By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For this week’s edition of Climbing the Ladder, Seth Eggert sat down with Brad Keselowski Racing (BKR) driver Tyler Reddick. Reddick drives the No. 29 Cooper Standard, Career for Veterans Ford F-150. Reddick is campaigning for the 2016 Camping World Truck Series Championship.
Seth Eggert: How did you become interested in motorsports?
Tyler Reddick: When I was very young, even from the day I was born, my parents worked in a dealership in Corning, California, and that’s where I guess it all started. From the day after, I’ve always been around cars, I’ve always really loved cars. When I was four years old, that’s when I started racing. My dad took me to the racetrack, sat me in the go-kart, pushed me around, and it was two or three weeks later we were back at that racetrack with a motor and we were racing.
With my Dad having had me influenced and me racing at that young age, he kind of put it all in place for me. If there was something that definitely I didn’t like, I wouldn’t have taken to it like I did. I’ve enjoyed it and have done it to this day. I’ve been around his racing since I was very little, the dealership, and some other things all played a key role in that taking place and happening the way it did.
SE: Where and when was your first race? What was the result?
TR: I honestly don’t really remember where my first race was. I have a good assumption as to where it took place. Red Bluff, that was really close to where I grew up in Corning, a few miles away. They ran during the winter. It was an indoor series that ran during the winter. I don’t remember how the first race went. I know I was in the very beginner class and they probably had 40 to 50 cars in that class running. I do not remember my result, but it was a starting point, and I know that obviously we didn’t win or anything like that. It obviously started pretty good because we kept coming back after that.
SE: Who would you consider your mentor?
TR: I’ve had a lot of people through the years help me in becoming a better driver and driving in all aspects. My very early years growing up, my Dad played a role in just about everything I did on and off the racetrack. As I grew older, I was able to work with people like Scott Bloomquist, Ken Schrader, and people like Danny Stratton helped me in open wheel cars and midgets. Scott Bennett and some others helped me in sprint cars.
Scott Bloomquist helped me a lot in late models, and Schrader was really key in helping me get better when I first got into asphalt. And recently in the last few years, Brad (Keselowski) has had a key role in helping me get all of these that are on the NASCAR circuit that Brad knows about. Those are the people that have really helped me. And Doug Randolph, not just on the racetrack, but off the racetrack, physically and mentally, making me the best driver that I could possibly be.
SE: What or who inspires or motivates you?
TR: I think something that really inspires me is watching, and not just watching, but being around all of the people here at BKR that work they way they do just so I can go out there and run a race in a Camping World Truck. You got Jimmy up here in the offices for PR, the crew chief, then you have the team manager, you have a lot of people that all do their part and they all do it just to make what I do out there possible. It really means a lot to see the hard work everyone puts in at the shop, every little thing they put in to make it possible.
SE: How difficult was the transition from dirt racing to pavement racing for you?
TR: I still feel like I’m making that transition three years in. It’s definitely been a lot different to go from something I grew up and was used to, to a different style of racing essentially. We’re still going, making left turns, and making circles, but the way you do it has changed a lot. But there’s a lot on the asphalt side that I’ve come to in NASCAR. It’s a lot more involved, it’s a huge group effort; dirt racing, it’s more of a small team, and you have maybe three or four people. On this side of the sport, there’s a lot more people in place, a lot of people who are really good at their jobs. It takes all of them to give you a chance to go compete for a win.
SE: Was running dirt beneficial to your growth in the Truck Series and as a driver?
TR: It had to have been. It’s all I did when I grew up. I didn’t start racing asphalt until I was maybe 17 years old. I only did a handful of races when I did my first part-time year with BKR. I had limited experience coming here, so that’s all I really had to rely on. When I came over here, I was really having to rely on car control, being able to drive the truck as hard as I could. If I stepped over that line, the car control would keep me from wrecking, when a lot of these guys that have run pavement their whole lives understand it a bit better and don’t have to go to that point. Definitely dirt racing has helped me to be the driver that I am today in the NASCAR Truck Series. It’s just the driver that I have been molded into my whole life, the driving style and everything, it’s just all a part of where I came from.
SE: You won at Daytona and Dover last year, what other track would you want to win at the most?
TR: Well, obviously, the next one (Charlotte) is very important to all of us. It would be great to win at the next track, it is the closest track that we run at. It’s right down the road, it’s only about 45 minutes from where our shop is. That’s a place that I’m sure everyone puts in a little extra effort that they can find, they dig down a little deeper, and put forward a little bit stronger effort than you can imagine possible to try to win this race. I would say that we are going to be doing the same thing because everyone else is going to be. Charlotte is very big on my list, obviously it’s the next race, but looking forward from that, where I would really like to win, would be Eldora. We have had good shots at it in the past, but it’s one that I think for right around the corner. When we go in there, I think we have a very good chance at winning that race.
SE: You finished second in points in your first full season in the Truck Series, how much confidence did that instill in you?
TR: It gave me a lot of confidence at the end of the year, yes we were second in points, but we did leave the year disappointed we finished second in points. We had a lot of good runs coming off our first year, coming into our second, that just set us up to win at Daytona, and from that point on, we won at Dover shortly after that, that put us on a real high got us through most of the year, giving us a bunch of confidence. Obviously finishing second in points is good, being around some of those guys that high in points that means something to me. But, it doesn’t mean nearly as much as it would’ve to be the champion. It was a little disappointing, but it does give us a little confidence to know that we could run second, even though we were at our best. So, there’s no reason why we can’t be able to win it this year.
SE: 2016 has not started as well as 2015 did, how frustrating is it to come off of such a good year last year to have some struggles early in the season this year?
TR: We haven’t had the finishes that we wanted. It’s funny, someone was telling me about this stat earlier, that we have lead more laps this year than we did all of last year, and we’re only five races in. That says a lot about how much the team has been trying to improve themselves, and how much everyone has been trying to get better since last year because at the end we were only a second place team when it came time for the end of the year. We knew we had to get better all around, I think we have, we just haven’t shown that. I feel like throughout the race we have been more competitive. We’ve just had a string of bad luck in some events and at some races we just made the wrong calls at the end of the race.
I think we’re heading on a better path than what we were around this time last year. We started to trail off negatively, running worse and worse and now we are continuing to run better and better. My teammate Daniel Hemric has ran really good, he’s really good in points while we have struggled in points this year. Winning a race is much more than running second. Our focus is on that, and we are not too focused on points. One race can change the entire season for the team and for this organization.
SE: Do you think it is intimidating to be driving for a Sprint Cup Series Champion such as Brad Keselowski?
TR: Yes, there is a certain level of expectation when you drive for a team such as this, and when the owner is a Cup Champion. There is a lot of pressure to perform good and you have to be able to handle that, and if you can’t, then you have to find a way to overcome it because at the end of the day, everyone else is out there in a truck too, and they all have a shot at winning as well. We just stack all of the odds in our favor as best we can at the shop, and we get there in practice, we do everything we can to be the fastest one there. I really want to do well for this team, they deserve to win every race, they work pretty hard, and from this point on in the season, we are going to do just that. The pit crew has gotten much better throughout the year; we’ve had some new guys come in. Those guys at Penske have gotten better, and the last two races have been very good for them, and they are right around to corner from where they need to be. Each and every person is putting in an effort that is needed to improve, and we’re very close to getting to where we need to be, and when the Chase comes around, it is all going to line up for us, we should be at our best by then.
SE: Has the caution clock benefited you and your team?
TR: Honestly, this year, so far for us, I would say the caution clock has not benefitted us. We were leading at Kansas, and it definitely put us back in traffic, and some people had to play it differently depending on what they had for fuel mileage. I would say at Kansas, it didn’t help us, we were out to an early lead there, and the caution clock came out and if it had stayed green we would have continued to hold that lead. It did make the racing better at the end, and I think the fans liked it better. At Dover, I wouldn’t say it really hurt us that much. It just changes up the strategy of how you’ve always done it, the driver and the crew chief come at it with a different mentality and a different game plan. We’re getting more and more used to it, and getting an understanding of how it works, and getting better strategies to use with the clock. We’re right around the corner, again, from where we need to be, just got to put the pieces together for the whole picture.
SE: How are you going to spend the down time in between Truck Series races this season? How are you going to keep yourself occupied?
TR: Generally in the past, I really don’t do much, just staying around here, around the shop. Fortunately, I’ll be able to run a couple dirt races here in the off time after Charlotte. I’ve done one race already this year, and I’m hoping for another three or four, whenever I have time for it we’ll just try to fit it in. It’s good to jump back into one of those things and just re-sharpen the other skills that you have. When you bounce back and forth, it never hurts to jump from one thing to another, it keeps you on your toes and it keeps you sharp.
SE: Is it refreshing to have that break, or is it frustrating?
TR: Early in the year after Atlanta, it was definitely a bit frustrating because we didn’t get the year off to what we wanted, and we didn’t have the speed that we exactly wanted to have. So to sit for a month, is stung, and then we went to Martinsville, and it didn’t go great, and we sat for another five weeks and that was a tough five weeks to get by too because we didn’t have the run we wanted to. When you have a really good race right before you go on a break, everyone really enjoys the break because there’s nothing better than leaving the place and being the person that won for the next month. We went run good, the time goes pretty fast, but when you don’t, you have got to work hard because you’re reminded of your last finish. Everyone in this sport lives and dies by their last finish. If you finish first one week, and then finish last the next, all you’re going to think about is that 40th place finish or that 32nd place finish. That’s the way I look at it, and I’m sure a lot of people do too.
SE: Fill in the blank, in a year from now you will be?
TR: I’m hoping that in a year from now I will be the Truck Series Champion.
Image: Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images