CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Tyler Ankrum never anticipated even being in position to win a championship this season, much less actually taking home a big trophy.
However, that’s exactly what he accomplished.
Ankrum turned a part-time contract with DGR-Crosley into a title-winning season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, tallying four wins, nine top fives and 12 top 10s across the 14-race season en route to his first championship.
The end result came as a true shock to the 17-year-old native of San Bernadino, Calif., who began the year just hoping to challenge for a win or two during his selected starts and capped it off by having to prepare a speech for the NASCAR Awards at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Convention Center.
“There’s not a lot of words to truly and accurately describe what this year has meant to me, to my career and to my family,” Ankrum told SPEED SPORT. “We’ve been waiting for a year like this for so long that we thought it might never come. To have this kind of an end result means everything to all of us.
“It has just been a huge experience and a roller-coaster of emotions. We didn’t know, going into this season, if we were even going to do the whole year or what we were doing after this, and this entire journey has opened up so many doors for my career,” he continued. “This has been a wild ride.”
Ankrum’s year showed potential right from the start, after an inspired 25th-to-fifth drive in the season-opening K&N East race at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway in February, and gained momentum in the second round of the season at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in April, when he finished fourth.
That put him third in points and highest among drivers who could potentially run the full calendar, but at that point, Ankrum still didn’t have a full-season deal and needed to continue stringing together strong performances to even have a shot at making the entire year a reality.
A third-place effort at Virginia’s Langley Speedway gave Ankrum the points lead, and that race was followed by his first win at South Boston (Va.) Speedway.
After that, the talented teenager never looked back, controlling the championship standings for the rest of the year.
Included in his run was a string of three consecutive victories at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway in the heart of the summer stretch, a power play that put the rest of the field largely out of reach.
“I think it was after that when we truly realized that this really could happen,” said Ankrum of the title quest. “Once we got the points lead, it was, ‘OK, how can we keep it?’, but after those wins we knew we had a pretty good buffer that we would be able to hold … just in case something crazy happened.”
Nothing out of the ordinary did go down, however, and Ankrum was able to coast home in points and celebrate the title following the season finale at Dover (Del.) Int’l Speedway in October.