After more than 25 years of chasing checkered flags, Kyle Strickler has hit the reset button and one of America’s premier modified racers is transitioning to his new role as a touring late model driver.
“To run a national tour in a super late model was my dream and my goal when I moved to North Carolina in 2006. It’s taken a long time to get here, but we finally made it,” the 37-year-old Strickler told SPEED SPORT. “I don’t know if anyone has ever won a national tour title in their rookie season, but that’s my goal regardless of which series we end up running.”
A native of Sinking Spring, Pa., Strickler was born into a racing family.
“My dad raced and he owned cars, so I grew up with it,” Strickler said. “Kenny Brightbill drove for my parents in northeast modifieds, so every weekend I was going to Grandview, Big Diamond, Penn National and Susquehanna, race tracks like that around the Pennsylvania area.
“I started racing go-karts when I was 10 and did that until I was old enough to get into the big cars. You had to be 16 to race sportsman modifieds in our area, but we talked to the track owner and they let me start at the beginning of the season when I was 15. I ran a sportsman modified at Susquehanna Speedway in 1999,” Strickler continued. “We won a couple of races and had some success doing that, and then I progressed through the modified ranks, went to the small blocks and then on to the big-block modifieds. I raced at tracks up and down the East Coast from New York to Pennsylvania and Delaware. We had a couple different rides and had some success; won some big-block races.”
Strickler’s racing career, both on and off the track, became stagnate, so he decided to shake things up by moving his family to Mooresville, N.C., in January 2006.
“I figured it would be easy to move down south, get a race car ride and work in racing; do the whole deal,” Strickler recalled. “But little did I know it would be like moving to Hollywood and trying to be an actor. Everyone down here drives race cars and is involved in racing.
“I worked for a bunch of different NASCAR teams. I worked for Hype Racing with David Gilliland when he won that one Busch Series race. Then, I worked at Robby Gordon’s and Rusty Wallace’s. It took me forever to get back behind the wheel. I was running some winged outlaw karts at Millbridge Speedway, just trying to stay fresh. I was also going back home and running a northeast modified race when I could.”
Eventually, Strickler turned his first laps in an IMCA/UMP-style modified.
“I ended up getting a ride and we raced locally at Carolina Speedway and East Lincoln Speedway in 2009 and we won 10 races that year,” Strickler said. “We got lucky and I got hooked up with the guys at Harris (Auto Racing) in 2010 and that was the first new car I had down here. That year, we won something like 34 races in the Carolinas and then we started to branch out regionally and nationally.”
Strickler’s modified résumé includes a pair of victories in the IMCA Super Nationals at Iowa’s Boone Speedway, and he’s a three-time winner during the annual World Short Track Championship at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.
“We’ve won a lot of big modified races. Obviously, a lot of people know me for winning back-to-back Super Nationals titles in the modifieds,” Strickler noted. “Winning at Eldora in the modified was big. There were a lot of modified races that we won that were really important to me, but now we are to the point when we run the modified we are expected to win and if we don’t win we are disappointed.”
Strickler, who is known as the “High-Side Tickler,” eventually began to dabble in late model racing, scoring marquee victories last season at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway and with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb.
During the offseason, Strickler joined PCC Motorsports, which is owned by Craig and Shannon Sims of Hope, Ind., with plans to chase the Lucas Oil series championship. Those plans, however, were turned upside down after a disappointing start to the season.
“When I went to drive for them, they had all Rocket chassis from when Hudson O’Neal was their driver,” Strickler said. “Craig didn’t want to sell them and get Longhorn chassis even though that is what I was really comfortable with. I had never even driven a Rocket, but we figured we’d give it a chance.
“We were terrible. We couldn’t get things rolling, couldn’t get any momentum. My best finish in the Rocket for the Lucas races was 21st. We missed a bunch of the shows and we were buried in points,” Strickler continued. “Myself, Craig and the crew, we talked about it and came to the decision that we had to make a change.
“We put a deal together to get back into my personal Longhorn chassis with a Clements engine that was sitting there that I’d been racing last year. We went to Volusia with that combination and I think we ran third the first night and then came back and won the next two World of Outlaws races. When you have that big of a gap in performance, it definitely reassures you and confirms which direction the program needs to head.”
When Strickler and the PCC Motorsports team left the Sunshine State, they were leading the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series standings and stood 26th in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points.
“We were planning to run the Lucas Oil stuff this season,” Strickler said. “I enjoy running the Lucas Oil races, and they’ve done an awesome job with promoting me and kind of getting me the exposure we needed. The way the situation rolled out we are going to have to make a decision around the end of April because we think that’s when the first conflicting dates are going to be. We’ve got some time and some races to run with both tours to figure out exactly what we want to do.”
Strickler has a long list of people who have helped him during his racing career, and it’s interesting that he recently added Scott Bloomquist to the select group.
“There for a while people called me the Scott Bloomquist of modifieds and I’m not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing,” Strickler said with a laugh. “Now, Scott and I have become good friends and I talk to him a lot. He is obviously the greatest of all time when it comes to late model stuff. He’s got so much knowledge on racing in general — the cars, mechanically, and the tires. He’s been helping me here lately.
“There were so many people who helped me go from a local racer, who ran at Carolina and East Lincoln and had an F-150 pickup truck and an open trailer, to now competing at the highest level of dirt racing.”