WALKILL, N.Y. — Story and audio by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Tyler Dippel Racing photo —
There was a time during the summer months that Tyler Dippel admittedly wondered if he would be back in a race car during the 2015 season.
Dippel, 15, was involved in a freak accident at Lebanon Valley Speedway on May 9 when the 1,200-pound rear door to his team trailer collided with both he and fellow teenager Roddy Watts. A crew member had opened the rear door latch, unaware that the descent cable had broken on the way to the track, turning the ramp door into a dead weight.
Watts tried to push Dippel out of the way, but the two were pinned underneath the door before being rescued by fellow competitor J.R. Heffner and his crew members.
“I owe Roddy for doing what he did,” Dippel says now, almost four months removed from that night. “His actions probably kept both of us from being hurt worse than what we were. He only ended up with a broken femur, jaw and nose — I had a little bit more ‘fun’ on my end. It was a tough deal for everyone involved at the track.”
The incident left Dippel with a bi-lateral fracture of his right pelvis in five places, as well as a cortical crack of the left pelvis. While no surgery was required to repair the injuries, Dippel was treated at the Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center Trauma Unit and told he would be out of a race car for a minimum of two months in order to heal.
At that point, Dippel said while he knew he would be back behind the wheel sooner or later, the road seemed much longer in the face of his injuries.
“I knew that I would heal up, but when you’re stuck laying in bed or using a walker to get around, you tend to ask yourself how long it’s going to take,” the Walkill, N.Y. teenager admitted. “It was tough to be patient. That’s not always been one of my strongest suits (laugh). It was frustrating not to be in the car and equally as tough to work back up to where I was before strength-wise.”
“It all wore on me for the first couple of weeks until everyone had a better picture of what it was going to take for me to heal properly.”
Through hard work, determination and two months of physical therapy, Dippel got back on his feet (literally) and returned to a big-block modified on July 3 at Albany-Saratoga Speedway. While the talented teenager finished 17th to legend Brett Hearn in the 30-car field that night, it was a much bigger spark of confidence for both he and the team than it might have appeared from the outside.
“That first race back, we struggled a bit,” Dippel said. “But, it was enough to prove that I could still dice with the best of them. We could have picked an easier field to come back to, but you don’t get better unless you challenge yourself, right?”
The challenges — as well as Dippel’s impressive comeback trail — have continued since his return to the race car two months ago.
In addition to competing in a myriad of dirt modified races over the late summer stretch, the young standout has also made his move back into the realm of full-fendered cars as well — completing a successful ARCA-sanctioned test at Elkin, North Carolina’s Friendship Speedway and competing in an ARCA/CRA Super Series late model race at Baer Field (Ind.) Speedway ahead of the ARCA Racing Series event at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Aug. 23.
Upon completion of that program, Dippel was cleared to compete for Lira Motorsports at Springfield, making his ARCA debut in the process. Dippel said the deal with Carlos Lira’s team was one that he had anticipated for a long time in his racing career, but one that came together extremely quickly before the race weekend.
“The deal did come together extremely quickly, I’d say in the last three or four weeks before the Springfield race, even though we had been talking about it for a while. Especially considering we had to go through the Friendship test and the super late model race just to be cleared to start, we didn’t have any time to waste for sure.”
Dippel only had eight laps around the one-mile dirt oval due to rain that shortened the practice session, but started 11th and methodically worked his way through the pack like a seasoned veteran. He was running second inside of 15 laps to go before a series of late race restarts shuffled him back into traffic, where he was ultimately collected in a last-lap crash that saw the likes of Frank Kimmel and Austin Wayne Self also involved.
Though the final box score showed the New York native with a 12th-place finish, it was not indicative of the poise Dippel showed in the closing stages of the event, going toe-to-toe with some of the greats in the ARCA record books.
“This race went really well for my first time out there,” said Dippel. “I was happy overall, but we didn’t get the finish this team deserved. I probably used up the tires racing up to second place like I did, and that just comes from me being new to the series and our strategy being a little off. There’s no doubt in my mind that this was a top five car, and I feel like we’ll be even better the next time out.”
“Just to be able to race with Frank, [series points leader] Grant [Enfinger], [eventual winner] A.J. [Fike] and those guys was really cool for me, and it’s an honor to be able to compete at that level and learn from them. I want to thank Mohawk Northeast, D &A Concrete Contractors, Prestige Plumbing and Heating, Tycar Trenchless Technologies and Lebanon Valley Speedway, in addition to Lira Motorsports sponsors Momo, TraqGear and Ford Performance for helping make that possible.””
With one ARCA dirt race under his belt, Dippel now turns his attention to Thursday’s Super DIRTcar Series Bud Light 100 at Rolling Wheels Raceway Park before returning to the seat of the No. 58 Lira Motorsports Ford for Monday’s Southern Illinois 100 presented by Federated Car Care at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.
The teen says his experience at Springfield leaves him confident that he can contend for the win at DuQuoin despite it being only his second-ever ARCA start.
“The goal is always to go out and win the race,” Dippel said confidently on Wednesday. “We go in believing we have as good a shot as anyone and then see what the circumstances give us. I’d like a solid finish, to be able to improve on what we did at Springfield, but if we have a shot at the win I’m definitely going to go for it.”
“I think we can apply a lot of what we learned at Springfield directly to DuQuoin. I think the two tracks are going to be very similar, and I think as a team we’re going to be better. If we can go in with a little bit tighter strategy I think we can turn that into a better result.”
Dippel also recently competed in the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) sanctioned AIM Recycling Oxford 250 for super late models at the Oxford Plains Speedway, finishing 41st after mechanical troubles sidelined him at lap 31 of the annual northeastern classic. Dippel finished second in the PASS national points standings to Ben Rowe in 2014, with a transmission failure in the finale race denying him the crown after leading the title chase all season long.
Dippel’s start at Oxford will serve as a precursor to the 200-lap ARCA race at Salem Speedway fueled by the Hoosier Lottery on Sept. 19, which the young teen found out early on Wednesday he will be competing in for Lira Motorsports.
Dippel will be driving the No. 38 Ford for the team, replacing previously-announced 15-year-old Todd Gilliland as the driver of that entry.
“I can’t express how excited I am to be able to go forward from this and be able to make an ARCA start on pavement,” Dippel said. “It’s going to be really cool to translate my experience over to the pavement and I’m excited and grateful that this deal with the Liras has come together like it has. I owe them a huge thanks and I’m looking forward to being able to race again with them in the coming weeks.”
Following Salem, Dippel’s focus will shift back to the dirt ahead of the final NAPA Super DIRT Week at the New York State Fairgrounds in October, as well as the Bad Boy Buggies World Finals in Charlotte, N.C., Nov. 5-7.
But for now, the young superstar is just focused on the present — and thankful that he’s back doing what he loves.
“You always have the visions of coming back stronger than you were before, but I wouldn’t have believed it at the time if you’d told me,” Dippel admits. “I’m just blessed and thankful to be where I am right now. Hopefully the future brings even more good things for us.”
Listen in to a cut of Race Chaser Online’s interview with Dippel ahead of Monday’s Southern Illinois 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds:
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s. He is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: [email protected]