Tyler Soppe is 2017 Eastern Iowa Driver of the Year
SHERRILL — Tyler Soppe doesn’t much care what you think.
He knows he’s not everyone’s favorite driver. He knows how some people perceive his style. He knows he’ll get booed at certain places.
As long as he can roll his No. 3T IMCA Sport Mod into Victory Lane and celebrate with his kids Tayler (eight) and Parker (three), what anyone thinks of how he got there is irrelevant. He’s far from the first person to say they have that mentality, but he’s one of the few who can back it up.
Soppe is the 2017 Eastern Iowa Driver of the Year, and he’s earned that title on the back of 29 wins (at nine different tracks), track championships at Maquoketa Speedway and Farley Speedway and if unofficial math holds, an IMCA National Championship.
“I don’t let anything bother me too much,” Soppe said. “I’ve told everyone, if you want to come yell at me after the race, as long as I get to give my kids a trophy and they’re smiling, I don’t care what you say. Nothing that way bothers me.”
Whether or not what other people think means anything is a matter of perspective. Soppe is like everyone else in that he doesn’t want enemies and wants to be respected, but he also doesn’t lose sleep at night, either.
And even if there are a few who think he’s “probably too aggressive,” as he puts it, Soppe has won more than a few fans in the last few years. He got his 29th win of 2017 on Sept. 17 at Benton County Speedway in Vinton, which gave him 60 combined in the last two seasons. For now, anyway, he’s winning people over, too.
As anyone who’s won a lot in racing knows, fans get tired of it after a while.
The last two Drivers of the Year, Justin Kay (2014-15) and Tony Olson (2016) know very much what it’s like to have people doubt your success, accuse you of getting it in an artificial way or just plain boo you simply for being there — let alone when you pull into Victory Lane.
Soppe said he hears it more at his regular tracks — he races weekly at Farley Speedway, Maquoketa Speedway and Dubuque Speedway — than when he travels, which makes sense on a certain level. Race fans are an interesting dichotomy in that a certain subset is territorial — they don’t like out-of-towners and want their locals to succeed — while another are hard-liners for individuals. When he’s at his three weekly tracks, Soppe expects to hear it from fans of his biggest local rivals.
At Farley and Dubuque, Soppe goes head to head with Troy Bauer, who won the Dubuque track title this year. Regionally, it’s Olson, who beat Soppe for the 2016 national championship last year. The three separate fan bases love to go round and round, and love defending their drivers.
Beyond the fanbases for the 9k and T23, though, Soppe said he’s seen a significant increase in interest from fans who didn’t pay close attention before.
He said he likes to hope, at least, his aggressive style wins over as many or more people than it turns off.
“My mom sold 450 shirts this year; we couldn’t keep them at Boone,” Soppe said. “We had people at the trailer every day wanting shirts. We had people calling from Independence and Vinton wanting to know the next time we were coming. We’d ship them to them. Everyone up there wants to see someone else win, so that’s probably why.
“I think I get along with most people, but people around here would probably say I’m too aggressive or could wait a little longer with most stuff. But I always say, ‘If you wait, then that caution won’t come out and you’ll never catch the guy way out there. I’m just going right away.”
Rivalries are an undeniable part of auto racing, and anyone with any racing savvy will acknowledge they’re good for the sport — to a degree.
As long as it provides something for the fans to remember and, most importantly, prompts them to come to the track, Soppe said it’s fair game. No one wants destroyed equipment, but the Sherrill driver said he’s all for running with a rivalry if it means putting on a show.
He’s offered words in Victory Lane in the past that might goad another driver or two. He’s gotten into it on the track and had some matter-of-fact things to say afterward. That’s all part of what’s made people love racing.
“If there’s a reason for people to come watch the races, more people would come,” Soppe said. “We’ve been in that situation a few times where maybe it’s gone too far, but when you know two guys are going to go at it and maybe lean on each other, beat a couple body panels in; that little kid who comes to the races, he might remember who won but if two guys have sparks flying, that little kid is going to remember that.
“I think it’s good.”
Soppe’s 60 wins in the last two seasons reaches a mark he said he could’ve only dreamed about a few years ago.
His benchmark every season for what he calls a “good” season is 10 wins, he said. But like some others who made the commitment to sustained success, it wasn’t until he finally pulled the plug on racing with newer iron underneath him that he saw 10 wins go from the ceiling to basically an afterthought.
Before the 2016 season, Soppe said the two-car garage he races out of didn’t have a brand-new car in it. He won races on used chassis and didn’t have the same grasp for changing technology on the race cars he does now. Jumping in a brand-new Larry Shaw Race Car for 2016 and then adding a new Dirt Hustler Chassis this season has sped up that process tenfold. Getting on a shock program with Bob Harris Enterprises put him over the top, Soppe said. Learning all he could about the new technology underneath him put him in a position to be versatile when he went to those new tracks.
With the help of his brother Dalton every night at their garage and a handful of others at the track, Soppe’s goals just kept getting bigger. He won at Scotland County Speedway in Memphis, Mo., Cedar County Raceway in Tipton, Quad City Speedway in East Moline, Ill., Independence Motor Speedway, Benton County Speedway in Vinton, Davenport Speedway and his weekly tracks at Farley, Maquoketa and Dubuque.
If unofficial math holds and he closes out his first national title this weekend, Soppe will have reached a milestone he called “the highlight of my racing career so far.”
He came close last year, but said losing to Olson came with a silver lining — and pointed out Olson had to go through the same thing. He learned last year. He won more than 20 races for the first time. He didn’t know how to win a title.
Going after a national title is analogous to winning races in the first place. You have to learn how to win. Soppe knows how to win now.
“Before we got to this point, there was no pressure; we’d just go have fun and come home and do it over,” Soppe said. “I didn’t think about it the first 30 nights this year. We were winning three times a week, so you have to think about it.
“Tony had to get second to know what it took coming back. He got his year of sitting there as the runner-up and got that confidence. The door was there. I felt the same thing after last year. Now we know we can do this. I think it takes losing it to be able to win it.”
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