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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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On the fast track: Amid Olympic training, Clary begins NASCAR journey

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By Max Bultman, Daily Sports Writer
Published July 9, 2014

Known for his quick starts off the blocks into the swimming pool, former Michigan swimmer Tyler Clary couldn’t have gotten a much later jump into his most recent venture.

Clary won the gold medal in the 200-meter backstroke at the 2012 London Olympics, fulfilling a dream and setting an Olympic record in the process. Shortly after those Olympics, though, Clary was presented an opportunity to pursue another childhood dream — race car driving.

The seed for Clary’s pavement dreams were planted at a young age, ironically through his other passion of swimming. The Clary family often went to the Fontana Speedway to run a merchandising booth to fundraise for his club team.

“Being around the cars all the time, I knew it was something that I wanted to do,” Clary said. “I just never really had the opportunity until after the London Olympics.”

An interview with Dave Despain on the popular auto racing show WindTunnel publicized Clary’s interest in racing, leading to Benny Gordon contacting Clary on Twitter, offering a test run in a stock car.

Gordon had driven on the Nationwide Series and been around the sport a long time, but had never met Clary prior to offering him an introduction to the sport he had always harbored interest in. It must have been surprising to both when Clary’s test run placed him just a quarter-second slower than the racers who had competed on the same track in Kenly, North Carolina just hours earlier in a ProCup race.

More impressive than that was that it was just the second time Clary had even driven a manual transmission car, a significant barrier to racing that Clary apparently handled quite easily.

Still, a lot of other things had to fall into place for Clary’s lifelong interest to materialize into a budding career opportunity.

“The nice thing about being in Charlotte is that all of those opportunities are really close,” Clary said. “So that lessens the time commitment needed in order to get out to the track and develop. My schedule works out perfectly with a couple of the series. For example, the U.S. Legends Summer Shootout Series I’m able to do because we don’t have practice Wednesday mornings.”

Moving to Charlotte, while not solely fueled by his endeavor to the race track, is a clear signal of the drive Clary possesses, willing to uproot himself from a comfortable situation training at Michigan to live where his passions can intersect. When he finishes swimming, he says, he plans to pursue auto racing as a full-time career.

Clary acknowledges the hurdles that remain between where he is now and the point he would someday like to be — the Sprint Cup Series. While currently training for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, he is also working on reaching a level of driving where he can earn sponsorships to drive faster cars on more reputable tours.

But he’s also embracing the fun aspects of being a semi-pro race car driver.

Clary reminisced about one of his first test runs in Barstow, California, where he and his girlfriend, Caroline, were allowed to take a trophy truck out for a spin, going 100 miles per hour through the desert. He hopes to do something similar with friends from his other job, the one that’s already earned him national fame and some impressive hardware.

“There’s been a lot of support (from the swimming community) and a lot of people that think it’s cool,” he said. “One of the things I do want to do with a couple of my swim friends is get them together at a track and get them in a car with me and see if I can’t scare the crap out of them going really fast on a road course.”