Tyler Nicely has, for the past several years, been one of the most successful Dirt Modified drivers in the country. That was exemplified this summer when the Owensboro, Kentucky racer earned the DIRTcar Summer Nationals championship after notching five feature victories on that tour. Along with that, he currently leads the DIRTcar National standings for that type of machines.
The 28-year-old driver credits a change he and his team made at the end of the 2022 campaign for the success experienced this year.
“We switched back to Elite Chassis back at the end of last year and had a new piece going into this year,” he explained in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “We started out strong in SpeedWeeks and picked up a few wins down there then came back home and kept the momentum rolling. I think we’re at 24 wins on the year in the Modified. It’s been a heck of a year, we picked up the Summer Nationals championship, and we’re leading the national points right now. The year has been successful, everything has gone smooth and it’s been really good.”
But this past weekend, Nicely showed up at Kentucky’s Richmond Raceway to compete in the Ultimate Heart of America Series-sanctioned $20,059-to-win Paul ‘Butterball’ Woolridge Memorial in a Super Late Model owned by the Hatcher family. That team has fielded cars for a number of drivers in the Kentucky region for some time.
While he intends to continue racing his Modified, Nicely hopes the opportunity in Late Model racing will both continue and expand.
“We’ll just hit and miss Modified shows for the rest of the year,” Nicely said. “The points are over at the end of September. We’ll go racing next Friday and probably the next weekend on a Friday again. We’re just dabbling in this Late Model stuff then we’ll focus on our main goal for the rest of the year and that’s winning the national title.”
The opportunity to drive the No. 6 car came just a short time before the Woolridge Memorial.
“The Hatcher family called me last week and asked me if I would be interested in driving it,” Nicely recalled. “It’s a brand new Longhorn. I’ve only ran two prior Super races before last night and it’s definitely the nicest equipment I’ve been in. I just made a driver mistake last night in the heat race. I’ve just got to get seat time and get more comfortable and understand these race cars versus the Modifieds.”
The Richmond event was made up of a two-day weekend with qualifying and heat races held on Friday night and a B-main and the 59-lap feature contested on Saturday evening. Nicely turned in the sixth fastest lap in Group B time-trials when he got his turn on the track. However, he was unable to transfer to the main event after losing two positions on the final lap of the fourth heat race. He ultimately made the show by placing fourth in the B-main.
Is there any similarity between the Modified he is so used to and the Late Model he is adjusting to?
“Not the driving styles,” Nicely replied. “With the Modified you can kind of get the momentum out there and keep your speed up. Whet I’ve felt like I need so far in these things is you better be going out there like you’re qualifying every single lap and run these things as hard as you can. That’s the biggest adjustment for me when we came to Richmond for my first race so we’re dealing with the cards we’ve been handed. We’ll take tonight and see how it goes and hopefully get some more laps underneath us and go on to Lake Cumberland next week.”
After having had such a successful Modified career, Nicely says there is a certain degree of self-imposed pressure for him in moving to a form of racing in which he has relatively little experience.
“I’ve raced my whole career in Mods but I always wanted to be a full-time Late Model driver,” he pointed out. “I feel like I’ve worked myself up to get this opportunity and I’ve had good people behind me. I mean, I’m a little nervous because I’m driving somebody else’s equipment, I don’t want to go out there and tear it up and destroy their stuff for no reason. I’ve got make good decisions behind the wheel and get comfortable. Hopefully we can start clicking and find what I like in this thing moving forward.”
Nicely finished 12th in Saturday’s main event. The continuation of the adjustment to this type of racing is one Nicely looks forward to.
“Some people say Mods are the hardest thing to drive. I wouldn’t say either one’s harder or easier. The way you have to drive them is so much different, the driver just has to adapt. We got some laps last week over at Lake Cumberland to shake it down and make sure nothing would fall off the car so I was lucky enough to have some laps on this car before we came over here. We qualified decent and put ourselves in good position for that heat race and I made a driver mistake just not knowing what to do in the position I was in. Like I said, I just need to get better and hopefully this deal will keep going.”
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