By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, January 5, 2017Since Olympic Trials this summer, Tyler Clary has been on a mission outside of the competitive swimming pool.
Shortly after Trials, Clary, who missed making his second Olympic team and the opportunity to defend his gold medal in the 200 backstroke he earned in London, has been feeling the need for a different kind of speed.
On the racetrack.
This weekend, Clary will participate in the “Roar Before the 24” test event in Daytona, Fla., with the intent of being on the track back in Daytona in a few weeks to drive in the 4-Hour BMW Performance 240 Continental Tire Series race at Daytona International Speedway on January 29th.
Much needs to happen for that to come to fruition – headlined by the need to raise roughly $20,000 via fundraising and/or sponsorships to earn that seat behind the wheel.
He’s hoping to leverage his name and accomplishments in swimming to find some funding opportunities. He’s also set up a www.gofundme.com account and has met with some potential sponsors, but still needs to raise more money to realize his dream to the fullest extent.
Still, Clary said he knows the day he gets to hop in and race legitimately will be all it’s supposed to be – and all that he’s dreamed of since he was a kid.
“That would be the ultimate, no doubt, because it’s been something I’ve wanted to do – and something I’ve been working toward – for a long time now,” said Clary, who finished third in the 200 backstroke at Trials and missed making his second Olympic team.
“Ever since the London Olympics (2012), I’ve been taking the necessary steps to put myself in the best position to make race car driving a reality. It’s definitely within reach.”
Clary’s dream of becoming a professional driver began shortly before he was even ready to drive. Tyler Clary (medium)
His club team at the time was using a local race track to raise money by hosting a merchandising booth for a weekend, and 12-year-old Clary instantly fell in love with the cars, the track and everything associated with the sport.
With his own life surrounded by and devoted to swimming from that point forward, he wasn’t able to pursue race car driving until recently.
“Swimming has always been my focus and is very time consuming when you compete at the level I did for so many years,” he said. “But after the London Olympics, I attended a racing school, and it went really well. I knew at the point my future would involve racing outside of the pool in some capacity.”
Since then, he has driven in all kinds of race cars, including the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race at the Indy Car Long Beach Grand Prix, Trophy Trucks in the desert, Legends cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Skip Barber Formula Cars at the Indy Car Academy, among others.
In September, Clary had the opportunity to test a Spec E46 3 Series BMW at Virginia International Raceway for James Clay, founder of BimmerWorld, a top BMW performance parts and accessories company and owner of BimmerWorld Racing, a top team in the IMSA Continental Tire Challenge Series.
Despite having never raced the track or driven the car before the race, he came within a second of the track record during his practice session.
That opportunity was enough to attract attention from Ryan Staub of Team LMR racing, and they invited Clary to race for them at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Tex., in an 8-hour World Racing League race this past December.
He was initially slated to race their Spec E36 (similar to what he had driven in Virginia), but on the first day of racing (which Tyler was unable to attend because he was teaching a swim clinic), the car blew the engine and was parked for the remainder of the day.
When the car wasn’t repaired for the start of the next day’s race, he thought his chance to race was gone, but the team owner pulled him aside and informed him that pro driver and top driver coach Ross Bentley had given up his seat so he could drive.
“After my strong practice day, they had made the decision to have me race their Spec E90 BMW, a much faster and more advanced car,” he said. “I was presented with the very challenging task of starting the race in a car I’d never driven, in a field larger than I’ve ever raced in, and in the pouring rain.”
He started the race in 24th, and by the time he was done with his 2-hour stint, he had moved the team into 4th place overall. The team ended up getting third, with Tyler having the fastest laps in the rain.
When he’s not raising money or putting his fast driving skills to the test, Clary, officially retired from swimming following the conclusion of Trials, is finding other ways to stay busy.
He recently signed on to coach the swim team at The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, where he and girlfriend, Caroline, now call home.
And when he’s not at the pool, he is exploring some business ventures and opportunities with Caroline’s dad.
But racing is really what revs his engine – and it’s what he intends to pursue with all of life’s gusto moving forward.
“In all honesty, I wasn’t sure that coaching was something I wanted to pursue, but I’ve done several clinics over the past few months (since Trials), and I have really enjoyed watching the kids apply what I teach them and seeing them get better,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with the group of swimmers at Hotchkiss and seeing them progress over the course of a season.
“But racing is where my heart is. Trials were pretty disappointing for me, but I always knew it was going to be my last summer of competition, so I was already looking ahead to racing and seeing how far I can take it. It invigorates me, and I’m excited for this next phase of my life.”