ARGABRIGHT: Another Star May Be In The Making

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FISHERS, Ind. — As the racing world vibrates over the unlikely win by 20-year-old Trevor Bayne at Daytona, it further marks February as the month when a young racer did great things.

Two weeks before Bayne parked the famed Wood Brothers No. 21 in victory lane, 15-year-old Tyler Reddick rocked the dirt-late-model world when he won a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series feature event at the DART Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park. Reddick became the youngest winner in series history, and the youngest in Winternationals history.

I confess: Prior to Sunday, I had never heard of Bayne. However, Reddick was already well on the series radar, and it was academic that this kid would win a big race. Nobody, however, figured it would come this soon.

Except Reddick and his family. They have kept the faith and knew all along the breakthrough win was around the corner.

In recent years the teen-aged competitor became a central element in nearly every form of racing. Everybody has seen examples of the new generation: Rich parents want little sonny to be a big star, so they write big checks for big haulers and big engines. It seems to come easy, and that rankles many people who have spent their lives sweating for every inch they’ve gained.

It’s a natural reaction, human and expected. The trouble is we tend to paint with a broad brush, not realizing that every situation is different.

And this situation, with the Reddick family, is different.

It costs money to race today, of course. I don’t know where the money comes from to fund the Reddick effort, but it doesn’t matter. What I do know is that this is a family who approaches contemporary racing in the same way people did in 1991 or 1981 or even 1961.

Tyler’s father Clarence is not a man who simply writes a check and barks instructions. This guy crawls in the mud to work on the car, when it’s 31 degrees or 101 degrees. Tyler’s mother Geri doesn’t stand in the trailer batting her eyelashes; she is right there in the dust to help with whatever the race car, or her guys, need.

That’s one of the reasons it was such a thrill when the news came that Tyler had scored his breakthrough win. The Reddick family is a genuine, hardworking bunch and it’s easy to cheer for them.

This past year has brought significant growth to their team. The kid steadily improved throughout the 2010 season, and cultivated a growing friendship with late-model icon Scott Bloomquist. In the off-season they made a deal to begin running a “Team Zero” Bloomquist chassis, and his win at East Bay proves the kid is now a threat to win on a consistent basis.

His 15th birthday came in January, and he sometimes looks even younger. But he is polite and respectful, and retains a youthful demeanor that makes him an easy kid to like. I don’t know how long dirt-late-model racing can keep him in the fold, but they should get him out in front of every grandstand at every opportunity because fans will quickly relate to his grin and his easy manner.

I suppose it was my parental instincts, but when I heard about his win my immediate thoughts were happiness for his parents. They have been right there all along to support his career, doing it in what I consider the right way: They rolled up their sleeves and worked and sweated and made it happen not with a big checkbook, but with effort and enthusiasm.

When I first saw him racing late models as a 13 year old a couple of years ago, I wondered if Tyler was just something of a curiosity. But now I see him as a bona-fide racer, a kid with a genuine passion for racing. This family has earned whatever success they achieve, and it’s neat to see Clarence beam as he talks about how it felt to watch Tyler outrun a stellar field and take the checkered flag out front.

Tyler has a big mop of hair and big smile and he’s still about 5-foot-nothin’, but I have a feeling this one is going to make it. Watch out, Daytona. Maybe another one is just coming over the horizon.

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