1st Qualifier Victory Highlights Tyler Nelson's 2017 finale
By Jessica Jenkins
Hanging the USAC season finale just one weekend before Christmas, Tyler Nelson took to the indoor track in Du Quoin with hopes of a big present to end the night. Feeling confident following a full year of piloting Harris Racing's #91 national midget, he was ready for everything to come on the Southern Illinois Center's one-sixth mile dirt surface.
Starting on the pole of heat five based off the pill draw, Nelson had his work cut out for him to earn max passing points. With big names behind him, the white #91 led the opening lap and continued to fight hard throughout the entire heat, holding onto third at the checkered flag. Landing just enough points to put him back on the pole of the fourth Qualifier, the racer from Kansas knew he had what it took to put himself straight into the Feature. Second place took the lead as the twelve lap race began, but Nelson kept him in his sights and started to reel him back in. With a few laps remaining, he took advantage of a bobble by the leader and sailed into the lead, never looking back to claim his first USAC Qualifier win.
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Riding momentum into the Feature, Nelson took the green from the inside of row six. A pileup of cars ahead of him on the initial turn sent him to the back with a long way to go towards the front. As the race went full speed once more, he diagnosed that something had been bent in the front end. Determined to make up ground anyway, Nelson patiently began working his way through the field, staging a fantastic battle with the eventual runner-up for a few circuits. Surviving multiple cautions and racing for each position, he was back in the top fifteen around halfway. As laps ticked off quickly, the most dominant driver in USAC tracked him down with about fifteen laps left on the board, leaving him a lap down. A handful of yellows slowed the Junior Knepper 55 in its final stages ultimately handing Nelson and Harris Racing a sixteenth place finish.
Afterwards Nelson shared, "Tonight went really well. Finished third in my heat race, so that caught us on the invert just right for the Qualifier. I knew that if I ran a perfect race, I could probably hold off on the bottom. So that's what I did. The top was really technical and tricky and the other guy just made one little mistake and that's all it took. I just had to be perfect, and I was, so we ended up winning a Qualifier. Whenever you stop on the front stretch and get an interview, it's a pretty neat deal. I think if we didn't get involved in that first lap deal [in the Feature], we could have been up there with them because I was still running pretty well with what I had. I'd like to thank Harris Racing, Wilwood Brakes, Superior Bearing Supply and Advanced Shocks for tonight. And of course everybody at Jack Harris' crew. They're awesome and they gave me a great car to run tonight. I'm looking forward to coming back here in March because this is the best we ran and hopefully we'll have a new car to start 2018 off with a bang. This is a great way to close out 2017 with [Harris Racing]. We definitely improved on what we did and finally made the A Main here, which is a tough thing to do with so many cars."
After a small break for Christmas, Nelson will pack up and head off to the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in January for another shot at the big prize in his own #88 ride. Like him on Facebook @TylerNelsonRacing to learn more as he embarks on 2018.
Results in a Nutshell
Heat 5 -- start 1st; finish 3rd
Qualifier 4 -- start 1st; finish 1st
Feature -- start 11th; finish 16th