Q&A with 2017 Ultimate Super Late Model Series champion Tyler Millwood
Last week, we kicked off our Q&A series by interviewing Northeast Ultimate Super Late Model dirt racer Matt Cosner, who is currently second in the series standings. On Saturday night at Virginia Motor Speedway, we caught up with National Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer Dale McDowell and last year’s Ultimate Super Late Model Series champion Tyler Millwood. The 27-year-old won the series title in his full season on the tour and accomplished the feat without winning a race in 41 tries. He posted 10 top fives and 16 top 10s in 2017 and through 19 races this year, he has one win, four top fives, and 10 top 10s. With 12 races remaining, Millwood currently sits third in the standings, 15 points behind leader Kyle Hardy.
Kyle: How many years of racing is this for you now?
Tyler: This is going on 19.
K: How many at the Super Late Model level?
T: This is probably the fourth or fifth year running the Super Late Model.
K: What would you say your most prized accomplishment is? Or most prized win?
T: We won the Ultimate Super Late Model Series last year. We won a $5,000 [payout race] earlier this year. That’s my biggest money win. Hopefully, we can top that with a $20,000 tonight … [This interview was before the USA 100 at VMS. Millwood led 48 of 60 laps, but a flat tire with four laps to go doomed his bid at the mega purse].
K: I don’t know too much about you, but what was last year like for you? Winning the Ultimate Series. It’s probably the third-biggest Super Late Model travel series behind World of Outlaws and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
T: Payout wise, definitely. To be honest with you, it wasn’t really the year we wanted. We had good, consistent finishes, but never got a win. But we was always inside the top five. We were very consistent, just never got that win. I had a consecutive run of like 10 top fives at one point in time. We was pretty sporty all year.
K: Did that feel weird? Not winning a race, but winning the championship?
T: [Pauses for a few seconds]
K: Or is that more of a testament to how consistent you were?
T: It was more of a testament to how consistent we were. You hate winning championships without winning races. But I remember Matt Kenseth won his championship [in 2003] and never won a race. It happened in NASCAR. You take what you can get, and if that’s where it leads you at the end of the year, then it’s good.
K: What keeps you going as a race car driver?
T: We’re a big family sport. [Points to crew members around his car]. My dad, my brother-in-law. My sister’s with me. My wife is usually here. My best friend’s my other crew guy, but he had to stay at home with his little boy this weekend. It’s a big family deal for us. We just enjoy doing it. We work 40 hours a week plumbing [Millwood Plumbing]. So, we do this as a hobby. We’d love to be able to do this full-time for a living. But, to race, you have to make money to race.
K: I was just going to ask you, how do you balance all of this with your work?
T: Uh, you get the race car ready on Friday night. [Laughter]. You try to get it washed before Wednesday, and, literally, we work on it Friday night.
K: Where’s your shop at?
T: Cartersville, Georgia.
K: Is that in a good location where you travel?
T: Yeah. I can be at 10 different racetracks within four hours.
K: That’s not bad at all.
T: No. No.
K: So, if you had a time machine and could go back to any year, any era of racing …
T: I’d go race quarter midgets again.
K: … whether its NASCAR, dirt racing, open wheel, etc. — and could drive one car for a full season, which ride would you choose?
T: I’d still race quarter midgets again.
K: Really? Why?
T: Because I was the baddest dude there was.
K: [Laughter] What year was that?
T: [Turns to his dad and asks, ‘What years we raced quarter midgets?’ His dad answered, ‘We raced quarter midgets for a long time.’] I raced them for probably eight years. I can’t remember exactly. The early 2000s. I started in 1998. So, from 2000-05 right there, they said, “oh, hell,” for when we showed up. We raced three classes and we was in contention to win every one of them every time we showed up, no matter where we showed up. [My dad would] get me out of school on Friday we’d go to Connecticut and spank their asses. They’d be bleeding. They had to stop somewhere on the way home.
K: [Laughter] That’s some groundhog day.
T: Oh yeah. Get’em. We was good. We was good.
K: [Laughter] That’s funny. What percent of success in dirt late model racing has to do with the driver, what percent is the car and what percent is luck?
T: A lot of it is having good equipment, which everybody down here now pretty much has got good equipment. You have to be on your A-game when you’re working on it and making the right decisions. If the car is good, driving is easy. But if the car is not any good, it’s a handful.
K: I guess a good pill draw is important, too, right?
T: Yeah, I mean, but tonight, I was almost the last car out and I had a top five split time in my group. So, I mean, it all depends. If we was all qualifying together with no groups, the pill draw is definitely key. When you’re broke up in groups, it’s alright.
K: How’s your personality inside the car different than outside the car?
T: Uh, I’m an animal inside the car. I don’t cut it no slack and I give it all it can take. I’m mashing on it as hard as it can be mashed on the whole time. [Referring to the throttle].
K: [Laughter] Well, if you could listen to music while racing, what songs would you have on your playlist?
T: Hardcore rock. Gets you pumped up.
K: Get the adrenaline going?
T: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.
K: Make you mash it even harder? [Laughter]
T: Yeah! [Laughter] That’s right. That’s right. Try to push it through the radiator.
K: What’s the biggest compliment somebody could give you?
T: My old man telling [me], “Hell of a job.”
K: Is there one thing you wish you could change about dirt racing or a few things you think that could pique the interest of more people?
T: Super Late Model racing is Super Late Model racing and I don’t like all these guys in crate motors and 525’s and stuff like that. They shouldn’t be able to line up with the [Super] Late Model car. Car’s the same, but the motors are different. When the track is real, real slick, and when they line up, it ain’t fun racing. I got the best equipment I can get, biggest motor you can have. And [Super] Late Model racing, to me, is bringing all you can bring and hope you brought enough.
K: So there are guys here at the Super level but run crate motors?
T: Not necessarily here [at VMS], but tracks along the South …
K: They let that happen?
T: Oh yeah.
K: I actually didn’t know that.
T: And they used to give them a 12-inch spoiler and all that, and we’d get an eight-inch spoiler. And they finally done away with that, but nothing make you madder than having 800 horsepower and see a 12-inch blade in front of you, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to touch it.
K: Do you think there are a few things that could pique the interest of more people? Bring more people into the sport? Fans?
T: It’s all about parents getting their little kids involved in it. But racing is a big hole. You throw money in it all day long and you’re never going to see the bottom of it. We’re fortunate we have a good plumbing business and we’re able to do what we love to do. But if it wasn’t for my old man, I couldn’t do what I do. I work 40 hours a week like everybody else does; plumb houses. You just have to get the little kids in here. You have to get the little kids back in the sport. Get them here.
K: What kid wouldn’t love fast cars on dirt?
T: Oh yeah. When we’re wide-open around here, hauling the mail … racing two, three-wide, I don’t think there’s anything better for the fans.
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