ATTICA, Ohio – In his first full season as a winged sprint car racer, former non-winged driver Tyler Courtney is having a banner year.
Many of USAC’s most talented racers have struggled to adapt when attempting to transition from non-winged sprint cars to winged cars. However, Courtney is running a full schedule with the tough All Star Circuit of Champions and, with five feature wins to date, is currently the series’ winningest driver this season. He claimed the Ohio Sprint Speedweek title in June and currently sits atop the point list in the battle for the championship.
Courtney was the USAC National Sprint Car Series champion in 2018, the USAC National Midget Series champion in 2019, and earned the USAC National Drivers title in both of those seasons. Prior to his switch to winged racing, he had already accumulated 29 career USAC National sprint car victories – one more than such standouts as A.J. Foyt, Levi Jones, Don Branson and J.J. Yeley.
Dubbed “Sunshine” due to his upbeat personality by his former teammate, the late Bryan Clauson, Courtney had a frustrating, but impressive, night at the Brad Doty Classic on Tuesday. Courtney was leading on lap five before spinning as the result of contact with Logan Schuchart as the two battled for the point.
After restarting last, Courtney charged back through the World of Outlaws field to salvage a seventh-place finish. Not the result he had hoped for, but an impressive display of driving talent. Yet, even as he stated his frustration with the contact that cost him the lead, true to his nickname, he was smiling.
“It honestly came more natural to me than non-wing racing, really,” Courtney stated matter-of-factly about his transition to winged sprints. “It just kind of fits my style. You run the shit out of them and hold them straight, and the momentum, and it’s been fun. It’s been challenging, for sure. But I think that’s why I’ve enjoyed it so much; just the challenge of it.
“Not that non-wing racing wasn’t challenging; it definitely is. But, (this is) just a whole different atmosphere, a whole different level you’ve got to bring yourself to, and you’ve got to run it as hard as you can all the time. Especially when you show up here with the Outlaws, and even with the All Stars, it’s probably as competitive as I’ve seen sprint car racing in a long time. So, it’s tough. But I think that’s why I’m enjoying it so much.”
The difficulty drivers encounter when moving between winged and non-winged racing stems primarily from the attitude of the car when cornering. While the non-winged cars roll to the right, driving predominantly off the right rear, winged sprints wing down to the left. It’s a huge difference for drivers to adapt to and begin to again feel comfortable.
But, according to Courtney, it’s a difference he embraced.
“I think I felt more comfortable being down left, because non-wing cars are pretty sketchy being on that right side,” Courtney said. “Kind of having that wing to hold you down, you know it’s gonna go down in there and stick. In a non-wing car, you can go in there and it might bike up, it might go around there nice, it’s just kind of unpredictable. A winged car is more predictable…it’s a way better feeling than going in there all on the right side.
“The hardest thing for me was getting used to how fast everything happens,” Courtney continued. “A lot of places that we go to are two or three seconds faster than when I went there with a non-wing car, so just having things happen at that fast of a pace is kind of what I’ve had to – you know, last year I felt like the car was driving me when we did a little winged stuff. Now, I feel like I finally caught up and I’m driving the car. So, we’re getting there.”
Courtney stressed an increased importance in car setup in winged racing, and credits his team and car owners, Clauson Marshall Racing (the same team for which he won his USAC championships), for giving him good cars to drive.
As for how he’s adapting to the increased speed, Courtney said, “If you’re scared in these things, you need to go find something else to do.”