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

Gary Taylor

Gary and his dad grabbed the car, tossed in a motor, and went racing. Campaigning this piece, and select dates for Scott Auman, Taylor first handled a sprint car in late 1997 at Cassidy Speedway in British Columbia, and by 1999 he had bagged his first win at Grays Harbor. As the calendar turned to 2000, the NST had acquired a title sponsor and needed a show car. When the Taylors returned the car to Brownfield the secret was now out of the bag. Offering a final gift, Fred stuck a 410 engine in his reacquired car, and let his youthful friend give it a go at the Mini Gold Cup at Chico, California and at Oregon’s Cottage Grove Speedway.

With no ride materializing, Taylor turned his attention to his education by entering Shoreline Community College. He had worked in a machine shop in high school and liked it. He completed a CNC program and immediately landed a position with a group called Design House. Here he worked closely with a group of talented engineers who embarked on interesting projects including completing a prototype Xbox for Microsoft.

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Taylor competing in a USAC sprint event at Kokomo Speedway in 2013. – DAVE NEARPASS PHOTO

Sparked by his experience, he began work towards an engineering degree. While all of this provided a measure of satisfaction, nothing could replace the thrill of open-wheel racing. In 2001 he was able to get steady work in a sprint car with owner Will Kennedy. It was a productive time, marked by a memorable win at Yakima Speedway toward the end of the year. “I passed Shawna Wilskey,” he says. “And, at that time she was as good as anybody. She had won several championships with NST. Kasey was coming up at that time and Jason Sowold was also around, so it was a pretty competitive scene.”

While it was great to get back in the winner’s circle, by 2002 his career was very much in limbo. Then, by surprise, he received a call from talented mechanic Mark Matejka, who was working for Denver-based owner Harry Conklin. Matejka, who was destined for the Colorado Motorsports Hall of Fame had met Taylor at the Chili Bowl and had enjoyed spending time with him. As often happens in racing, a series of chance events put things in motion. “We had a kid running a sprint car and we weren’t happy with him,” Mark recalls. “So, Kenny said, ‘Let’s see what Gary is doing. At the time Gary was kind of between rides so we went to Aztec, New Mexico and we ran well. We had that connection right away.

“So, he goes home and the next week we had a race at Rock Springs near Casper (Wyoming), so we called him up to see if he wanted to come down. We had a great time; I think he came down again and ran a midget once or twice. Then in the fall we went to Devils Bowl for the big ASCS race and we ran pretty well there. In fact, I think he was second-quick in time trials one night.”

That was all it took. In a blink of an eye Taylor had secured a job with Tad Fiser and arrived in the Denver area with his trunk packed full of his belongings. The decision had been made – he had a ride with Harry Conklin. This was no run of the mill team. Conklin, the owner of a transmission shop, was a cantankerous sort who had been in the game since just after World War II. With drivers like Jimmy LaManna, Sam Sauer, and Randy Roberts, he had been the dominant force in the Rocky Mountain Midget Racing Association for years, and he had enjoyed success with sprint cars as well. At the time Taylor received this important invitation, Kenny Lewis was on his way to his second RMMRA title. It proved to be a wise choice.

One thing was for certain. Conklin expected results, and to get there Taylor had a bit to learn. Early lessons came from simple observations that were buttressed by tips from Lewis and Matejka. Recalling this formidable period in his development, he says, “In 2002 we got to travel some, and at that time Rocky Mountain had some co-sanctioned races with MARA (Midwest Auto Racing Association). Dave Strickland was there in Terry Klatt’s car, and Kenny told me to watch Dave and Steve Knepper. I had been driving wing sprint cars, but midgets were kind of new. I remember going to a pretty speedy joint and watching Steve get the car into the corner and he was spot on. His hands never moved. Strickland was the same way; just smooth as can be. I thought that’s where I wanted to be.”

Lewis would take his third straight RMMRA title in 2003 and then walked away from the sport. Now Taylor carried the weight of the squad’s hopes on his shoulders. He did not disappoint. In 2004 he picked up the baton from Lewis and scored another RMMRA midget title for Conklin. In 2005 a decision was made to focus on sprint cars, and in the end an ASCS Rocky Mountain Region championship was added to his resume.

Then another interesting shift in his career came about as an innocent challenge. “We had gone out to watch a race on the pavement,” Taylor recalls. “Keith Rauch and all the guys were there, and someone asked if we were afraid to come out and run the pavement.” The answer was no. In fact, this was enough to get Conklin and Matejka’s competitive juices flowing. Conklin would buy a midget from racer James Chesson that was a bit more sophisticated than RMMRA rules would allow. Nonetheless, Matejka got right to work putting a piece together and getting his driver acclimated to the hardtop. Matejka came away from this experience impressed with Taylor’s overall intelligence and ability to absorb new information.

“We had rented a track for an open practice night,” Mark says. “And we had two right rear tires. In the first four laps he blistered the first tire. I said, ‘Gary, we have to do something different, we have only one more tire,’ and he was able to figure it out. As we went on that year we would go practice and he always wanted to try things out.”

Most of the pavement races on the schedule were contested at Colorado National Speedway but a few were held in Wyoming. The result was that Taylor won nine times in 10 starts. His chief mechanic was in awe, “He won every race on the pavement that year but one. He lost one because he got behind some guy that was oiling up the race track and he couldn’t see. I also think he set quick time in every race. We worked hard and built a nice car, but the big thing is that Gary can sit down and analyze what the car is doing. That’s what makes him such a good pavement driver because your car is so important.”

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