On a Saturday night, with dirt flying through the air as the cars are slipping and sliding through every imminent corner, the crowd becomes more engaged, lap after lap. As the cars navigate through the high-bank turns, the action intensifies until the ultimate climax — who is the winner and who will be bringing their machines home in pieces?
Dirt track racing has often been described as some of the most intense racing throughout the country. Some race-car drivers spend their entire careers on dirt, never seeking an opportunity to race elsewhere. Many drivers begin their careers on dirt before moving up the racing ladder.
Four years ago, the famous Portsmouth Raceway Park, which annually holds the Dirt Track World Championships, saw a driver make a brief appearance but leave a lasting impression on the area.
Tyler Reddick, who was 14 years old at the time, visited PRP and promptly broke the track record by becoming the youngest driver to ever win a pole at the legendary track; a record that is still intact today.
“We ran really good there at Portsmouth, we led a little bit of that race,” Reddick said. “We ended up (having a mechanical failure), which really stunk. We haven’t been there in a while but that was definitely one of my sweeter memories at a race track for sure.”
Four years later, Reddick returns to the dirt in Ohio as the driver of the No. 19 Broken Bow Records Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Reddick will attempt to qualify for the “Mudsummer Classic,” held at Eldora Speedway. Owned by Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart, the annual truck race, which began a year ago, is the only NASCAR sanctioned race that is held on dirt.
The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender only has seven career starts in the truck series, six coming this season, but Reddick believes his experience on dirt gives him an advantage during the race.
“We’ll have an advantage over the people who haven’t done it before,” Reddick said. “And a little bit of an advantage over the people that have done it but haven’t spent much time doing it …”
Despite having a wealth of experience on dirt to supplement his age and limited seat time in the Truck series, Reddick is conducting himself like a series veteran. Before he competes in his first “Mudsummer Classic,” Reddick has been scouting last year’s race, paying attention to the details.
“A lot of people are going to have to be easy on the throttle, like they were last year,” Reddick said. “That’s one thing I saw. And there are plenty of tracks we go to in Late Models where you have to be easy on the throttle. You don’t want to spin the tires. It’s all about taking care of your equipment. Hopefully the things I’ve learned over the years will come in handy here.”
Reddick might have a limited amount of experience driving in the Truck series, but the Rookie of the Year contender has competed multiple times at Eldora Speedway with his most memorable performance and recording-breaking day coming two years ago.
In 2012, Reddick became the youngest driver to make the field of the World 100 Late Model event, which saw 123 drivers from accross the country embark on New Weston, Ohio. Making the field would have been quite an accomplishment for the 16-year-old driver, but Reddick had bigger aspirations has he became the youngest driver to sit on the pole for the race.
“We’ve had pretty good luck here … ,” Reddick said. ” … If we can keep the (mechanical) failures from happening, we’ve had good luck. I feel like I’ve got the top figured out pretty good, as far as driving it but also what the Late Models needed, so hopefully we can get the truck to do the same thing and find the same speed.”
The differences between Late Model vehicles and the Ford Reddick will be driving Wednesday are immense, but the young driver isn’t worried about making the adjustment, he’s focused on qualifying well and running well in his Heat race to gain a sizable advantage before the feature begins.
The Mudsummer Classic might be Reddick’s best opportunity to find victory lane in his inaugural season. The rookie isn’t running all the races this year, which is by design, not a lack of funding.
The Brad Keselowski Racing driver will run in the neighborhood of 15 races. Reddick is scheduled to compete in the full slate of NASCAR Camping Truck Series races beginning in 2015, where he will attempt to win the championship.
Although he could still walk away from the 2014 campaign with Rookie of the Year honors, Reddick has loftier aspirations.
“The goal of the rookie season is to gain experience,” Reddick said. “We want to set ourselves up for a really good second season and hopefully win a championship.”
Reddick currently sits 18th in the standings, despite only running in six out of the first nine events. His best finish came at Dover, where he finished eighth after starting fifth. Reddick followed that performance up with a ninth place finish at Iowa.
Before he began the daunting challenge of driving stock cars, Reddick drove a variety of dirt-track cars, including Late Models, Midget cars and Sprint cars.
However, in 2012, Reddick was given the chance to race in a NASCAR K&N Pro East Series event at Rockingham Speedway in North Carolina. A 16-year-old at the time, Reddick drove for a former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racer and a first-time car owner in the K&N Pro Series in Ken Schrader.
For a first-time program and an inexperienced driver attempting to compete in a brand new series, the expectations were tailored to the reality of the situation. However, once again, Reddick rose above those expectations by winning in his debut.
Reddick has more than 200 victories in his entire racing career. However, Reddick credits that single victory has his major accomplishment — the one break that made the racing world pause and take notice.
“It was a sweet victory for sure,” Reddick said. “I think that victory got me to where I’m at today for sure. I don’t think if that would have happened, I wouldn’t be here. I’d still be trying to break through that door.”
The 18-year-old was destined to become a race-car driver, which was apparent when he was four years old. Reddick’s grandfather and father were heavily involved in the sport and the automobile industry, so it became clear pretty quickly that Reddick would follow suit.
He picked up the sport as a hobby because of his passion for cars, but he made a career in racing through his talent behind the wheel of those vehicles.
Reddick attributes his car control and his quick adaptability to all of the different racing series he’s navigated through, beginning with his World of Outlaws’ days.
“The old Outlaw kart was a wild animal,” Reddick said. “It was a real handful to race.”
Chris Slone can be reached at 353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.