A Rolex 24 winner whose love of Daytona began as a NASCAR fan

0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Like many foreign-born drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Nick Tandy’s first trip to the United States was to Florida in wintertime.

The native of Bedford, England, though, didn’t come to race a sports car at Daytona International Speedway. He journeyed to watch stock cars at the World Center of Racing – as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500.

VIEWER’S GUIDE: Five things to watch in the 2020 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona

‘I’M NOT THE TOP DOG’: Humble Kyle Busch embraces sports car challenges

“I’ve been watching racing at this place since I was 3 or 4 years old,” Tandy, 35, said a few weeks ago while back at Daytona during the Roar before the Rolex. “I’m still a huge NASCAR fan. When I was a kid, Monday mornings were for watching the stock-car racing in America. I haven’t missed a Cup race for probably 15 years.”

The Porsche driver, who will be driving the 911 RSR-19 in the GTLM class this weekend in kicking off a full 2019 season in IMSA, has carved out quite a niche in sports cars as a factory driver since 2013.

Porsche driver Nick Tandy (courtesy of IMSA).

Tandy was part of the team that won the overall title in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, has a GTLM class victory in the 2014 Rolex 24 and 13 class wins in IMSA (including the 12 Hours of Sebring the past two years and three Petit Le Mans victories).

But he remains a major NASCAR fan at heart. After the Oct. 12, 2019 IMSA season finale, Tandy took his Porsche directly to Talladega Superspeedway, where he turned a few demonstration laps and executed a burnout before the Cup race.

“It was organized through Mr. France; he invited us,” said Tandy, referring to NASCAR CEO Jim France, who also helped spearhead the rebirth of IMSA in recent years. “It didn’t feel as banked as Daytona because it’s a lane wider and is just enormous.

“I’ve driven the oval here (at Daytona) lots and lots (in a sports car). Sometimes we have a bit of fun in testing but never 100 percent flat out.”

It’s a throwback to the start of his career, which began on his home country’s many short tracks. A loose confederation of grass-roots series on asphalt and dirt offer several points championships in race cars that resemble the Modified series (BriSCA F1 is among the most well known sanctioning body).

“There’s a big quarter-mile short oval scene in the U.K.” Tandy said. “This is what I grew up racing. Me and my brother raced stock cars and knew all about the Winston Cup long before I knew what a Formula One car looked like or even what Le Mans was. That’s my background.

“Of course in Europe, there is no professional oval racing scene. If you want to be a professional racer, you go road course racing. So that’s what I did.”

But his passion for NASCAR didn’t wane. After racing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on July 25, 2014, Tandy stayed in Indy the next two days to watch the Xfinity race and Brickyard 400 as a fan.

“I got my kids some Kyle Busch clothes,” said Tandy, who also counts himself as a fan of Jimmie Johnson and the Earnhardts. “Got myself a Kyle Busch hat and went and sat in the stands and watched the race.”

Now he’ll be racing this weekend against the driver has been cheering for years.

“I think it’s cool that he wants to come over here and has got the opportunity to race with us, especially after he’s just won his second championship,” Tandy said. “It gives the whole race and our side of the sport a little bit more coverage and turns out some other people who might not have noticed.

“If I see him, I’d like to shake his hand and say congratulations on a good job last season.”

The Porsche 911 that Nick Tandy will drive with Matt Campbell and Fred Makowiecki this weekend in the Rolex 24 at Daytona (Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).