SALISBURY, N.C. – One of the notable hometown drivers attempting to make the QRC Speed51 Open presented by HMS Motorsport field for the first time is Tyler Letarte, the son of NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte.
Letarte, 15, has marched methodically through the ranks at Millbridge Speedway, coming up through the ranks from Box Stocks into Intermediates, and then finally into the premier Open class at the sixth-mile dirt oval.
He made his debut in the top class in June of 2018, contending for a win right from the outset, and picked up his first victory in the class during a Saturday show at Millbridge barely a month later.
Now, with some experience under his belt and “a little more wisdom” than he had earlier in his career, Letarte hopes to make the 51-lap A-Feature and be a part of the track’s biggest night for the first time.
“It feels awesome to have experience and a chance to make the Open field this year,” Letarte said. “I remember coming to the race two years ago and watching the deal as a Box Stock driver, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to come back here and do this in an Open one day … and now here it is.
“The Speed51 Open is the biggest race there is at Millbridge; it carries the biggest payday if you can win it and with all the NASCAR fans in town … there’s so many eyes on the race and if you can perform well, it could be a huge boost for a driver’s career,” he added. “Hopefully we can have a strong run and capitalize on that, because you never know what can happen here. It’s a special atmosphere, for sure.”
Letarte counts himself among the drivers who relished his jump up from the Intermediate class to the Open class, noting that the speed increase is an aspect of the premier division that suits his style.
“I really enjoyed my time in Intermediates, but the Opens just have so much more power,” said Letarte. “There’s so many more options of what you can do, as far as passes, moves you can make and what lines you can run. With that extra power, even though you add weight, there’s a lot more you can do offensively and it makes it a lot more of a mental game than just a speed game.
“It’s a lot of fun and something I personally get a lot of enjoyment out of.”
This year, the Open division has a special, $1,000-to-win feature on Tuesday night as a preliminary to Wednesday’s $5,151-to-win headliner.
Though it has some special rules and a bit of a different format than a traditional event at Millbridge, Letarte still believes the Tuesday track time will be critical for those trying to chase Wednesday’s cash.
“I think the Tuesday race is actually going to be a bigger deal than people realize,” Letarte noted. “It gives you more track time, for one, but it also lets you see how the field will truly stack up for the next day. The only concern that you have it tearing something up the day before, but hopefully we can keep ourselves clean and put our car in a good position to make some magic happen on Wednesday night.”
As far as where he’s set the bar for himself, Letarte is dreaming high despite the fact that he is a rookie.
“The goal is to win; that’s it,” Letarte affirmed. “Things have been moving pretty fast for me over the past couple of years, but I feel ready. I feel like I know what I need to know in order to have a shot and I’m ready to seize the moment.”
If he could accomplish that monumental feat and park his No. 09 in victory lane on Wednesday, Letarte would not only defend home turf for the Millbridge regulars, he would live out a dream in the process.
“To pull it off as a hometown driver … that would be outstanding,” Letarte noted. “There’s no words that I can think of that would accurately quantify that feeling, after how hard I’ve worked just to get to this point in my career.”
-Millbridge Speedway Press Release
-Photo credit: Jacob Seelman