Ever since Tyler Church’s mother lost her battle with lung cancer when he was 12, the Hickory resident and his father have focused on racing.
But, they never envisioned their small family operation emerging as the 2014 Pro All Stars Series South Super Late Model champion.
“This is the biggest thing I’ve been able to accomplish,” said Church, 26. “It’s just hard to believe. Me and my daddy have done this together all year long, and it’s been a struggle. We go to the races with a (Ford Dually) truck and a 24-foot enclosed trailer. It’s just hard to believe that we finally accomplished something this big.”
Heading into the Nov. 15 season finale, Church had a 34-point lead over Mooresville’s Cole Timm. Family friend Preston Peltier of Concord, winner of three PASS South Super Late Model races this season, did not compete in the event to prepare for the Dec. 3-7 Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Fla.
Peltier, a Hendrick Motorsports employee, and Ryan Turner, who once worked with Peltier, assisted Church and his father, Steve, at the race at Southern National Motorsports Park near Kenly.
“If it hadn’t been for them working as hard as they did, I don’t know if we would have won it,” said Church, who works in the parts department at Everett Chevrolet in Hickory.
Broken axles plagued the Church effort from the start. One was found after qualifying. They thought the problem was solved, but eight laps into the event another axle broke, forcing Church to his pit.
“At that time I thought we were through,” Church said. “We got together and decided to try and find another axle so we could make some laps. We got that one in, made some more laps and that one broke. We were in-and-out of the pits all night long.”
During that time, Timm assumed the point lead. However, with 75 laps remaining Timm’s car broke an axle that couldn’t be repaired, and he was forced from the event.
A short time later Church regained the point lead. Even though Timm finished 21st and Church 25th, Church’s point lead in his rookie season was enough to give him his first championship.
“The first time during the race that the axle broke, I was sitting in the pits. I was pretty discouraged about everything going on, watching my season waste away to nothing,” said Church, who had one victory, six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 14 races. “I got to thinking, well, anything can happen; things could turn around. So I stopped and prayed about it. When I prayed, I guess I looked at it as I talked to her (his mother), too. She was a good person and a good mama.”
A short time later the axle in Timm’s car broke.
“I didn’t wish him any bad luck, but it’s obvious somebody was taking care of us,” Church said.
Overcoming the odds seems to be the norm for the father-son duo who works on their race car at home in the basement. They normally arrive home from their respective jobs around 6 p.m. and then work on the race car until sometimes midnight. Chuck Kibler supplies their engines.
“We do it all by ourselves and it’s very difficult, but then you’re proud when you go to the race track, park beside all of these 18-wheelers and they’ve got five, six, seven, eight crew members and you out-run them,” said Steve Church, Tyler’s father. “They look at us like, ‘How are you doing this?’ They don’t ever give my son any credit because he can drive a race car. Everybody’s got a gift and that’s his gift.”
Church’s uncle Johnny Lail assists at the track, as does his girlfriend Heather Kistler, his aunt Kathy Lail and his grandmother Jean Church.
“We’re always fast. We’ve always had a good car. We just ain’t had the luck,” said Church, who said he normally purchases just one set of tires for the weekend.
With only one sponsor on his car, Church and his father primarily finance the racing effort. Steve, who raced motorcycles and was considered a “motorcycle guru” in the 1970s, owns and operates Church’s Carpet in Hickory.
Tyler entered racing in go-karts, competing there for two years before his mother’s death. He remained at that level for three more years before advancing to mini stocks where he competed for another three years.
Next was the limited late model division at Hickory Motor Speedway. His entrance into selected late model events resulted in a move into super late models after he developed a friendship with Peltier and Harold Johnson, who delivers tires to Everett Chevrolet.
“He (Peltier) was the first person that gave me a shot at really driving a good car,” Tyler said. “He took a gamble with us, but he believed in me. He’s the only one that’s ever given me a shot at anything.”
Church pursued a job with a NASCAR team, but the “timing hasn’t been right.” He also hasn’t finalized his racing plans for 2015.
“Money is the biggest thing,” Tyler said in regards to next season.
Modifieds join PASS
The KOMA Unwind Modified Madness Series will partner with PASS in May at Concord Speedway for the Old Glory Twin 125s. The event will be May 22 with May 23 the rain date.
Kodie Conner of Kannapolis won the PASS Pro Late Model season finale at Southern National Motorsports Park near Kenly, but was fourth in the standings. Erik Nash, from Denver, finished second and placed 10th in the standings. Rounding out the top five in the race results were Jacob Schneider of Rock Hill, Ryan Krachun of Neshanic, N.J., and Matt Murphy of Charlotte.
Schneider placed second in the standings to Walker Yates of Clemmons, while Murphy took third.
Line finishes 2nd
Pro Stock driver Jason Line’s championship bid in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series fell one round short in the season finale at Pomona, Calif. The Mooresville resident faced Erica Enders-Stevens in the Nov. 16 final round with the winner emerging as this year’s Pro Stock champion.
Line, who entered the Countdown to the Championship as the standings leader, fouled at the start of the winner-take-all final round and Enders-Stevens became the first woman to win a NHRA Pro Stock championship.