Q&A: Rising Star Tanner Carrick
Cover Photo by Brendon Bauman
CONCORD, N.C. — When it comes to rising stars in open-wheel racing, one of the names that is quickly joining the conversation as a top prospect is 16-year-old Tanner Carrick.
Carrick, from Lincoln, Calif., is a three-time track champion across three different divisions of winged mini-outlaw karts at Cycleland Speedway, as well as last year’s USAC National Midget Championship Rookie of the Year.
He was tabbed to drive one of the potent Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports fleet of Toyota-powered midgets last summer and recently began his second season with the team.
With a passion for all classes of racing, Carrick still returns home to California to race an outlaw kart, as well as winged and non-winged sprint cars, whenever he’s not on the road with the Kunz team.
We caught up with Carrick following the USAC midget season opener at the Southern Illinois Center on March 10 to discuss his background in motorsports, his outlook on the new year and more.
Q: How did you get your start in racing?
Carrick: I started racing go-karts when I was six and then worked my way up into the mini-outlaw karts on the West Coast. My dad was my crew chief and it was just something that the two of us enjoyed doing together; something I’ve always been passionate about.
Once I started winning races in the box stock and 250 (Intermediate) classes, then it was a no-brainer to keep making kind of the similar jumps that Kyle Larson did out here that got his career launched. After I’d found some success in the (premier) Open class for the outlaw karts, last year I got the call from Keith Kunz to come run a midget for him over the summer … and things have continued to build from there.
Q: Talk about what it was like growing up in the mini-outlaw community on the West Coast and what the journey was like from then to where you are now.
Carrick: Man, it’s the West Coast … that’s where a lot of talent in racing is and has been for a long time. Where I come from, just about everyone that grows up in racing out there ends up doing it, and many have moved on to bigger things from there.
You look at the names that have come from the mini-outlaws up into the big leagues of racing — Kyle Larson, Rico Abreu — guys like that used those cars as launching pads and then still come back when they can and try to help grow the sport because they know it’s where they came from and what it means. I always felt that out here and that’s part of what keeps pushing me forward and fueling that fire to do more in the sport.
It’s been a journey that’s been a lot of fun so far, but I know it’s not over … I certainly hope there’s a lot more left to go. I know I’m having fun in racing right now and hope to keep that going for a while.
Q: Was there something specific that attracted you to midget racing or that made that the logical next step for you to take in your career?
Carrick: I’ve always looked up to Kyle (Larson) and Christopher (Bell), and that’s just the route that they went. We were getting ready to run a sprint car here when I got the call from Keith about the midget, and I figured, ‘Hey, it can’t be that bad, right?’
But that pull of knowing that two guys I looked up to had gone in that direction and were successful enough to move on into even bigger things, I think, definitely drew me to it and made me want to go down that road.
Q: What was it like when you got the call from Keith Kunz and what is it like to be a part of a team that has made so much history in short track racing over such a short time?
Carrick: All of this basically happened because of a phone call I got from Keith, basically two days after we had bought all of our sprint car stuff to run as a family (team) in California. He asked about me driving for them … and that’s the opportunity of a lifetime. When you get a call like that, it’s just an unbelievable feeling and that’s a particular moment in my racing career that I’ll never forget.
What’s cool recently is that I got the chance to go to the Chili Bowl with them and hang out with all the guys … it’s great and they’re just an awesome group. You really can’t ask for better than to be associated with Keith and Pete (Willoughby), as well as Jack Irving and all the Toyota guys. When you drive for KKM, you know it’s a special place and you really appreciate all they’ve done. It’s super special to be part of.
(Tanner Carrick (Brendon Bauman photo) Q: What did you learn from last year, being your first season with Keith Kunz Motorsports, and how do you grade your performance?
Carrick: Last year, I felt like I started out alright for it being my first time ever in a midget, but there was a lot to learn, for sure. The biggest thing for me was, ‘How do I drive these cars compared to the mini-outlaws?’ and that just comes down to seat time. I think I just needed laps and once I got more comfortable in the midget and started to figure out what I needed, then you saw things improve.
The USAC/ARDC races at Williams Grove last summer … that was where I felt like everything started to click and we found a lot more consistency. It was really the same for me in the sprint car, too. We started out this year a lot better with that program as well; it just hasn’t necessarily shown up in the finishes quite yet.
I would say our results aren’t where we want them to be just yet, but I’m happy with the speed we’re finding.
Q: What is your schedule look for the remainder of the season?
Carrick: We know we’re running the full USAC points schedule with Keith and we’ll also run any POWRi (Lucas Oil National Midget League) events that we can fit in when there’s not a USAC race or that makes sense in the calendar.
I think we have 25 sprint car races scheduled around my midget races with Keith right now and then if something happens back East to where we get rained out or something, then we’ll have options to come back home and add some of those races as they form and we go along through the year.
We’ve already ran two non-winged and one winged race this year, but we haven’t had a whole lot of luck in any of our features yet! We won a heat race at Marysville (Raceway Park) but haven’t had a solid finish quite yet. We’re working hard, though, and we know better days are coming.
Q: Have you set a specific goal that you want to hit during the USAC season?
Carrick: The team hasn’t set a specific goal, but I’ve set a personal goal of finishing top five in points this year, and I definitely want to pick up that first USAC midget win this year if I can. Logan (Seavey) winning at DuQuoin certainly motivated all of the rest of us (on the KKM team) to get after it that much harder!
Q: Beyond this season, have you started to map out where you’d like to go in your career as you get closer to 18 and have the potential to make a jump to pavement like Christopher (Bell) and Kyle (Larson) did?
Carrick: I really want to go to NASCAR. That’s my goal. That is my goal for the rest of my life, is to work my way into NASCAR and, hopefully, stay there until I retire.
There’s been a thought about doing World of Outlaws and staying predominately dirt, but I’ve always focused on NASCAR and all that, to be honest. But hey, if that plan doesn’t work, I’ll stay running dirt and have a great time doing it.