In continuation of our feature series, “First-Seasons,” Speedway Media takes a look back at a driver’s first year or rookie year(s) of racing. This week we catch up with 2020 Daytona Prototype International Rolex 24 winner and Wayne Taylor Racing driver, Ricky Taylor.
In this interview, Taylor talks about growing up in a racing family, his first Rolex 24 start, how he prepared for his rookie season in 2008, his first victory at Lime Rock Park, how he handed expectations throughout his early years and so much more.
SM: You entered Grand-Am Sports Car Racing at the age of 18-years-old back in 2008, driving on a partial schedule of eight races. What it was like making your debut back then and did you feel like that age was the right time for you to start racing professionally?
RT: “I have been very lucky to grow up in a racing family,” Taylor said. “To have my dad (Wayne Taylor, Team Owner of Wayne Taylor Racing) in the position he has been in, gave me many opportunities while I was growing up that I would not have had without him. In 2008, I was definitely underprepared to be competing in the Rolex 24, but it was a great opportunity to learn at a fast rate. And those opportunities to compete in major events with star drivers gave me the best schooling possible in what it takes to compete at the highest level.”
SM: Obviously, you’ve grown up with the Taylor name which has been a household name in racing for many years now. When you first started Sports Car racing, was there a lot of pressure for you to perform well, or did that not bother you knowing you could go to your dad for advice?
RT: “It was a mental challenge for me,” he said. “I am a self-critical person, so it was natural for me to question why I was in a position that I was in. So, I always felt like I didn’t deserve what I was getting through my dad. But, at the same time, it would be silly to pass the opportunities up. It was great to be surrounded by such knowledgeable people and to have my dad play such a big role in my career helped me to learn in a way that most drivers do not have the opportunity to do. I always felt like I wanted to prove myself as a driver, first, to earn my position on merit and not because I was placed there, so that was always a struggle I had with myself to try to look at my career and performance impartially.”
SM: As you entered the 2008 season, you ran part-time, competing in eight races of the 15-race schedule. Why the part-time schedule and was it hard to keep expectations realistic as the season wore on? Talk us through what your general expectations were for that year?
RT: “A part-time season was a good opportunity to keep expectations in check and to learn as much as possible,” the two-time Rolex 24 winner said. “It was mixed together with a few different cars and tracks that were new to me so the pressure was high to prove myself but they were mostly with smaller teams where I could focus on learning with my teammates.
SM: Your first IMSA start came at the famous Rolex 24 driving for your dad’s team, in the No. 10 SunTrust Racing machine. You started fourth but finished fifth, eight laps off the pace. Can you discuss how excited you were for your first Rolex 24 and racing for your dad’s team in your first Grand-Am start? I’m sure that had to be something special.
RT: “This was definitely an intimidating event and I felt very underprepared to be in a top team at the Rolex 24,” Taylor said. “But, (it) was very special to drive for dad for the first time and share the car with my mentor, Max Angelelli.”
SM: As you look back on the Rolex 24 in your first year in 2008, how anxious or nervous were you as the race came closer and closer on your radar? Or were you ready to go by the time the green flag flew? Is there anything in your mind you could have done differently for a higher finish?
RT: “I was extremely anxious and nervous before the race and it took me some time to settle into a rhythm in the race but did not drive much during the race.”
SM: After Daytona, you competed for Beyer Racing and then Doran Racing, before switching to Beyer Racing in 2009 to run the full schedule. How did you get connected with Beyer Racing to give you a full-time shot?
RT: “Beyer Racing came about after meeting the Beyer family through Steven Charlesly who now works for Multimatic,” he said. “Steven was bringing the Beyer family into sportscar racing after they had been competing in their home state of Texas. We connected very well with the Beyer family. Jeff, who was the father, and Jared, the son/driver, and I had a great relationship in the first few races and it was a lot of fun to race together. Jared and I were a similar age and we both wanted to make a career of racing. We connected with the Cape Brothers to run the car for 2009 and it was a great group of people to compete together for the full season.”
SM: For the rest of 2008, you had some respectable finishes such as fifth at Birmingham and seventh at Mid-Ohio. Were you starting to get more comfortable with the car or was there still a learning curve for you?
RT: “It (my rookie year) was all a learning curve,” Taylor said. “Getting to race against people at a higher level than I was, made it to where I felt like I was constantly learning and while trying to remain confident in my own ability, trying to take in as much as possible to get to their level as fast as possible, but it just took time.”
SM: After a brief year with Beyer Racing in 09, you returned to your dad’s team in 2010 and eventually earned your first podium finish at VIR where you finished third after starting fifth. Looking back, did you think you had a shot to win that race as you look at the results and how satisfying was your first podium finish?
RT: “2010 was a good year, where we fought for poles and wins throughout the year and, after a good year with Beyer, rejoining WTR (Wayne Taylor Racing) raised the expectations again.”
SM: Eventually, one race later at Lime Rock, you won your first Grand-Am race after leading 95 laps. What does that first victory still mean to you and have you ever had a chance to watch that race back?
RT: “That (winning Lime Rock) was a great experience. It meant so much to win with Max and the WTR team,” he said. “Our car was extremely strong in Lime Rock and it was fantastic to break the seal of winning a race in the Grand-Am Rolex Series.”
SM: Looking back on your early years as a rookie driver, are there any races that stand out where you thought, ‘I think we could have had this one won had we done this part perfectly?’ If so, what race sticks out?
RT: “There were many instances where we left the racetrack feeling that we could’ve done a better job,” Taylor said. “The most regular piece that I would take out of those early days was, with how limited the track time is, how we could make the most of the practice sessions and getting up to speed as fast as possible. Also, not being intimidated of the other competitors, but it mainly just took time to overcome that.”
SM: Some racers collect their own merchandise and some don’t. Are you a driver that collects your own memorabilia and if so, what do you have in your collection that reminds you of your rookie season?
RT: “I do keep hats and trophies from race wins,” he said. “But as far as my rookie season, mainly just photos, videos and notes from the weekends.”
SM: Obviously, you’ve won the Rolex 24 twice in your career. However, aside from those two wins, what is your favorite trophy out of your collection and why?
RT: “That (my favorite trophy) would have to be Watkins Glen 6 Hour from 2011 which was my first race win as the finishing driver.”
SM: Wrapping this interview up, it’s hard to believe your debut came 13 years ago already. However, if time travel were available, what would a 31-year-old Ricky Taylor tell an 18-year-old Ricky Taylor? Is there anything you would do differently?
RT: “It’s so hard to believe,” Taylor said. “I think the main thing would be to not be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and to trust that the experience just comes with time. If I had to do anything differently, it would be to not care as much about what people think and maybe not join social media.”
Throughout Taylor’s career, the Apopka, Florida native has earned seven career victories in the old NASCAR Grand-Am Series along with 20 podiums, 12 poles and 1,267 laps led. In today’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship career, Taylor currently has 71 career starts, 18 wins, 38 podiums, 17 poles and 3,431 laps led. The Wayne Taylor Racing driver also collected two championships (2017, 2020).
Special thanks to Liz Van Oostenburg for coordinating this interview and many thanks to Ricky Taylor for taking the time out of his busy schedule for the interview.