It took several years for Tayler Malsam to become one of the premier drivers in NASCAR. It took him just one year away to realize how much he missed the extraordinary challenge, drama and thrill of elite auto racing.
The 25-year-old Malsam, who got his start racing go-karts as a teenager at Monroe’s Evergreen Speedway, sat out last season after leaving the TriStar Motorsports team and NASCAR’s Nationwide Series in September of 2012. Unsure what the future might hold, he returned to the Seattle area and spent the ensuing months working jobs in real estate and construction.
Being out of racing for a year “brought me back to the real world,” said Malsam, who lived in Mill Creek for a time before moving to Sammamish. “And it was a good learning experience for me. But it also made me appreciate what I had when I was racing.”
Malsam, a 2007 graduate of Skyline High School, said he spent last year “watching every race on TV when I was hanging out with my buddies. And it was hard for me to see everyone I’d raced against that was still out there racing.”
“When I finally got a call to get back in a car this year,” Malsam said, “it was a no-brainer.”
In the spring it was announced that Malsam would join the Turner Scott Motorsports team for 12 races on the 2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. In four races to date, he has two top-10 finishes, including a fifth place in his May 9 season debut at Kansas Speedway.
But as much as Malsam enjoys running on asphalt ovals, he also loves racing sprint cars on dirt. On Thursday night he will race in a Truck Series event at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky, then fly to Seattle and head to Skagit Speedway in Alger for the 43rd annual Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup, where he plans to race Friday and Saturday.
“I love sprint cars and I love racing trucks,” Malsam said. “And if I can do both on the same weekend, it’s an absolute joy.”
Already this season Malsam has competed in a Truck Series race in the Midwest or eastern United States, and then flown to the Northwest for a sprint car race. Once he went to Skagit Speedway, another time to Grays Harbor Speedway in Aberdeen.
The cross-country travel “makes you tired,” he said, “but then it wakes you up again once you’re back in the car.”
Though Skagit Speedway might seem a far cry from the glamour and prestige of NASCAR’s top tracks, Malsam says driving a sprint car is “my favorite thing to do. You just get up on the wheel and make it happen. … There’s a joy of racing against your friends from up (in the Puget Sound area). It’s just a local feeling and it’s a lot of fun.”
That said, Malsam is delighted to be back racing this year against some of the top names in NASCAR.
“I love the Truck Series races,” he said. “You get a lot of young drivers and some old veterans, and you’ve got to go from the beginning because there aren’t many laps and track position is critical.”
In his year away from racing, Malsam said he wondered if the door to his NASCAR career would ever re-open.
“That thought always crosses your mind,” he said. “You think your career might be over, so you always have that doubt in your head. You’re thinking, ‘Is this ever going to happen again?’ But I sat down with my dad and my people, and we decided that we weren’t going to get back into racing unless we had the best opportunity out there.”
That opportunity turned out to be the Turner Scott Motorsports team. Malsam was so happy “that once we finally signed the contract, I had to kind of pinch myself.”
For Malsam, of course, the ultimate dream would be to race someday against superstars such as Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
“I’d definitely love to run one or two Sprint Cup seasons,” he said. “But it takes so much money to run out there, and you have to have luck on your side to get the opportunity to do that.
“It’s a tough series to run with, but I’d take any opportunity I could to do it. I definitely wouldn’t turn it down. Because to say I ran four years on the Sprint Cup Series, or to say I won a Sprint Cup race, that’d be a pretty cool accomplishment.”
But in the meantime, he said, “I’m just super-fortunate to be back in the sport. Because if I’m in a race car and getting paid, I’m happy. It doesn’t matter to me what series it is.”