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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

Early in Roahrig’s career he picked up the nickname “Rocket.” After an early and successful late model career that included an outlaw late model win in the 2012 Summer Sizzler, Roahrig began to draw attention. The Summer Sizzler held at New Paris Speedway in Indiana annually awards $20,000 for a victory in the event. Roahrig’s victory in this event may have been the turning point in his career.

I had always wanted to race a sprint car. My family never really wanted me to race open-wheel stuff, but I wanted to. Ron Koehler gave me an opportunity. I thought I’ll at least try this and see if I like it. So, we went to Angola Speedway late in 2012, won the B-Main, and I liked it.

In 2013 Jeff Fuller let me run his car at M-40 Speedway in Jones, Michigan. I got third and passed a few cars. It was a big deal because I was new at it. They ended up having motor problems after that. Troy DeCaire recommended me to Tom Brewer. I called him and he put me in his car. I ran four times for him in 2013. Roahrig scored an impressive second-place finish at Anderson Speedway during a Must See Racing event in August to close out the year on a high note.

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Roahrig celebrates winning the 2021 Little 500 as MAVTV announcer Rob Klepper prepares for his interview. – DAVE NEARPASS PHOTO

Roahrig would capture his first sprint car victory with an AVSS winged win at New Paris on July 11, 2015. He would win again with AVSS on July 16, 2016, at Baer Field Speedway in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. He would continue to drive for Brewer when opportunity presented itself for another year.

Low car counts began to plague winged pavement sprint car events in the Midwest during this time, quickly causing Roahrig to lose interest in competing in sprint car events. “I thought they’re really not getting any cars. This isn’t worth it to me at this point.”

“We went to Kalamazoo to run an AVSS wing race the week after the Little 500 in 2017. There was only like 12 cars, not that it’s much better now. I was like this is so lame. We didn’t get to run because there was something wrong with the motor. AVSS had a race at South Bend the next day and I didn’t wanna go. We ended up not going anyway. They only had like six cars. I ended up quitting the Brewer ride a couple days later. At that point I was OK with being done with sprint car racing. The wing stuff really wasn’t going good.

“I had a talk with my dad recently about this very subject. Let’s be honest. Everywhere is struggling with car counts, every class. I told my dad I’m not interested in going if there aren’t many cars. It’s not fun for me. If you win it doesn’t feel like you’ve accomplished much. All the time, effort, and money I gotta spend, and all the work throughout the week is not worth it to me if there aren’t gonna be many cars. This is supposed to be fun. I hate that I’m that way, but it’s just the way I am”.

Prior to the 2018 season, Anderson Speedway announced that they were gonna try and revive non-winged pavement sprint car racing with a series of decent paying events on Thursday nights. The idea quickly caught Roahrig’s interest as this would be a chance to get back into sprint car racing with events that would produce full fields again.

After I quit Brewer, I really didn’t have anything going sprint car-wise. After Anderson announced they were gonna start doing their non-wing stuff, Evan Jackson called me. He always said he wanted to build a car and have me drive it. I really didn’t know if he was being serious. Me and Evan had been friends since I was a little kid. He raced against my dad. But, sure enough he bought a frame and everything. We kinda partnered up on the deal and built a car. We built a complete car in about five weeks. It probably wasn’t our best idea. We got a late start for the Little 500 and didn’t get it done until three in the morning before practice. We ran the race and did OK. I didn’t have any non-wing experience at the time I ended up buying Evan’s half out and kinda took over ownership of the car. He still does my motors.”

Jackson explained his desire and reasoning for building a pavement sprint car prior to the 2018 season. “I had been working for a sprint car team building their engines and managing the team. I eventually quit the team but wanted to put a sprint car together to get some business for my Evan Jackson Racing Engines business.

“Joe Swanson had called me and told me he had a Beast chassis for sale but it was in pieces. It had been stripped and powder coated. Joe sold it to me at a deal because he knew we would do something good with it. On my way to pick it up I called Tyler and asked him if he was interested in running the Little 500. This was in the fall of 2017. Of course, he said yes because he knew it would be done right because he saw the way I raced late models when I raced. He said I’ll come down and help. I don’t think Tyler had got a fair shake in a non-winged car up to that point. You can’t run four bar cars without a wing.”

When asked why he decided to hire Roahrig when he could have hired the best non-winged driver available at the time, Jackson’s answer is quick and to the point. “Because he was the best. I watched that kid grow up. I raced against his dad. When he was a kid, we would talk. I say a kid but he’s probably 10 years younger than me. When I was in my early 20’s racing late models, we won at Lucas Oil Raceway and the snowflake 100 at Pensacola. We did good. Tyler would call me and pick my brain about stuff. He’d call at 10 or 11 o’clock at night. Tyler wasn’t worried about chasing girls or anything else. He was only worried about winning races.

You don’t get that drive from just anybody. I knew how driven he was. He’s also a good fabricator. Tyler made most of the stuff on that car. That car was handbuilt. A bunch of stuff wasn’t bought. When I got hooked up with Tyler he came down and stayed at my shop. We put in 19-to-20-hour days to get that car finished.

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