Race On: Tyler Clary Interview

At the age of 23, USA Olympic gold medalist swimmer Tyler Clary has already done some wonderful things in his life. He has many more incredible moments ahead in his future, but they might not come in the pool.

Clary, the 2009 NCAA Swimmer of the Year at Michigan, is ready to begin a transition to auto racing. He has enrolled in the Skip Barber Racing School in Lime Rock Park, Connecticut. After three days of grueling tests, they will nominate 33 graduates to compete in a final shootout. The winner receives a fully funded ride into the Skip Barber Racing School Race Series. The next step from there is the Mazda Road to Indy.

Clary was kind enough to take the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.

Q: Your goals are to have a successful racing career after you retire from swimming. Do you have a time frame in mind where you plan on switching full-time from the pool to the race track?

A: The plan so far is to train for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and I have a specific goal in my mind with regards to my medal haul. That is the number one focus right now. That being said, I want to do as much as I can on the track, between now and then as long as it does not interfere with my training in the pool, so that I can hit the ground running. After Rio, I plan on racing full-time.

Q: You’re obviously no stranger to the big stage, but what are your emotions as you prepare for the Skip Barber Racing School in Connecticut?

A: My emotions can be described as extreme excitement with a little curiosity mixed in. The excitement needs no explanation really; however I am very curious to see if I’ve got any usable talent behind the wheel. If my performance in the off-road and stock cars is any indication, there might be a minuscule amount of it haha!

Q: You attended the IndyCar race at Sonoma last year and met a lot of people who could help you up the ladder. Hanging out with Josef Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe, is it easy to see yourself in their shoes in the near future?

A: I wouldn’t even come close to saying that it is easy to see myself in their shoes. They are both amazing athletes. That being said, it’s not impossible for me to envision being in their shoes. I have a very long, difficult journey ahead, but I think it is possible.

Q: I have to think you must have a nice iRacing setup. How good are you on a scale of 1-10?

A: I have actually never played it! I want to so bad! I have been waiting until after I move to get started on building a gaming rig to play. I have been doing research and I’ve started to envision my ideal iRacing simulator. Maybe Skip Barber Racing Schools has an old, crashed or outdated car shell they would send my way for added realism? That would go along with the multi-screen setup that I am planning!

Q: I saw you recently just bought your first home. Have you settled in yet, and how far away did you relocate?

A: I am technically homeless right now! Scary thought and feeling. I am being put up in an Extended Stay until my house closes right before Thanksgiving, I’ve been pushing hard to move that date up. I have relocated to Dexter, Michigan. My house is about 10 minutes out of downtown Ann Arbor.

Q: It’s been said that you changed your name to honor your stepfather who was always there for you. What was your family’s reaction when you told them you wanted to pursue a career in Motorsports?

A: They were nervous at first, and understandably so. At my very first off-road race not too long ago, I was sitting in the lineup waiting to be called in for qualifying and my mom and dad walked up to let me know they had arrived. I could tell right away that my mom was very upset and my dad was a little uneasy. My mom leaned into the car and gave me a hug and kiss and told me she loved me, and I returned the gesture. She’s never seen me do anything like that before so I explained all of the safety gear to her and reassured her that everything would be ok. Over the course of the race day she seemed to be getting more comfortable with the idea, but she did not like me taking the car over the large jumps on the track at all! After the race she said she was very impressed with how I performed on the track in my first race and I could tell she was much more comfortable with the idea of me being a driver. Maybe if I’m in an open wheel car she will be even more comfortable with the idea, those cars don’t really like to jump!

Q: Are you still planning on finishing your education at Michigan, or are you getting a degree from somewhere else?

A: I started my degree in Computer Science at Michigan and that is where I will finish it.

Q: You’ve sat in Newgarden’s car, and recently drove a stock car. Whether it’s jumping in a pool or jumping behind the wheel, do you see any similarities in preparation?

A: There are probably more differences than similarities, but the similarities are significant! First off, the g-forces are unimaginable if you’ve never been around a track at high speeds. In the little experience that I do have, I know that driving at a very high level is extremely hard work. I have the utmost respect for every serious driver because of that fact. The level of physical fitness required is immense and being a swimmer plays into that requirement perfectly. Secondly, auto racing, like swimming, is all about repetition and consistency. Being able to perform day in and day out, doing the right things over and over and still finding ways to improve is shockingly similar to training in the pool. I’m looking forward to seeing what I am capable of.

Q: Do you prefer open-wheel cars? If so, what is it about them that draws your interest?

A: If I were to choose what type of car that I would end up in, it would easily be an open wheel car. I’m drawn in by the sheer speed, cutting edge technology and precision of the cars. Oh, and carbon fiber is my no-longer-secret obsession.

Q: You’ve already won 11 medals in international swimming competition, and of course the gold in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Would you trade them all for a long, successful racing career?

A: Well hopefully I don’t have to!

Clary knows the road ahead comes with plenty of challenges. This is one thing you can’t dive into head first though. He is on the right path, and with each step, he comes closer to fulfilling his dream of a racing career.

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