 30. He fought his way through doubt, impatience and uncertainty, and by the time he captured his first USAC sprint car championship in 1996 he had matured from a wild young kid into a quiet, polite gentleman. "I guess I grew up," he said with a smile. He was just 8 years old when he began racing on motocross courses near his Parma, Mich., home. By the time he was into his teens, "I figured cars looked a whole lot safer than bikes." As a teen-ager, he was a stock car track champion at Butler, Mich., and before he was 18 had followed his older brother Bill into the seat of a sprint car. Sprint cars suited young Tyler perfectly. Wild and exciting, they are perhaps the ultimate driver's machine on short tracks. He began winning locally, and in 1990 made his debut with the big leagues of USAC at the daunting high banks of Winchester Speedway in Indiana. It was once said that if you can win on "the Hills", as the high-banked tracks such as Winchester were known, you could win anywhere. That has proven true for Tyler, as over the years he developed a knack of excelling at the challenging, fast circuits. His big break came in 1995, when Anderson, Ind., businessman Larry Contos hired Tyler to wheel a sprint car carrying the name of the Contos family business, Pay Less Super Markets. Tyler won back-to-back USAC national championships with Contos in 1996 and 1997. "After winning the title last year, I was really, really eager to try an Indy-style car," Tyler said. "It was something that I had dreamed about for years, but several years ago it just didn't seem possible." Last year's title changed that. As part of the USAC Stoops Freightliner sprint car program, series sponsor Jeff Stoops promised an IRL test to the 1997 champion. Tyler hopped in Fred Treadway's machine at Las Vegas after wrapping up the championship, and was an immediate, major success. Treadway owns the car that Arie Luyendyk drove to victory last year in the Indianapolis 500. He completed the 40 required testing laps in just 54 circuits, eventually running nearly 140 laps with a top speed of nearly 204 mph, which would have been good enough for a top-five starting spot in the 1997 IRL season finale at Las Vegas. "It felt good to do so well so quickly, because it really boosted my confidence," Tyler said. "Whenever you go into something brand-new, you're always a little bit uncertain, but that test proved to me that I have the ability and can build from there." He made his Pep Boys IRL debut at Orlando, Fla., with the Chitwood Motorsports team, running smoothly and staying on the lead lap most of the day. A mechanical problem suddenly slowed the car late in the race, and Tyler was clipped by another car and spun, ending his day. He was officially scored 19th. At Phoenix, also with Chitwood, the team fought gearbox troubles but soldiered on, running all the way to the finish and coming home 17th. Although the Chitwood team announced that Andy Michner would replace Tyler in their car for Indy, they provided a car for Tyler to complete his Rookie Orientation Program at the Speedway on April 16. He breezed through the drill, and hopes that his obvious knack in a Pep Boys IRL machine helps him get a ride for next month's race. "I'm really excited about Indy," said Tyler, who continues to make his home in Anderson. "Obviously, that's the place every race driver dreams of." Now, Tyler has just a few weeks to find a ride for Indianapolis, and he admitted he is in high gear in his efforts. "I don't have anything solid yet, but I'm talking to a few people," Tyler said. "The big part was getting through (rookie orientation). Now that I'm through that stage, I can go put something on the table. "It's hard to be patient, because my nature is to charge forward. But I know I need to take my time and learn the cars, learn the tracks, and go at it with a steady approach. But we'll get there." Although he clearly has proven he has the ability to race the rear-engine cars of the Pep Boys IRL, Tyler insists he will keep himself involved with sprint cars and USAC's Silver Crown division. He and several former Contos associates put together a shop in Anderson, and now fellow Pep Boys IRL rookie J.J. Yeley rooms with Tyler and races out of the same facility. Tyler won the 25-lap USAC sprint race April 19 during the Chevy Trucks Desert Star Classic at Phoenix International Raceway. "It's kind of happened quickly, getting the chance to race Indy-style cars," said Tyler. "But then again, it seems like it took forever to get here. But I don't want to forget about the short-track racing, because that's what got me here. They'll be a long time getting sprint cars out of my system."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Arie Luyendyk , J.J. Yeley , Brian Tyler