CARLSON READY TO MAKE MOST OF BIG OPPORTUNITY LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Jan. 15, 1999 -- Tyce Carlson lived even closer to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway than Jeff Gordon when both made their USAC midget debuts in 1989. Gordon, 17, drove...
CARLSON READY TO MAKE MOST OF BIG OPPORTUNITY
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Jan. 15, 1999 -- Tyce Carlson lived even closer to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway than Jeff Gordon when both made their USAC midget debuts in 1989. Gordon, 17, drove in 12 races, while Carlson, 18, competed in four. The next year Gordon won the USAC midget championship. Carlson finished 22nd in the standings. Gordon's racing career in the 1990s has been legendary. Carlson hasn't acquired quite the same fame and fortune. But this doesn't mean Gordon has worked any harder than Carlson. Tyce just hasn't had the same breaks come his way. Finally, Carlson is getting a break and hoping to make the most of it. Starting with the Pep Boys Indy Racing League season opener, the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 24 at Orlando, Fla., Carlson is scheduled to drive the full season for the merged Blueprint-Immke Racing team. When the Indy Racing League was formed by Speedway President Tony George, Carlson sold all of his racing equipment, including a truck he had purchased to compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and made his racing goal to become a full-time Indy Racing League driver. It hasn't been easy for Carlson, the son of an Indianapolis bail bondsman. Over the first three seasons of the Indy Racing League, Carlson has started just nine races, only four last year. He did run in the 1997 Indy 500, qualifying 26th and finishing 19th. "It takes a lot of hard work," he said about becoming an overnight success. "I've been used to running 60 to 70 races a year and the last two, 2 1/2 years it's been cut down to five races a year while just pounding the pavement at all the IRL races. "But the opportunity that you get to get into the (IRL) race car, it kind of outweighs the bad days you have watching everybody else race." Carlson, who until he was 10 lived only a mile or so east of the Speedway, has driven everything available to make headway toward a full-time ride. He's driven a Lola, Dallara and G Force for PDM Racing, a Dallara for Team Pelfrey, a Dallara for Jim Immke and even took his Indy rookie orientation in a 1991 Lola owned by Team Loophole. "I've driven the Nissan engine, I've driven the Aurora engine. I've driven on Firestones, I've driven on Goodyears; whatever it takes," he said. "I mean, when somebody gives you the opportunity to get on the track, no matter what it takes, you've got to get out there and do it." Carlson's parents, Dick and Joyce, have been Tyce's staunchest backers since he started racing BMX bikes at age 12. "That's the only reason I'm here," he said. "It's hard when you start racing when you're 12, to actually race on (the income of) a paper route. They've given up a lot to see not only myself but their other children achieve their goals and dreams." Built like a football linebacker, his size has been a constant problem as he's tried to move into the tight cockpit confines of an open-wheel race car. He squeezed his body into that '91 Lola because it was his only opportunity. "It's been kind of an obstacle," he said of his size. "I've lost 23 pounds over the winter. I'm trying to lose a little bit more. If I get down to the goal I want to get to, I'm going to be losing a total of 50 pounds." Carlson started to gain weight when he went on the road racing and eating fast food. "You put on a couple pounds and, hey, it looks good on me, people are complimenting me," he said. "Next thing you know, you've put on a lot of pounds and then people aren't complimenting you anymore." Carlson says he carries no envy about Gordon's success. He noted that Gordon had a dream and worked hard at it, and Carlson is proud that his rival has done so well. "He won three series, he won in everything that he's been in, but it couldn't have been the cakewalk that a lot of people say it was," Carlson said. Carlson is excited that the merged Blueprint-Immke team will have an in-house engine program. He knows who is building the engines and what the rpms are on the dyno. He feels comfortable that he will have the power to qualify in the first two rows and the reliability to finish races. Married and father of a 2 1/2-year-old son, Carlson now lives just 2 miles east of the Speedway. His goals are to win races, stand on the podium and be fast qualifier, but there is one dream that has lingered in his mind since he saw his first "500" in 1976, won by Johnny Rutherford. "For my hometown crowd, for my parents, for my family, I really want to do good at the Speedway," he said.