Tyler Ankrum wants you to know something: He’s got a set of pipes.
“I’m not a singer,” Ankrum said, “but if I’m alone in the car or I’m in the shower, I can sing. When I was in sixth and seventh grade, I was one of only two or three guys in the school’s chorus.”
Earlier this week, Ankrum’s social media feeds blew up with photos of an American Idol contestant who bears an eerily striking resemblance to the 17-year-old California native. He’s received dozens of messages from friends and family pointing out his doppelganger.
— Mrs. Davidson (@lwinberg10) April 23, 2018
Don’t expect Ankrum to give up the driver’s seat for the soundstage anytime soon, however. His first season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is off to an impressive start, with two top-five finishes in as many starts.
He opened the season by finishing fifth at New Smyrna Speedway in February and backed that run with a fourth-place effort at Bristol Motor Speedway while driving for DGR Crosley and the team that finished second in last season’s final K&N Pro Series East standings with driver Todd Gilliland.
Gilliland, who is running a part-time East schedule while competing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, won each of the first two East races this season. It’s given Ankrum a closeup view of the capabilities within his No. 17 Modern Meats Toyota team.
“I feel a little pressure, a little bit. When I saw (Gilliland’s) stats — he’s like five races shy of winning every other race he’s ever started in a K&N car,” Ankrum said of Gilliland’s 20-wins-in-50-career-starts stat line. “It’s amazing what he’s done. I don’t look at it as pressure, though, as much as I look at it as more of a challenge.
“When you jump in a K&N car for the first time against Gilliland, (Harrison) Burton, the Bassetts — you’re being thrown into the ring and seeing what you can do yourself against them.
“If you can beat them, it goes to show how good you are, especially if you’re running with Todd and Harrison, past champions in the K&N series who are now both running Trucks.”
After starting out his career in quarter midgets and midgets on the West coast, Ankrum came to North Carolina four years ago to begin running asphalt Late Models. That’s where his relationship with the Gilliland family began — he’d stay with the fellow Californians in North Carolina for three weeks at a time during the season to race on the weekends before flying back home to catch up on schoolwork and family time.
Last year, he and his mother moved into a farmhouse in Mooresville, North Carolina. He attends Lake Norman High School, where he is in the second half of his junior year, and expects to graduate from the school next year.
“I feel like I’ve finally got some roots now,” said Ankrum. “It’s nice to be able to catch my breath and stretch my legs out a little bit.”
The fact that Ankrum, who also runs Super Late Model races in the southeast during the season to fill out his schedule for his family-owned team, ended up in Mooresville to begin with is something of a surprise. Less than a decade ago, he thought the game of golf would be his one true love.
Through sheer happenstance, his father was a serious amateur golfer in southern California during Tiger Woods’ ascension to stardom two decades ago.
“I started playing golf when I was six,” Ankrum said. “My dad raced quarter midgets as a kid, but when he was 13 and time to move up to a midget my grandparents couldn’t afford that. At the time, they figured it was smarter to choose something else. My grandfather said, ‘Why don’t we just go golfing?’ My dad and Tiger grew up in same area, and he would tell me stories about how good he was. If they were playing in a tournament and my dad shot 70, Tiger shot 65.
“Hearing those stories, I wanted to go play against Tiger Woods.”
The similarities are striking between racing and golf, Ankrum added.
“It’s you against the course,” said Ankrum, who counts himself as a big Jordan Spieth fan. “It’s like being in a race car almost. Yes, you’re out there racing against everyone else, but a driver is also racing against the track.”
Going into the New Year”s weekend like……. pic.twitter.com/1NMBNf94eP
— Tyler Ankrum (@TylerAnkrum) December 29, 2017
Ankrum will race against one of his favorite tracks this weekend, when the K&N Pro Series heads to Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, for the Visit Hampton VA 150. It’s where he made his first career start in a Late Model in 2014, the first time he ever strapped into a full-sized stock car after graduating from midgets.
He still remembers his first race at Langley, and there might be a sense of unfinished business at Langley.
“I finished second by half a car length,” Ankrum said. “It was voted as one of the 10 best short track faces that year.”
If he can grab his first career K&N Pro Series East win on Saturday, maybe he’ll have something to sing about.
POINTS SHAKEUP: The K&N Pro Series East is sure to get a shakeup in the standings after the Visit Hampton VA 150.
Neither Gilliland or Burton are entered the in the event, opening the door for a full-time driver to finally wrestle control of the point lead with a good finish.
Ankrum sits third in the standings behind Gilliland and Burton, with Spencer Davis five points behind him. Brandon McReynolds is fifth, two points behind Davis.
LUCKY SEVEN: This is the series seventh race at Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway. The first six races produced six different winners, five of whom went on to NASCAR national series competition.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers William Byron and Corey LaJoie each won East races at Langley, with Byron winning there in 2015 and LaJoie winning three years earlier.
Former NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Dylan Kwasniewski won the 2013 Langley race, with Ben Rhodes and Todd Gilliland winning in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
HOME TRACKS: Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway is home to NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing each week.
The track, which opened in 1950 and hosted nine races in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, features Late Models as its Division I entry in the Whelen All-American Series. Current Cup driver Denny Hamlin was the track’s Mini Stock champion in 1997. The track recently hosted the Denny Hamlin Foundation Short Track Showdown, which was won by its namesake.