Scott Fowler

Tyler Clary likes to go fast on water – and in a racecar

For now, Tyler Clary is racing in swim trunks in the water.

Eventually, he would like to race inside a fire suit and sit in a driver’s seat.

Clary, 27, won a gold medal for the U.S. in 2012 at the Summer Olympics in the 200 backstroke. He then moved to Charlotte in 2014 to train with the elite program at SwimMAC Carolina – and it didn’t hurt that the Queen City was also in the heart of NASCAR country.

This weekend Clary is competing in the 2016 Arena Pro Swim Series at Charlotte – he finished fifth Friday night in the 200 freestyle and has several more events to go this weekend. His immediate goal: Use this meet as a springboard to make another U.S. Olympic team in late June at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., and then win multiple medals in Rio in August at the 2016 Olympics.

“Top end as far as what I think could happen?” Clary said when we spoke recently. “I’d come home with 2-3 gold medals. That would be great. But one thing that has been nice for me as a human being over the last 3-4 years is I’ve made sure I have a solid plan for what I want to do after this summer, regardless of whether that means swimming or not swimming.”

After the 2016 Olympics – assuming he makes the U.S. team – Clary has to decide whether it’s time to engage in a full-time pursuit of his second dream. Said Clary: “It’s going to be a really interesting journey – whether it’s this year or several years down the road – as I change from being a competitive swimmer to being a racecar driver.”

There are a number of factors that will make this transition difficult for Clary. Like swimmers, most racecar drivers are groomed for the sport from a very young age. Clary has dabbled in driving schools and test events – doing well in both – but he has never been able to devote the majority of his time to racing because of the incessant demands of top-flight swimming. He knows he will have to work his way up from racing’s minor leagues, but he will also need to convince a car owner that an Olympic medalist in his late 20s with very little auto racing experience is a good bet.

“But the aerobic conditioning and the ability to function at a high level of exertion for a long time will play to my strengths because I train for six hours a day sometimes,” Clary said. “So that part is going to be an afterthought.”

Clary grew up in California, where his financially strapped swim club often volunteered to run a merchandising and concession booth during race weekends at the track in Fontana, Calif., so it could share in the profits. Clary, a self-professed “adrenalin junkie,” caught the racing bug then.

Clary has since tried to get as much seat time as he could. A friendship with NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson (an avid swimmer and triathlete) hasn’t hurt his cause. Neither has the fact that one of his swimming sponsors is BMW. But like most racing hopefuls, Clary knows that the sport is extremely expensive and that he will need to find a full-time sponsor when he decides to pursue it full-time.

“I’ve been a coachable athlete all of my life, and swimming as an elite athlete has taught me so many things,” Clary said. “I feel confident that given the opportunity I could do something special and turn some heads.”

Lochte wins his opening race

SwimMAC Carolina’s Ryan Lochte won the 400 individual medley with what looked like relative ease Friday night. but afterward he didn’t sound particularly pleased with his time and said the race – one of the most grueling in the sport – hurt from the very beginning.

“I’d always like to go faster,” said Lochte, whose time of 4:16.92 was more than 11 seconds slower than his Olympic gold-medal winning time of 4:05.18 in the same event at the 2012 Olympics. “For right now, where I’m at, I think it’s all right. ... My legs are just tired. I’ve been doing a lot of kicking the past two weeks. Overall, it’s a solid swim.”

▪ In the women’s 400 IM, SwimMAC’s Cammile Adams duplicated Lochte’s effort by also winning gold in 4:38.97. Adams was nearly eight seconds better than her nearest competitor.

▪ Dana Vollmer, the three-time Olympic gold medalist who has made a successful return to swimming after the birth of her son, won the women’s 100 butterfly in 57.23 seconds. She is the defending Olympic champion in that event.

▪ A number of SwimMAC athletes besides Lochte placed high in races. In the men’s 100 butterfly, Tim Phillips was second and Matthew Josa to give SwimMAC two of the three medals. Canada’s Santo Condorelli won the event.

SwimMAC’s Katie Meili finished second in the women’s 100 breaststroke to Indiana University’s Lilly King, whose time of 1:05.73 was the second-fastest time in the world this year and a lifetime best for King.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer