INDIANAPOLIS — Chalk this one up to the “when good things happen to good people” category.
The floppy, wild hair is gone, replaced by nicely styled short locks. But the easy smile and innocent nature are still evident, not changed much from a few years ago.
Tyler Reddick first appeared on the national scene in 2009 at age 13, driving with the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series. The following year he moved to the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. He was small in stature, making him seem even younger than his age. He was first viewed as a bit of a novelty; after all, a 13-year-old late model driver is still precocious and rare.
But it wasn’t long before the kid showed lots of promise and ability. He steadily improved and earned the respect of his fellow racers. He was steady and avoided wild, silly mistakes. On Feb. 9, 2011, Reddick won in Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series competition at Florida’s East Bay Raceway Park; he was 15 years old, the youngest winner in series history.
What was especially memorable was the kid’s good nature. He was funny, he was respectful, and he was eager to learn. He was unfailingly polite and from a media perspective seemed to adapt easily to interviews or interacting with people.
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Behind the scenes, his family was right there with him. There were lots of nights when his father, Clarence, and mother, Geri, were dusty, dirty and tired along with everybody else. They hauled the No. 11 up and down the road and earned their chops just as you’re supposed to.
In 2012, Reddick made the transition to pavement racing. By pure chance, I happened to be at Mobile (Ala.) Int’l Speedway in February that year when Reddick took his first laps in a Ken Schrader-owned stock car. It was fun to watch the kid absorb a whole new feel, a whole new approach on the pavement.
He learned quickly, racing the full season in ARCA and winning a NASCAR K&N Pro Series race at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway. The next three seasons were spent in the Camping World Truck Series, where he ultimately won three races.
In 2017, he took the big step up to the Xfinity Series and as 2018 wound down lo and behold, guess who was a contender for the Xfinity championship? It’s the kid who used to wear the floppy, wild hair. In due course, Reddick closed the deal and won the Xfinity Series title for JR Motorsports.
Reddick will move to Richard Childress Racing in 2019, making the move because he feels like it gives him a better shot at eventually racing on Sundays.
The big time has clearly arrived and it still seems almost surreal that the small, shy kid who took his knocks at places like Florence (Ky.) Speedway, Portsmouth (Ohio) Speedway and Georgia’s Dixie Speedway is the same guy as the poised, successful racer of 2019.
There are a lot of aspiring young racers out there today, following many different paths to get to the top. The thing that separates the pretenders from the contenders is very simple: winning. Reddick won races at the short track level, he won races in the trucks and he’s now won a title in the Xfinity Series, a very elite accomplishment.
He has the ability — and an opportunity — to become a real star, and at 23 years old has a whole lot of upside in front of him.
For those of us who witnessed those humbling, early years on the dirt late model circuit, it’s easy to be excited and happy for Reddick and his family. They paid their dues, every time they unloaded that No. 11 and went up against the big guys. It made the kid a racer.
That’s plain to see.