Tyler Clary hopes to go from Olympic gold medal swimmer to NASCAR driver

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Head-to-head, there’s very few Sprint Cup drivers that can beat Jimmie Johnson.

But Tyler Clary can kick Johnson’s butt any time he wants to.

In a swimming pool, that is.

And in about seven years, Clary may be able to beat Johnson on a racetrack.

Clary won a gold medal in swimming (200-meter backstroke) at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games. He’s going for gold again in the 2016 Games in Brazil.

But in-between, Clary is preparing for the next chapter of what will eventually be his post-swimming career as a race car driver.

Clary has become fast friends with Johnson. They work out at the same club in Charlotte, where Clary has helped Johnson with some of his swimming strokes as part of Johnson’s ongoing triathlon training.

In return, Johnson is helping Clary with advice not only about being in a race car but also in how to turn his NASCAR dream into reality.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved cars and horsepower and all that stuff,” Clary told MST. “When I was a little kid, my family was always going out to the desert. Being around sand buggies, quads and all that stuff, I just picked up a liking for the gasoline-in-your-veins kind of mindset.”

Clary intentionally moved from California to Charlotte after the London Games so he could not only begin training for Brazil, but also to be in the epicenter of NASCAR, where he could attend and compete in lower-level races, learning the sport from the ground up, as well as making contacts such as Johnson who could prove valuable as he goes from chasing Olympic gold to his racing dreams.

“The impetus of moving to Charlotte was to change up my training program, which I’m incredibly happy at how it’s going,” Clary said. “And, it would be a lot easier for me to make connections in Charlotte in the NASCAR world.

“It’s a move that helps people take you seriously. You’re not being looked at as some dude that’s just talking about wanting to get in the car someday. That was actually a strategic move to show people I’m not messing around, I want to make this happen on a very serious level.”

Nationwide Series driver and crew chief Benny Gordon has been especially instrumental in Clary’s development.

“He literally got ahold of me on Twitter and asked how I’d feel about doing a test for him and to see what I’ve got,” Clary said. “I went out there, checked it out, did the test and I was running within a quarter-second of what the guys were running that night – and that was on old tires.

“It was the first time I’d been in a real race car and the second time I’d ever driven anything with a manual transmission. I was happy with how I did and not many people would’ve taken the risk that Benny did, but I’m sure glad he did.”

While he continues to train up to 30 hours a week in the pool, Clary has also begun to get his racing career on track. He’s competed in several lower-level races this year to get a feel for what it’s like to be behind the wheel, including the Summer Shootout Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It’s all a part of paying his dues.

“Heading into the fall, I want to have several more tests, and depending on how those tests go, maybe a race or two,” Clary said. “Then next year, I want to have several races over the course of the year. I want to be very comfortable in Pro Cup or K&N-level cars.

“Depending on how the start of the year goes, I’ll get into several more races near the end of ’15 and then pass on the early part of ’16 because of the Olympics, obviously.

“After the Olympics are over, I want to be in a K&N car as much as humanly possible. And then, depending on it goes, and whether I’ll need a lot of work and coaching first, or maybe I’ll be blowing the doors off everything that I drive. But we don’t know that quite yet.”

But even though he’s taking a slow, methodical approach, don’t let that mislead you that Clary doesn’t have goals.

“My goal is to have a full-time Camping World Truck Series team by 2017,” he said. “The more and more I talk to people, the general rule of thumb is you don’t want to spend more than two years in any one series without moving forward.

“Generally, the plan is to be in the Trucks in 2017, in Nationwide in 2019 and I want to be in a Cup car in 2021.”

One might think that thinking about racing so much might take away from Clary’s focus on training for Brazil. It’s quite the contrary, the Southern California native said.

“Everybody kind of handles the stresses of being a pro athlete in a different way,” he said. “I’m always at my best when I have something on the side that I can really devote a lot of my mental energy to.

“It’s really tough to be training in the water anywhere from 20 to 30 hours a week and not have anything to think about other than your main sport when you’re in the middle of a training cycle.

“I actually find it to be really healthy for me to be thinking about all these things and focusing on these other things outside of swimming. And then when I get on deck, I notice I’m much more focused, I have a lot more motivation and I’m much more excited to be there than I was before racing had become a real possibility.”

Although some might think racing could be the farthest thing from swimming when trying to draw any type of comparisons, Clary said there’s surprisingly a lot of similarities.

“Swimming especially, you’re taught ever since you’re a little kid, I’m always looking for ways to make me marginally better than my competitor,” he said. “And when you think of the job of being a professional race car driver, that’s pretty characteristic of what you have to do.

“You’re always looking for what the car feels like, what your stroke feels like, and you’re always analyzing what you’re doing in comparison to everyone else and trying to find a way to give yourself a little edge.

“That part, I think I have down. The fitness is there, the mindset is there and the overall mental framework of what you have to be doing both in the pool and in a race car is absolutely very similar.”

In addition to Gordon, Johnson has also become a valuable connection in Clary’s path to NASCAR racing.

“He’s given me a whole lot of really good insight as far as what to expect to see as if he was there watching the test,” Clary said.

Clary has spent several Sprint Cup race weekends with Johnson, just hanging out, observing and learning. At the same time, as Johnson gets more and more into triathlon training, Clary has been helpful in return.

“After watching him swim a little bit, I told him that he’s going to have to let me help him out with his stroke a little bit,” Clary said with a laugh, adding, “because it’s painful to watch. We kind of laughed over that.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws
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The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)