Most people get their driver's license at 16, but one of Larry Phipps Jr.'s rules as a parent was each of his children -- Tim, Larry and Megan -- had to race in the Virginia Dirt Karting Association for a year or two before they were allowed to test for their driver's license.
But racing in the Phipps family is more than just go-karts.
After racing go-karts for nearly eight years as a child, competing in the Semi-Pro Legend Car Series for three years during college and majoring in high-performance racing at a special academic program at University of Northwest Ohio, 23-year-old Shady Side, Md., native Tim Phipps is getting his, and his family's, first shot to compete in a NASCAR-affiliated series this year.
Tim's dad, Larry Jr., and grandfather, Larry Sr., were not afforded the opportunity to race professionally because of financial reasons, but Tim will begin 2017 racing in one of 10 NASCAR-affiliated racing series, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. It is the same series Larry Jr. was involved in for the better part of his 20s, working on late-model stock cars.
"Growing up in a house where it was all racing all the time, there was not much else talked about," Tim said. "That's really how we bonded, watching cars go fast and our favorite drivers."
While Tim's siblings gravitated toward other professions, Tim, at the University of Northwest Ohio, worked on his college's own race team and would drive home some weekends to race on his own in the Legend Car Series. He said in college he learned things that will help him run his own race team and the Legend Car Series better prepared him how to race.
"Some of the Legend cars, how they drive, they are very small, very light, but they have a lot of horsepower making them very hard to drive," Tim said. "You learn more about driving in Legend Cars than you do in anything else."
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series features late-model stock cars, while the Legend Car Series uses 5/8 scale replicas of 1930-40 automobiles powered by a motorcycle engine. Sanctioned by INEX (inexpensive racing), it was an affordable transition for Phipps, who sold the go-karts his family used to race to fund his Legend Series race team.
In 2016, Tim finished ninth in the points standings but was left with a sour taste when the final race of the season -- a race he had qualified first for -- was canceled due to rain. Tim won six races in his Legend Car career.
Larry Jr. said if his dad were still here today, he would have been involved with Tim's racing career. Larry died of colon cancer nearly 20 years ago, shortly before his 53rd birthday.
"He would be part of it," Larry Jr. said. "This has been something we could have all enjoyed and done together."
Although Tim doesn't have any memories of his grandfather, he said one of his most valuable teaching moments as a driver came while on the dirt track with his dad.
Tim was trying to pass his dad around a turn and went too fast into the corner, but Tim knew not to panic.
"That's one thing that has always stuck with me, when you get out of shape, you just got to keep driving. You never stop driving," Tim said. "You never go into a panic, [and] slam on the brakes or anything, and you see a lot of people panic and it gets them an even worse situation. You just have to keep driving and stay calm."
For Tim and his race team, the cost to compete in the Whelen Series has been personally funded. It will cost them about $100,000 to run 10-15 races, a fraction of the season. The team is looking for a primary sponsor.
Larry Jr. said Tim is "good at feeling what is going on with the car," and Tim feels the same, describing himself as a patient driver.
"Growing up with the amount of money that we did, I learned you can't just take your car and destroy it trying to win every race, you have to try and pick your spots," Tim said. "If I one day get in the financial situation where we can come up with enough sponsors to where we can run that way, I think we would be one of the best in the nation. ... You have to run with that little bit of cautiousness when you don't have that budget."
Logistics aside, Tim said the thought of racing in the Whelen Series is an experience he can hardly wait for. The season starts in April.
"I love racing, and it's what I want to do for as long as I possibly can," Tim said. "This is by far the most excited I've been for something. ... It keeps me up at night sometimes."
Issue 230: February 2017