MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Tyler Ankrum will get his first shot at racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series during Saturday’s Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville Speedway.
The 17-year-old native of San Bernadino, Calif., will compete in his first race since he won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship at Dover Int’l Speedway three weeks ago.
For his truck debut, he will drive the No. 54 DGR-Crosley Toyota with the same crew from his K&N East team, led by crew chief Seth Smith. He also won the K&N East title while driving for DGR-Crosley.
He may be new to the trucks, but Ankrum is not new to Martinsville, having run the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 for late model stocks several times in recent years.
Ankrum noted that while the experience helps, driving a truck will be a different experience.
“I’ve run the late model race here two or three times, so I have about 200 to 300 laps of experience here already,” Ankrum said. “It isn’t bad, but late models don’t have the same motor and they have a shorter wheelbase than the truck. I’ll have to adapt really quickly.”
Ankrum will not only have to get used to new equipment, but new drivers. There are a few young guns that are near his age, but most of the drivers in the Truck Series have been competing there for as long or longer than Ankrum has been running full-bodied stock cars.
“I’ve raced a few guys – I’ve raced Todd (Gilliland), Harrison (Burton) and Christian (Eckes) – but 90 percent of those guys I’ve never raced before,” he said. “I’ve been watching old truck races at Martinsville for the past three weeks trying to learn their driving habits – how aggressive they are, how conservative they are and who I should look out for.”
It would be easy for the driver of the No. 54 to get swept up in the challenge and focus on the higher degree of difficulty the trucks present. However, Ankrum recognizes the danger of doing so.
“When you start thinking, ‘I’m in a truck now, I have to perform, I have to do this, I have to do that, oh man, the Cup guys are here and those are the guys looking down on us,’ you can get nervous,” he pointed out.
To combat all the new things he will experience this weekend, Ankrum is turning to his late model experience in his mental preparation for the race.
“I’ve come into this weekend just trying to think of it as another late model race,” Ankrum said. “I try to think of it as, ‘I’m in my super late model in New Smyrna running a weekend show.’ That’s my mindset.
“Obviously, I have to perform and I have to do certain things to showcase my talents because this is the series that I’m trying to head into, but you can’t put that pressure on your shoulders because you just start making mistakes.”
In turn, Ankrum’s efforts will be directed towards bringing DGR-Crosley a solid run in his truck debut.
“The goal is to win, but I really just want to run every single lap and get a top-five or top-10 finish,” he said. “If we can be there in the end to win, that would be fantastic.
“We’re going to swing for the fences and have a good time.”