Olympic swimmer Tyler Clary has a passion for going fast.
In the 2012 London Olympics, he won swimming gold in the 200-meter backstroke, passing favorite Ryan Lochte and Japan’s Ryosuke Irie late in the race. His time of 1 minute, 53.41 seconds was the fastest in Olympic history.
Tuesday, Clary will be trying to go fast in a totally different venue. He will race in the Summer Shootout series at Charlotte Motor Speedway, driving a Legends car, a 125-horsepower vehicle that can reach speeds of up to 100 mph.
Clary, who competes for Farbo Motorsports, has long had an interest in racing. Growing up in California, spent race weekends at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., working in the merchandise booth to raise money for his swim team.
Being at the track made him realize he wanted to drive a race car someday.
“I just grew an interest from there because I always wanted to be behind the wheel and do what those guys do on the track,” he said.
He never had time to follow that dream, but his racing ambitions never waned. When Clary moved to Charlotte after the 2012 Olympics, he decided to pursue both sports, establishing a racing resume while training for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
And he made a powerful racing friend early on – six-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
“I asked him if he would be willing to trade some driving advice for some swimming advice,” Clary said. “I helped him with his freestyle.”
Clary, who says he sees Johnson once or twice a week, got advice on his racing career.
“He has always been very kind to me,” Clary said.
Johnson, who also competes in triathlons, is excited Clary is entering racing.
“It’s fun watching him enter my world, and I’ve had fun trying to survive in his,” Johnson said. “He is a great competitor and has found a new outlet to take away some of the pressure from his day job. I’m pulling for him to succeed.”
Clary practiced in the Legends car on Sunday at a quarter-mile track in Concord, but Tuesday will be his first time competing in the car, which he has leased.
The setup for the Summer Shootout will be different. “We’ll have to see how I adapt at being on a different track,” he said.
Clary sees some similarities between racing and swimming, and says being a swimmer offers him a unique perspective on race cars.
“NASCAR is a game of margins, and you’re always trying to push that margin a little bit further to see if you can have even the smallest edge over your opponent,” he said. “That’s really something that is hammered into our heads as swimmers every single day. We are constantly looking for that edge.”
Even though Clary is still focused on swimming, he says his desire to race is more than a hobby. He hopes to transition into full-time racing after he retires from competitive swimming.
“I want to make it to the Sprint Cup and I’d eventually like to win a championship,” Clary said. “That goal is very lofty, which is a good thing, but it’s also a long ways away.”
He’s tempering his expectations, but if he sees a shot to win on Tuesday, he doesn’t plan on backing down.
“Clearly, I’d love to win,” he said. “If I find myself in that position near the end of the race, I would find it hard for me to not try and push for it. But that’s kind of the essence of being a race car driver. If I stack up somewhere in the front it’s going to be all about being patient at the beginning of the race and then being aggressive at the end.”
Just like he was in London.