Cummings, Ga. (April 4, 2018) – Like so many in the sport, racing is a family affair for Tyler Harrell. His wife, his parents, even his dog are involved in every aspect of the race weekend, from prep through the checkered flag.
Unlike many, however, Harrell didn’t grow up in a racing family. He brought his dad to the sport, creating the familiar bond on his own.
“I’ve always been interested in racing, I just never put myself in a race car,” Harrell said. “When I got my first job, I bought a bone stock Miata with 120,000 miles on it and just started putting part on it after part on it with the intention of getting into racing. I started in autocross and got the addiction.”
That fixation began with a 120,000-mile, bone-stock Mazda Miata, funded by his accounting job at Sonoco Products. Still living at his parents’ place at the time, and with no room in the garage, Harrell put the car on jack stands in the back yard and worked on it there (he has since built a house with a four-car garage – enough room for two race cars).
From autocross, he moved to track days and performance driving, followed by Spec Miata. His dad, James, began tagging along, just to help out. At least in the beginning.
“We went down to an HPDE at Daytona,” Harrell laughed. “My dad said, let me co-drive your car and get a feel for this. Not two months later, he bought a fully prepped Spec Miata.”
With that, the family effort became a certified two-car team – with one home built Spec Miata from that former street car, and one purchased ready to race. The purchased car helped even more, allowing the Harrells to build the original Spec Miata to what they could see.
“I think building that car has made us, as a team, better racers,” Harrell said. “We know exactly how that car functions, and we both enjoy working on it.”
It’s that experience that brought Harrell to Spec MX-5, in order to see where he is. Having only raced for two years, he’s been thrown into the deep end of competition.
“I came into this thinking I had a natural instinct for racing. Since I’ve only been doing it for two years, I’ve learned a lot. And I’m still learning a lot. I didn’t grow up in karts. I turned 28 this year, so I feel like I started late compared to some of the prodigies coming through.”
The trick, then, becomes improving as a racer while also learning a brand-new car. Though he races a second generation (NB) Miata in Spec Miata and has driven the original NA Miata in a 24-hour Chump Car race, the NC is a brand-new experience. Especially from a technological side.
“The NA and NB Miatas don’t have power steering or ABS, so I’m just learning what that feels like in a race car,” Harrell explained. “It took me the first couple of sessions to get used to having soft hands. In my Spec Miata, my muscles are used to putting effort into the wheel to get it to turn and kind of throwing it into turns. With the power steering, you just need real soft hands and smooth adjustments. Now the car feels natural.”
More than learning a new car on track is adjusting to having a crew handle the dirty work off of it.
“I usually circle the car and check the wheels, check fluids – at first, going out on track with the MX-5 Series has been hard! But I know they’re doing everything right.”
But no matter how much work does or doesn’t need to be done, Harrell’s trips to the race track are always a place for family.
“We enjoy doing that, making it a family event.”