Young Driver

Maddyson Tyler has spent most of her 14 years going to the track and watching motorsports racing with her father, Jeremy Tyler, and grandfather, Tim Essig, until last year, when she made the decision to move from observer to participant. Now the young teen is competing on the track against seasoned racers of all ages and is hoping to nab the title of Rookie of the Year.

Formula 1 racing may not be in Maddyson Tyler’s sight line, but the 14-year-old Parsons girl has her eyes and heart set on attaining her first goal — United States Racing Association Rookie of the Year.

Maddy has grown up riding three-wheelers and going to the races with her dad, Jeremy Tyler, and her granddad, Tim Essig, so a passion for dirt track roundy round and other forms of racing was pretty well engrained early on. 

“There’s a kid named Cody Jolly — he’s out of Missouri — and every race we’d be there watching, he’d come up to the fence to talk to the kids. He’d add them on Snapchat and talked back and forth with them. She’s really competitive anyway, and she said, ‘I want to do that.’ I said, ‘Well so do I, but I can’t afford it.’ I said, ‘If I can’t afford to buy one for myself, I’m not going to buy you one.’ Then all the cards fell together. Someone told me last year about one, and I bought her one. It was a $500 car (race ready), and it started,” Jeremy Tyler said.

Tyler was picking up extra summer work on the side, mowing and working at an auction house, which allowed  him to buy Maddy the car.

“I told her, ‘I can’t do it all by myself. The sooner you get sponsors and help, the faster you’ll be on the track.’ She started asking around, and everybody started pitching in,” Tyler said. “We picked it up on Sunday, and we were racing Friday night. We painted it, of course the fire suit, helmet, harnesses, all of that has to be up to date, so we got those. About every three years you’ve got to purchase all of that.”

Maddy said she was a little intimidated at first knowing she was competing against only men, and some people warned her that before her first race, she was probably going to get sick due to nerves.

“I was eating on the way there, and I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m going to barf.’ I told my dad, ‘You’re going to have to pull over.’ … But after I went out once, I was fine,” she said. “All the butterflies went away. I was like, ‘This is going to be such a great year.’ I was like, ‘I’ve got this now. Game on.’”

Last year at Humboldt Maddy raced just about every weekend after getting the car. She started late in the year but finished 10th out of 37 drivers.

“It was neat to watch her after each race move up a point, or a place or two,” her father said. “She was the only girl and the youngest last year. She did pretty good with it last year, and then she picked up a decent sponsor. He saw her race a couple of times and said, ‘I can see you’re going places.’”

Maddy Tyler Family Motorsports Racing was born. Last year her points at Humboldt only counted at Humboldt, and when she raced at Wichita, her points only counted there. Because she is now in USRA, any track where Maddy races she collects points on a national level. The more points she gets, the more likely she will be Rookie of the Year.

“Which is my biggest goal for her,” Jeremy Tyler said. “We built a new car for this year, and she’s learning it. She’s doing pretty good. Humboldt, she’s only had one race up there because of all the rain. She’s raced a couple of times at Caney, took second in her heat up there and fifth overall. Last race she went she got first place and fourth overall. She was first heat, first row outside and as soon as the green flag dropped, she was gone.”

“Her class runs a four-cylinder USRA tuner. It’s a little bit more than stock,” Tyler said. “Everybody that races says, ‘If you’re not cheating you’re not competing.’ We’re not cheating as much as everybody else, but she’s still competitive with it.”

There are no age limitations in USRA. As long as a parent signs a consent, youths can race against experienced drivers of all ages, some of whom are in their 40s and 50s.

“She’s the only girl and the youngest, so they all take care of her and help her out,” Tyler said.

He, his mom Jean’s husband, Phil Thompson, and her uncle, Tony Figura, all work on her car.

“When we got it, it had a blown motor, so we had to put in a new one and had to do a bunch of other work to it. We built the cage. I’ve never built a race car a day in my life. This was definitely a learning experience. I took pictures of her old car and kind of went off that,” Tyler said.

They printed off the USRA rules to know what teams can and can’t do.

Now they work to keep it going from week to week to keep Maddy doing what she has come to love.

“If it wasn’t for them, I would not be here racing today,” Maddy said.

It costs about $150 to $200 a weekend for her to race.

“And that’s without putting gas in my truck,” Tyler said.

They travel every Friday night to Humboldt and every Saturday to Caney. 

It costs about $70 to get them both in the pits. They used to also have to rent a piece of equipment called a transponder that keeps track of lap speeds and times, but they bought one this year for $170 to save the rental fees.

This year, just to get started, required a new racing seat, harness, window net and steering wheel, which cost about $1,000. Fortunately, she gets to use regular tires. Phil Thompson just bought an impact wrench because the car’s wheels take special lug nuts.

“It’s definitely not a sport you do for money,” Tyler said, noting all their outgoing costs weekly for Maddy to pursue her dream. “It’s not a cheap sport for sure.”

With him being a single dad working at Watco, he said if it weren’t for others seeing her passion and believing in helping Maddy pursue her dream, she wouldn’t be able to do it.

Maddy is doing what she can by getting a part-time job and selling T-shirts and stickers. She works three to four nights a week at Horton’s Pizza Plus, and that helps her pay for entry fees or repair costs.

Weather permitting, the two will travel to races every weekend March through October. Around Oct. 7 or 8 they will end up in Wheatland, Missouri, at the USRA National Race at Lucas Oil Speedway, “and she will get to race with all the big boys, so it will be interesting,” Tyler said.

A freshman this year at Labette County High School, Maddy said when other students learn she is racing cars, they are shocked it is something she would do, especially given she is just now old enough to get her farm driver’s permit. The shock extends to adults as well.

“I’ve made friends, and I’ve made enemies because I’ve posted pictures along the way on Facebook,” Tyler said. “Everybody’s got their opinion. ‘She’s going to die in that,’ and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, cause I’m going to build something my kid’s going to get killed in. I mean anything can happen. It’s racing.”

But then, he said, anything can happen any day anywhere to anyone, so she is at least doing what she loves and following her dream.

“Growing up, we always went to the race tracks, and I’d see someone drive like a B-mod, and I was like, ‘Oh wow, I want to race one of those.’ Or those mini-wing sprints. I’ve always wanted to race one of those, and still do, really bad, but I’m way scared because they go a lot faster than this,” Maddy said.

She thinks presently she is running her laps at about 65 mph or a little more.

“It could be faster, but honestly, I don’t pay attention to that. I only pay attention to where I’m going,” Maddy said.

At Caney and Humboldt, on a good night, Maddy will get around the 3/8-mile track in about 18 or 19 seconds, Tyler said. She keeps improving.

“Hopefully next year we’ll move to a rear-wheel-drive car, and that way we can get out of this class and get up there and run with the bigger boys and move on up to factory stock and then maybe street stock, but I don’t know because they don’t really run them at Humboldt,” Maddy said. “I just want to race.”

Tyler said he and Maddy are so thankful to the many sponsors whose contributions, both big and small, have helped her pursue racing.

“It’s fun watching her,” Tyler said. “Everybody just sees a girl chasing a dream, and if they’ve got a little bit here and there they try to help out.”

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