Careers, for the most part, have a general path outlined by those previously successful in that field. Some paths are narrower than others.
That was the topic of conversation between 15-year-old California native Tyler Ankrum and his father before the family decided to make a big move several years ago. Ankrum had just started racing late models and the two decided that if he was going to race, he was going to go all in.
“We sat down and we said, to put it in the simplest form: if you want to be an actor, you go to Hollywood; if you want to become a country singer, you go to Nashville,” Ankrum said. “Well, if you want to become a professional stock car racer, you go to North Carolina.”
Thus, North Carolina is where Ankrum wound up. But he probably wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for a random flip through family photo albums at 6 years old when Akrum saw that his father grew up racing quarter midgets.
“For two years after I saw those pictures, I told my parents I wanted a quarter midget,” Ankrum said. “After two years, on my eighth Christmas, I finally got a quarter midget and started testing at Orange Show Speedway there in California.”
When he turned 9 years old, Ankrum began racing his quarter midget. He did so for three years, winning track championships and traveling to national events when he could still count his age on his fingers. During Ankrum’s final season in quarter midgets, he became the first driver to win four United States Auto Club quarter-midget national championships in a single year.
Since moving into stock cars, Chip Ganassi Racing chose Ankrum to be part of its “Gen G” class for 2016 — a program that guides drivers through the on- and off-track elements of pursuing a professional racing career.
But Ankrum wouldn’t call himself a natural — perhaps just to keep from boasting.
“I don’t want to say it was like a duck to water, but it really just clicked,” Ankrum said. “(I won) my very first (quarter-midget) race in the rookie class and after two races, I was racing with the guys who went out national racing.
“At the time, just starting, I didn’t realize that I could actually do something like this,” he added. “I just thought it would be a really cool hobby and I didn’t realize that I could actually make a career.”