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Gary Taylor has made the most of every one of his diverse racing opportunities - MIKE CAMPBELL PHOTO

Gary Taylor

There are very few individuals who decide upon a direction to take in life and then seamlessly execute their plan of action to the letter. People and circumstances change. A once-cherished goal can quickly lose its appeal when what was coveted fails to provide the expected level of tangible and emotional rewards. Perhaps a more painful reckoning is at hand when one is forced to admit that they lack the requisite skills needed to pursue their dream.

While those who decide on a career in motorsports may rarely think in these terms, most will ultimately face several vexing obstacles. To succeed, one must have both the means and opportunity to do so. There’s the rub. There are many variables that impact a racer’s livelihood that fall outside of their control. That alone can be a source of frustration. Yet, as remains true in other walks of life, those who can carve out a niche in this competitive and fickle world aren’t daunted by the first roadblock they encounter. Instead, they draw upon those same skills that help them when in the heat of the action. They keep digging and searching for a path that can get them to where they want to go.

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Gary Taylor in a USAC midget event at Gas City Speedway in 2007. – DAVE NEARPASS PHOTO

Gary Taylor may never land in a major racing Hall of Fame, and you won’t find his name at the top of any all-time win list. That’s beside the point. What is important is that Taylor has been resilient, flexible, and willing to do what it takes to stay in the game. This is a case where his peers understand his situation far more than the public. You see, Taylor is a skilled racer, a fact that some of the biggest open-wheel stars in the country will affirm. Among those who will offer a testimonial are those who competed against him in their youth. Now, years later those same racers know that he will still fight you tooth and nail for every position on the track.

The bottom line is simple. This is a story about a professional who has drawn upon his innate talent and life skills to remain afloat. Today no one can predict, not even Taylor, where he will sign in to compete next. Yet, most important of all, Gary’s phone still rings, because a long list of owners know that he can get the job done and isn’t afraid to point his car in any direction to do so. It is now time to settle back and ponder this remarkable tale.

Taylor was born in Snohomish, Washington to Gary and Patty Taylor – a couple whose romance stems from their days together on the middle school bus. His father hailed from Southern California and, along with his older brothers, attended races at places like the Orange Show in San Bernardino and Ascot. At the time of their son’s birth, and given that they now resided in the greater Seattle area, they flirted with naming their boy after hometown rock legend Jimi Hendrix. Instead, according to family lore, the newborn already had a grin that resembled that of his father and, accordingly, they decided to just go with Gary.

However, there was a twist. The father’s full name is Gary Lee Taylor, so to differentiate the two, the newborn was christened Gary Lee James Taylor. Was this in homage to the famous folk/rock singer? No. It was a nod to California sprint car racer and early World of Outlaws star Lee James. As he grew older, a sister decided to just call her brother Gary James, and for fun that was affixed to the side of some of Taylor’s early race cars. In some circles, it has stood the test of time. “There are a lot of people, like Matt Hummel (Brady Bacon’s crew chief) and Thomas Meseraull, that I knew from back when we were kids, that call me that,” Gary says. “And the last three times I saw Jason Leffler, he also called me Gary James.”

Gary Taylor’s love of racing came about the same way his dad caught the bug. It was a simple proposition, good behavior meant that young Gary could tag along on racing trips. Even before he had entered school, he was alongside his father at places like Silver Dollar Speedway, Baylands, and Calistoga. He would sit wide-eyed as Steve Kinser, Doug Wolfgang, and Sammy Swindell went toe-to-toe, and he was thrilled when Jac Haudenschild ran his car impossibly high through the corners. He wasn’t going to be a mere spectator for long.

One day to his glee, Gary had a present waiting for him in the garage and in a flash he was using his gift to race with the Washington Quarter Midget Club. Things escalated in a hurry. As Taylor notes with a laugh, “You start local, then you race in your region and then in National races. It begins with a 20-year-old car in the back of a pickup truck, and it turns into a thing where you are making deals with chassis builders.”

One of the people Taylor met in this period was Kenny Lewis, who would eventually become a Rocky Mountain Midget Racing Association (RMMRA) champion. Little did Gary know it at the time, but this relationship would become important to his racing future. The pair met Tad Fiser, a man who had previously moved to Phoenix to pursue his own racing dreams.

Fiser had returned to Colorado and turned his attention, at least in part, to building quarter-midgets. During a National event, Taylor’s dad not only decided to buy a new car for his son, but also became one of Fiser’s first dealers. It may have been a solid business proposition, but one thing was for certain, his boy now had good race cars at his disposal. Things got serious. “It ramped up,” Taylor recalls. “We won the Western Grands, and we ran the Grands in Portland, Denver, and Pomona. In 1992 we ran the Eastern Nationals in Toledo and ran second to Doug Coby. Then in 1994 they started a mini-sprint class at Demming Speedway, and that’s where I met and competed against Kasey Kahne.”

A retrospective view of Taylor’s long career reveals plenty of on-track success, but like others in this arena his ability to survive has been predicated on more than his talent. Just like in all walks of life it is important to have connections, and these ties only bear fruit to the degree that one can make and maintain them. It’s a basic lesson Gary learned at an early age. As he moved through school, he was classmates of promotor and Northern Sprint Car Tour (NST) founder the late Fred Brownfield.

Fred took a shine to Taylor, and even sponsored his mini-sprint. By the time he turned 16, Gary was anxious to move up the ladder, but where to go? “You turn 16,” Taylor says, “and people say you can run my midget or sprint car. And then reality sets in. Who in their right mind wants to throw a 16-year-old kid right into their race car? Fred got ahold of my dad and said, ‘Hey, sell your mini sprint. I have got a sprint car and a truck and trailer for you. Pick it up and tell people you bought it.” Brownfield’s subterfuge was well-thought out. After all he was promoting Grays Harbor Raceway and heading the NST and did not want to have the appearance of a conflict of interest.

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