ASU alumnus races toward NASCAR dreams

Most boys who grow up playing sports want to be baseball players or football players, but not Tyler Tanner, an ASU alumnus and up-and-coming race-car driver.

Tanner has an impressive racing résumé with three national championships in the quarter-midget race cars, and rookie of the year in the Late Model division in Washington.

“My dad had a small background in NASCAR, so that is how I started getting involved when I was around 4 or 5 years old,” Tanner said. “Up until the last couple of years, we have traveled all over the country. (I raced) quarter-midgets until I was about 15 when I got into the Late Model Stock Cars.”



Tanner is trying to qualify on the different size tracks on the NASCAR circuit.

“NASCAR has a qualification process where you can’t just go to any race track unless you are qualified to race there,” he said. “The process I’m currently working through now is that qualification process, because you can’t just go to a mile and a half or two mile track and start from there.”

Being fully qualified allows race-car drivers to go to any track and race, which also helps with sponsors, Tanner said.

“Coming up with sponsorships and stuff like that makes it easier when you are qualified at more tracks,” he said. “The more tracks you can race at, the more likely you are to get sponsors.”

Tanner said he knew from his years of racing how difficult it is to become a full-time NASCAR driver, so he made a back-up plan. The Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering became that plan, and it helped Tanner with his racing career.

“Being around auto racing all of my life, I knew when I got to college, I wanted to be involved with engineering or something I could relate to racing,” he said. “I wanted something that would transfer over, and I started looking at schools that have good engineering programs. I visited ASU, and I liked the school.”

Having a degree in engineering gives Tanner a leg up when it comes to understanding a car, he said.

“Having the engineering background does help you as a driver, because you understand the car better but not necessarily driving the car,” Tanner said. “That comes from years of experience, but it does help with understanding how everything works, and that is probably the biggest crossover.”

Racing during the school year was a bit difficult, Tanner said.

“I raced every summer, and usually the way the seasons fell, they would start at the beginning of April,” he said. “So the last month or two months of the school year I would be flying in and out to races on the weekends.”

Tanner has aspirations of becoming a full-time driver but said he knows it will be a long road to get there.

“The next five or 10 years I want to make a strong attempt at being a driver before even thinking about working for a team,” Tanner said. “I think the second you go work for a team, it probably kills your chance of ever becoming a driver, but with this degree I have, I definitely see it as a possibility down the road.”

Tanner said he has had a lot of memorable moments in a car, but his biggest memory is when he raced in the Camping World Truck Series race in Martinsville, Va.

“That was a really cool deal,“ he said. “Finally being there and being in that environment was kind of overwhelming, because you see it on television all the time, but when you’re actually there, it’s really different, and it was a really cool experience.”

Outside of racing, Tanner has many hobbies, but he always returns to the track.

“I like rock climbing, and that started when I was in Arizona, snowboarding in the winter and anything really to do with the outdoors,” Tanner said. “I pretty much just work on race cars and drive them, though.”

Tanner is continuing the qualifying process for NASCAR this year and will also be racing in the Late Model Stock Car division in Seattle.

He said he is hopeful to keep working his way up and be able to race in the Phoenix Nascar race like the one that happened Sunday.

The Profit on CNBC 500 finished Sunday afternoon with Kevin Harvick getting his first win of the year by holding off a hardcharging Dale Earnhardt Jr., two drivers Tanner is trying to emulate in his own career.

The race had few incidents, and the fans at the track were extremely excited to see such a close finish between two of the most popular drivers in the sport.

Kathy Palaskis and her family camped in the infield of the track for the first time and everyone had smiles on their face as they experienced the race.

“We’ve been coming out here for about five years and this is our first year in the infield,” she said. “It was awesome, and I was able to get a lot of autographs for my kids, so it was a pretty awesome weekend.”

An event for the entire family to enjoy can be hard to find, Palaskis said, but the race in Phoenix never disappoints.

“I love the fast pace, everybody is really friendly, and it is something we can do with our whole family,” she said. “We’re getting ready now to go to the race in Fontana in a couple weeks, so we really love it.”

Earnhardt Jr. was satisfied with the second place finish but said he was a little disappointed in not winning for the second week in a row.

“Hopefully we can keep working to win some more races, and if we run second enough, we’re bound to at least trip into one or two wins,“ he said. “We have ran second quite a few times in the past 10 or so races, so I think we’re coming around the corner and peaking at the right time.”

Earnhardt Jr. said the confidence in his garage is very high, and he is looking forward to the rest of the season.

“Our team is performing so well right now, and we have a lot of great chemistry,” he said. “We just have to keep getting better.”

Getting better is on Tanner’s mind as he prepares for more qualification races this year, and he said it can be a difficult process but that he is looking forward to it.

“Driving is my favorite part of racing,” he said. “I like all aspects of the sport, but my absolute favorite thing is driving.”

Reach the reporter at or follow him on Twitter @joey_hancock

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