Feature Article, Open Wheels, Washington — September 24, 2012 at 4:47 am

Tyler Ketchum (issue 103)


By Steve Heeb

Tyler Ketchum from Burlington, Wash., took up Hornets racing when nearby Skagit Speedway first added the class in 2005.

Decades earlier Tyler’s father Ken helped turn wrenches for sprint car driver Jerry Edson in the late ’70s.

“Jerry was my favorite local driver,” Tyler reflects. “No matter where he was at, he found a way to the front. And on a limited budget too. I admire drivers that make the most with what they have.”

As a passing of generations, Tyler took on crew duties for Jerry’s son Josh in 2000.

“I wanted to do the same thing my dad did,” Tyler says of crewing for Josh before the Hornets were introduced. “They finally got a class I could afford to do myself.”

He admits the decision to compete had mixed reaction at home.

“My mom said if I took up racing I would be paying for it myself,” he says. “She preferred that I stick with baseball.”

Tyler’s path from fielding line to fielding his first race car led to a ’75 Toyota Celica he picked up for $100.

The full-bodied race car was quite a bit different than the sprint cars and the karts he had been racing at Evergreen Speedway and the Slime Dogs facility in Stanwood, Wash.

“These cars take more skill,” says second-year driver Clint Meins of the inexpensive street cars being raced in the Hornets division. “They weren’t built for racing corners.”

Long-time champion kart driver Matt Ploeg would agree.

“The go-kart is rearwheel drive so the whole feel is different in a full car,” Matt says in comparison to the ’86 Celica GTS he fields in the Skagit Hornets division.

For his third season, Tyler picked up an ’87 Pulsar.

“The Pulsar looked like a Late Model stock car,” he laughs.

Early in his Hornets career, Tyler found himself on Skagit Speedway’s podium several times, but it was not until his fourth season that he notched his first feature win.

Tyler was fielding a ’91 Acura Integra that he purchased from Bobby Collins who had left racing after a hard roll-over during the 2009 season.

“About my fourth year it all clicked,” Tyler says of his second season in the Integra. “Veteran driver Brett Lloyd told me to put my foot to the floor and ride up on the wall.”

Riding fast on the high groove doesn’t reduce a driver’s chance of being in a wreck.

“But the closer to the wall you are, the less it’s going to hurt,” Tyler laughs.

The Integra is powered by a stock Honda four-cylinder B18A1 motor and a 5-speed transmission. The car was stripped down and roll cage added to prepare the once-street car for the race track.

Tyler admires Nascar drivers Mark Martin and the Northwest’s own Kasey Kahne.

“Mark Martin is patient but aggressive,” Tyler explains. “He doesn’t like to run into other people.”

Tyler follows that racing philosophy himself.

“I don’t want to do too much work on the car during the week,” Tyler says.

“From what I hear Tyler is a clean driver,” observes rookie Patrick Adams.

“Tyler is usually one of the fastest cars at the track, but

doesn’t use the speed to bully his way to the front,” says Skagit announcer Kelly Hart. “I can’t remember him laying the ‘chrome horn’ on anyone. And when you are driving a car that races as opposed to a race car that is saying something. These ill-tempered, ill-handling cars can be a handful and he makes it look smooth as silk.”

Patrick, who recently joined the Hornets ranks after finding a pair of cars on craigslist, points out there is a welcoming atmosphere in the pits for new drivers.

“If you have a problem you can ask anyone,” he says. “Everybody helps out.”

Tyler recalls a good example of that support after an incident in 2009.

“I had a wreck with Freddie Vela in a heat race,” he explains. “Freddie forced me to let him help fix my car and get back on the track for the main. I went out and beat him.”

“Tyler is without a doubt one of the best self-taught racers out there,” Kelly Hart says. “He started as a sprint car crew member, and has transferred some of what he has learned about dirt track racing from being on the mechanical end to being in the seat.”

Car owner Dave Erlandson also appreciates Tyler’s skills behind the wheel.

“He can go out there and win,” Dave says, noting that he is glad to get some seat time himself. “Tyler is a better driver than I am, but the guys still let me go out there and get a few laps. I have a good time.”

Crew chief and girlfriend Nancy Presnall says Tyler is definitely having a good time as well.

“He always has the biggest grin on his face,” she says, but confesses she is not as calm during the races. “If someone hits him I’m going to be one mad momma. I’m constantly on edge. When he goes out there I start screaming.”

Tyler enjoys the competition more than merely collecting hardware.

“I usually just sign my second and third-place trophies and give them to the kids,” he says.

While supporting the young race fans, Tyler also appreciates the support of friends and sponsors, including Everett-based Accent On Coins; the Sedro Woolley Truck Toys; Avon by Nancy; Lisa Swanberg Photo; O’Reilly Auto Parts; and XXX Race Co.

He credits car owner Dave Erlandson and crew chief Nancy Presnall for their help, along with father Ken Ketchum and son Casey; Justin Ludwig and Michael Davenport.

“And my Canadian family,” he adds.

Tyler’s plans to compete at the Hornets Nationals at Port Angeles Speedway were cut short when the track closed in 2011.

“I do want to try racing at Elma,” Tyler says of trekking to Grays Harbor Raceway in the future.

As he expands his racing experiences, Tyler offers advice for those just considering taking up racing.

“Get down to the track and talk to the veterans,” Tyler suggests. “Go out there and have fun, but don’t expect to set the world on fire. Listen to the veterans.”

And for those who take racing too seriously: “When this stops being fun it is time to retire.”

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