Lori Audie has a routine. Every time before her son gets in his car she has to give him one more hug and kiss.
“I’m sure it annoys the hell out of him, but it’s what I have to do,” Lori said.
Her 19-year-old son, Tyler, has been driving for eight years now, but unlike most 19-year-olds, he tends to drive at around 170 mph. Tyler, an Honors student majoring in aerospace engineering at UA, is an up and coming driver in the ARCA Racing Series.
Lori realizes the racecars are built well and the system is designed to be as safe as possible, but she still worries because she’s a mom.
“I struggle with that all the time,” she said. “I’ve seen some pretty crazy crashes, and I’m always amazed when people can walk away from some of those things. When it’s your kid that’s in that car and facing the potential of crashing going at those speeds, it’s difficult for me to kind of get my head around that.”
On April 29, Tyler will drive the number 12 car in Friday night’s ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway where he’s had success in the past. The last time he drove there, he was in the top five on the final lap. After trying to make a pass for the lead, he fell back in the pack and finished 10th. His team owner Kyle Beattie expects a similarly strong showing this time out.
“As far as the big cars, he has very little experience but has done exceptionally well in them, especially at the superspeedways and bigger tracks,” Beattie said. “This weekend our goal is a top five finish. We feel like we have the equipment to do that, and we have a driver that’s capable of doing that for us.”
For the Audies, racing is a family affair that allows them to travel and spend quality time together that they wouldn’t otherwise get. The Audies own a motorhome that they take around the country from track to track. As a result, they spend a lot of time in close quarters.
“It’s irreplaceable,” Tyler’s father, Jim, said. “So many people, they’re more traditional sports families. Those people get to spend that time, but it’s a short period of time. You go to the field and then two hours later you’re done. We’re traveling in the motor home, so there’s that interaction. You get more out of that than just going to a field and cheering for them.”
Jim and Tyler would spend hours working on the car while Lori focused on making sure the team had everything they needed. She didn’t know much about cars when she started, but her background in horses prepared her for the early days of hauling a trailer across the nation with Tyler’s smaller cars attached to it.
“You don’t really understand the preparation and the real work that goes into making the cars turn and run the way they do until you go and see it in person,” Tyler said. “My dad would spend like 30 hours a week just on the go-karts. Now, it’s to the point where it was like 200 hours to get a car ready.”
While she said she feels like she’s often just in the way, Lori has done her share to try helping with the car. One night at the track, Jim and Tyler taught her how to put in a round of wedge in the car during a pit stop which changes the amount of tension in the suspension.
“I was terrified that I was actually going to be called upon to do that in the middle of a race, but thank God I didn’t have to do that,” she said. “I know more than what I did, certainly, starting out, but I would not make a very good crew member.”
Tyler’s crew members are a big part of what allows him to race. As a college student, he doesn’t have the time to put hours into car maintenance. That’s where the Kyle Beattie Racing team comes in. Their shop is in Charlotte, North Carolina, and they take care of hauling the car across the country. On a race weekend, Tyler flies to the track early in the morning and arrives to his car waiting for him in the garage. In the process, Neal Cantor, Tyler’s crew chief, has built a strong working relationship with him.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and Tyler knows that,” Cantor said. “He has a pretty fair level of respect for what it is that we do as a team collectively. He kind of knows that we know what we’re doing and we’re going to put him in a position to do the best job that he can do.”
Cantor said Tyler’s best asset is his level of focus. It’s very difficult to drive at high speeds for extended amounts of time while dodging traffic and wrecks.
“It’s really shocking,” Tyler said. “You don’t really expect driving a car for 200 miles to be that demanding. It’s just so mentally taxing that there’s no real way to prepare for it other than just doing it.”
In addition to serving as crew chief, Cantor also spots for Tyler, helping him set a strategy and move through the field.
“He definitely has a decent amount of natural ability, and he works pretty hard to get the rest of it down,” Cantor said. “He just adapts well to different situations. We put him in situations where it’s not exactly easy to get in and out of and he adapts well and reacts well.”
Tyler has shown he has the ability to run with some of the bigger names in motorsports. He’s raced against current NASCAR drivers Trevor Bayne and Kyle Busch and has learned from ten-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel who he calls the nicest person he’s ever met.
“He definitely has the skill set to be capable of doing it.” Cantor said. “Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to make it on raw talent alone these days. We’re at a level where they can afford to run a few races a year, but to be able to afford to run a full schedule like you need to be able to do to really showcase your talent is very difficult and very expensive.”
Kyle Beattie Racing provides all of the equipment and crew for the race, but Beattie, the team owner, leaves the sponsorships up to the Audies.
“Tyler, as a driver, is responsible for coming up with sponsorship to cover the costs associated with it,” Beattie said. “His goal is to be able to run well enough and be a good enough spokesperson to attract a sponsor to be able to cover the huge expenses that are associated with the race.”
To date, the Audies have paid for all of Tyler’s racing themselves. Jim sponsors the car through his company, but the family is reaching a point where they won’t be able to afford the high costs.
“You have all of the crew, travel, hotels; it’s pretty extensive,” Jim said. “It’s like taking a small company and moving them for a weekend. To run like we are with a small team is probably $20,000 a race.”
Jim’s proudest memory is when Tyler qualified to race at Daytona in 2015. The Audies bought a used chassis (the frame the car is built on) and the crew worked to get it ready for the race, perfecting the aerodynamics.
“Running in the top 10 at Daytona and Talladega basically with a virtual rookie, those are things I’m sure he’ll always remember, as we will as well,” Cantor said.
But the finances remain a challenge. After sponsorships fell through for Daytona this year, Tyler was only able to race because his cousins helped foot the bill. Despite the significant costs, the Audies think it has been worth it when they see the confidence their son has.
“Probably the best memory is not a one-time memory, it’s just the memory of the self-confidence that he’s gained over the years in doing that and the respect that I have for him in being able to get in the car and do what he does,” Lori said. “If it all, the racing career, ended tomorrow, what he gained from having that experience is just immeasurable.”
For Mosaic’s recap and photo gallery from Tyler’s race at Talladega, click here.