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Tyler Roahrig establishes himself in open-wheel racing. Roahrig at Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park, Florida February 2021. - DAVID SINK PHOTO

The Rocket

A young man leaned against a fence, watching winged pavement sprint cars push off for a heat race during an Auto Value Bumper to Bumper Super Sprints event at Kalamazoo Speedway in Michigan. The look of frustration was evident by his body language and facial expressions. The budding 26-year-old late model stock car star had been trying to make a name for himself in the sprint car world, in hopes car owners would take him seriously.

Getting quality rides consistently against the best competition was what he ultimately yearned for. It just wasn’t working out like he had hoped it would. Mechanical issues with the car he was to drive on this night kept him sidelined, making him even more frustrated. Another chance to impress ended in a lost opportunity.

At that moment, Tyler Roahrig turned to this writer and uttered, “What’s it going to take to get a serious look and get a chance to do more sprint car racing? I’d like to do more of it, and even dirt too. I’m just really frustrated right now.”

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Tyler Roahrig – DAVID SINK PHOTO

It appeared at that moment Roahrig might have been pondering giving up on his dreams of pursuing sprint car racing. A return to the late model world, where things were certainly easier, and breaks came naturally, appeared likely. But a closer look at the quiet, well mannered, hungry racer, told you that he probably wouldn’t give up on his dreams so easily.

Fast forward four years later to 2021. Roahrig is now one of the brightest stars in pavement sprint car racing. He can now call himself a Little 500 champion, with his first victory in the grueling 500-lap contest this past May. In his last nine starts in the Anderson Speedway non-winged sprint car events, he has finished no worse than third, with five wins and three second-place finishes dating back to 2018. He has also claimed victories in prestigious events including the Glen Niebel Classic and Tony Elliott Classic multiple times.

In early June of 2021, he had finally earned the respect he sought. He was asked to drive the midget, sprint car, and Silver Crown cars at pavement events for the Bob East/Terry Klatt team. Arguably one of the most potent teams in the entire country. In his first-ever USAC Silver Crown appearance at Lucas Oil Raceway on August 14, Roahrig didn’t disappoint. He finished second and looked strong in his maiden voyage in the larger open-wheeled machines. To say opportunities are opening since that disappointing day in 2017 is an understatement.

There was a point that many doubted if Roahrig would ever live a normal healthy life, much less race again. On April 25, 2014, tragedy struck and a life-altering accident would temporarily put racing on hold. While practicing his template bodied late model at Anderson Speedway for an ARCA/CRA Super Series event the following evening, Roahrig’s throttle stuck.

The car careened into the third turn wall at full speed in a horrific impact. Instantly, track safety workers went to work, quickly assessing the situation. A crowded crash scene and a rubber trail halfway down the backstretch were the only clues as to what had just transpired. Within minutes, he was being cut out of the car and a lifeline helicopter was preparing to land.

When Roahrig reflects on that tragic day seven years ago, his memory of it, and the details surrounding it, are still very vivid. “The throttle stuck the first lap of practice,” he remembers. “It was no one’s fault but our own. It was one of those last-minute deals trying to get the car together. We overlooked something. Nothing else to it. The bad part was it stuck going into three. If it would have stuck going into one, I probably would have walked away. It happened on April 25, 2014.” The date is
permanently etched in his memory.

As Roahrig sat in the car terrified and in immense pain, he wasn’t sure he would live, much less ever race again. “I thought this is the end. I literally did. I knew something was wrong because I had some internal bleeding. I was coherent until the helicopter got there. Then they gave me three shots. I don’t remember what it was. After that I don’t remember anything. I don’t remember being taken out of the car, which I’m thankful for. I’m sure it was excruciating. There were a lot of drivers at the scene. If I did survive, I wondered at the time, would I ever be able to race again? I don’t remember who, it may have been Brian Gerster. But I asked them while trapped in the car if I would ever race again. They said, ‘Yeah, your gonna be fine.’

“I broke my hip. I had to have like eight blood transfusions or something like that. Throughout my recovery, I always planned to race again. I never thought I wouldn’t. I know there were times when I got down. I was confined to the couch a lot. But I always planned to continue racing. I took the rest of the year off because I was in a wheelchair for four months. Yeah, it sucked.”

Roahrig was destined to be a racer from the day he was born. It was only natural. His grandfather Stan Roahrig used to be a drag racer and eventually built engines and crew chiefed for his son Dave’s racing efforts. His father Stan Jr. ran late models successfully for years and still competes. His uncle Dave Roahrig ran late models and sprint cars. In fact, he even picked up a USAC sprint car victory at Tri-County Speedway in West Chester, Ohio in 1973.

“My uncle Dave started in supermodifieds. He won a bunch of supermodified races at tracks around here like New Paris and Plymouth. Everyone told him the next logical step was USAC. He ran a rear-engine car and USAC eventually outlawed it. He had a few opportunities to drive Indy cars after that, but he never took them. I actually found the trophy from his USAC win at Tri-County Speedway two years ago in our old shop up in the attic. I dusted it off and got it hanging up in our shop today.”

His uncle is even involved in his current sprint car efforts and seems happy he has chosen the open-wheel path. “He comes to almost every race and to the race car shop almost every day. He hangs out and helps a little bit on the cars. He likes the sprint car deal.”

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