Scott Whitmore, The Herald
RACING TOWARD THE TOP
EVERETT, Wash. – It's been said some of the best race-car drivers in the country are at home on Sundays, driving a TV remote instead of a NASCAR Sprint Cup car.
Talented but missing something – money, passion, ambition, work ethic – they stall out in their climb to the top of the racing ladder.
Tyler Anderson doesn't intend on being a Sunday-afternoon couch potato.
“My ultimate goal is to make it into NASCAR in the top three series – trucks, Nationwide or Cup,” the 13-year-old from Everett said recently. “Work my way up the ladder, win championships.”
There are as many different paths to success as there are drivers starting a Cup race on Sunday, but Tyler's racing resume is similar to quite a few current NASCAR stars, including that of his personal favorite, four-time champion Jeff Gordon.
Gordon won his first Cup title the year Tyler was born and the Everett teenager has been a fan for as long as he can remember, even running Gordon's No. 24 on his car.
Both started racing quarter-midgets at a young age – Gordon at 5, Tyler started at 3½ – before moving up to karts and then sprint cars. Dirt-track success and championships soon followed for each.
Tyler was the rookie of the year and runner-up in the 600R Mini-Sprint division at Deming Speedway in 2007, and he followed that up with a championship the following season and another second-place finish earlier this year.
“If it's got wheels and someone says he can race it, he's there with his driving suit,” Gary Anderson said of his son. “He just loves racing. If he was strong enough to run four classes in one night, he'd be there.”
Tyler turns 14 in December, and next spring the Explorer Middle School student plans to race a 360 sprint car at Skagit Speedway in Alger, Wash.
Although Tyler's father acknowledged the bigger, faster track at Skagit will be more of a challenge than Deming, and the 360 was “a lot of car,” he also expressed confidence in his son.
“Everything he's moved up to he jumps right on,” Gary Anderson said. “I remember when he started on the 600, I thought ‘Gosh this car is big,' but he jumped in, did a wheelie down the backstretch and got out of the car laughing.”
The family – Tyler's mother, Cindy Anderson, attends every race and is his biggest cheerleader – considered starting Tyler at Skagit in a smaller Sportsman sprint car, or having him split the season between Skagit's Sportsman and 360 divisions, before settling on a full season in the 360.
Skagit Speedway owner Steve Beitler, who raced in the prestigious World of Outlaws sprint-car series, said competition in the 360 division is open to drivers as young as 14, as long as they have prior racing experience.
Beitler added that Tyler, like any other rookie driver, will be closely monitored by track personnel to ensure he can race safely in Skagit Speedway's highly competitive 360 division.
“Just because they're 14 or 15 years old, some of them have a lot of racing experience already,” Beitler said. “It's amazing how these young kids are, they take to it like ducks to water. They show up here and you can tell they have the hand-foot-eye coordination. All they need to do is get to know the weight and speed of the car.”
To help prepare Tyler for the challenge of moving up to Skagit Speedway, the Andersons are looking into enrolling him in a sprint-car racing school in California.
That added experience should help sharpen Tyler's existing skills, said family friend Joe Constance, a veteran racer who has competed in late models at Evergreen Speedway and has raced sprint cars in both his native New York and at Deming Speedway.
“He'll struggle at first, moving up to a 360 – that's a huge difference,” Constance said. “It'll take a while to get used to the speed, but he has all the racing principles down pat; he knows how to pass, how to handle a car.”
Like many others, Tyler became interested in racing because of a relative. Gary Anderson raced late models, karts and motocross for 20 years before giving it up in 2003, but he isn't re-living his youth through Tyler.
“I'll be rooting him on, but you have to let the kid do his own thing,” Gary Anderson said. “I'm there for him, but I don't push him ... he could quit tomorrow, if that's what he wanted.”
Although he realizes Tyler will make his own mistakes, on and off the track, one thing Gary Anderson can control is the quality of his son's equipment. Tyler gets the “best money can buy,” Gary Anderson said, serviced and maintained in a shop located next to the family home.
Gary Anderson knows that at some point money could determine how far in racing his son goes, but for now Tyler is supported by the family business, Anderson Enterprise Auto/Truck Repair, and a few other sponsors. Polite and articulate, Tyler already understands the importance of being a good representative for his sponsors, and making time for fans.
“I like spending time with fans,” Tyler said. “If there were 1,000 people in line, I'd sign every autograph before they leave.”
As a student, Tyler tries to “get all A's,” and he enjoys being on his dirt bike, helping out in the shop or fiddling with the computer he used to create his Web site, www.tyleranderson24.com. His room is crammed with racing trophies and awards, leaving little space for a bed – but more than enough for Tyler's ambitions.
That's something familiar to Beitler, who said as a young man he dreamed of racing with the World of Outlaws while working on a dairy farm in Sedro-Woolley.
“I wanted that, to say to someone who asked ‘What's your profession?' – race-car driver,” Beitler said. “It's in your priorities and what's important to you. If (Tyler) will set them and stick to them, he can achieve it.”