Words: Cindy Bullion
While many 18-year-olds are looking to spend every free minute with friends or work a part-time job to fund college and fun, Tyler Allison finds himself caught up in a sport that seems to be accomplishing both — and more.
Tyler is a driver, and one of the top among hundreds, in the Protect the Harvest.com Midwest Junior Super Series (MJSS). He has secured nearly 100 trophies and awards in addition to more than $15,000 in winnings since his Junior Dragster start at age 8. In 2015, Tyler claimed the No. 1 points position in the 330 Outlaw class across five events.
But, the Columbia, Missouri, senior isn’t one to gloat.
“Cockiness is not the best attitude,” Tyler says. “You may be on top one weekend but maybe not the next, so you can’t really take it when you win as you are the best.”
NHRA Top Fuel World Champion Antron Brown says that sportsmanship attitude is just one of the many lessons drivers like Tyler learn through MJSS, which is open to children as young as 6.
“I’ve been to numerous races where people race just for the competition. This wasn’t about just winning and losing,” says Antron of his first experience with MJSS. “Discipline, respect. These kids were learning, at 9, 10, 11 years old, lessons I didn’t learn until my 20s! I looked at how the kids just conducted themselves with one another, like mini adults.”
Antron says he was so impressed that he got his three children, ages 8 to 14, involved in the series and signed on to serve as MJSS’ volunteer marketing director.
“It makes me feel good to give back,” he says.
What MJSS drivers get from Antron is real-world advice from a professional drag racer. During down times on race weekends, he often hosts seminars offering tips on securing sponsors, communicating with media and race officials, and racing, of course.
“They are learning the mental game of the sport,” Antron says. “I want to teach them the business side, too.”
For example, Antron says one driver implemented a fundraising strategy that involved sending friends and family to a restaurant on a designated night in exchange for a portion of profits.
MJSS founder and director Dave Beimfohr says the series focuses on lessons both on and off track because next-generation development is paramount.
“If we don’t start cultivating these kids, where are we going to be someday?” he says. “This is more than just racing. This is about our future leaders.”
Also recognizing the need for investment in youth, COMP Cams has signed on as a sponsor of the series’ Pro-Sportsman class.
“Drag racing is a great way to teach kids mechanical skills and show how what they’ve learned in school can be applied in the real world, no matter their future career choice,” says Billy Carroll, COMP Cams contingency coordinator.
Dave says he is grateful for the racing community supporting MJSS’ mission through the years and notes it has come from both businesses and individuals. Just last year, NHRA Funny Car driver Johnny Gray and backer Terry Chandler each put their stamp on the series and its youth, setting up two college scholarships.
This fall, one of those $10,000 scholarships will help send Tyler to the University of Northwestern Ohio’s College of Applied Technologies, where he will begin study in high performance motorsports.
“I obviously wanted to go to college, and probably would have ended up in general automotive, but this (scholarship) definitely opened the door,” Tyler says. “High performance is what I always wanted to do, so when it came up, it became a reality. I can do this.”
Dave says it makes him proud knowing MJSS and its supporters are helping Tyler get one step closer to dreams of a career with a traveling professional racing team.
“We know for our sport to succeed, or even continue, we have to invest in our youth now,” he says.
Part of that investment, according to Antron, includes the series encouraging whole family involvement.
“It’s a family venture,” he says, noting families often pitch tents in the track infield and then spend time together there tweaking racecars and prepping for competition. “Kind of like going to Yogi Bear (campground) then racing together.”
Says Tyler of the family-focus impact on teens, “You’re not out partying on Friday and Saturday. You’re with your family. It brings you closer.”
What began with Dave and friends Brad Holzhauer and Rod Schaeffer in 2008 — because they and fellow young drivers wanted more races closer to the St. Louis area — has now evolved into a series positively affecting the lives of hundreds of youth each year.
MJSS will hold seven races this season at tracks in Indianapolis; Lyons, and Terra Haute, Indiana; Hebron, Ohio; Martin, Michigan; and Madison, Illinois. An average of more than 400 entries per race made 2015 the series’ best year, with drivers traveling from as far away as Canada, California, and Pennsylvania to participate in the August race at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. Payouts to winning youth range up to $1,000, with “Big Daddy” (Don Garlits) trophies also awarded in 11 classes.
The 2016 MJSS season begins May 27 at Lyons Raceway Park in Lyons, Indiana.