Late Model Sprint and Modified Racer Tyler Clem Ends 2016 Season Strong

K&N-sponsored Tyler Clem in Victory Lane  at Bubba Raceway Park

K&N sponsored Tyler Clem earned eight checkered flags in 2016

It would be perfectly understandable if the head got as swollen as one of his tires, what with the likes of Tony Stewart talking about him with the reverence of a prodigy.

Which, of course, Tyler Clem is.

“I’ve been watching this kid for two years and he could be the hottest thing in quarter-midget racing,” Stewart said on his radio show. “He’s definitely a first-round draft pick; he just isn’t of age yet. We’ll definitely be following his career and definitely watching him.”

Not just three-time Sprint Cup champions are watching Tyler Clem these days. A lot of people are watching the 14-year-old Clem, who is coming off of a breakout 2016 campaign that produced eight victories at tracks throughout his home state of Florida.

And, like most prodigies, Clem can play the versatile card when it comes to cars. Four of his victories came in the Late Model Class, with two each in Sprint and Modified, meaning you can’t take your eyes off him no matter what’s under the hood.

Given what he’s learned during this breakout season, it’s safe to say you won’t be able to take your eyes off Clem in 2017. Not after Clem began to not only see, but actively process, the chessboard elements of racing. You may not be able to stop watching Clem, but call 2016 the year Clem began to watch others.

“I’ve been watching other drivers and how aggressive they can be,” he said. “I’ve been watching how they save tires, how they manage the throttle. I’ve watched guys like Kyle Bronson and Mark Whitener who have driven in Florida. I’ve noticed I’ve done some of the stuff they’ve done, but not as good as I could have been doing. The biggest thing I’ve learned is how to man the throttle when the track gets dry or slick. You can’t just slam the gas.

“These guys are the best in Florida and they’ve definitely helped me just by watching them.”

K&N-sponsored Tyler Clem in Victory Lane with family at Bubba Raceway Park

K&N sponsored Tyler Clem has a support system that helped him capture two races on Nov. 30

Clem said the second reason for his breakout season was welcoming Travis Nichols as his crew chief at the beginning of 2016. Clem said Nichols, who worked at Clem’s home track of Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida, immediately found ways to improve Clem’s No. 14 cars. The dividends came in almost immediately, when Clem moved up eight places – from 20th to 12th -- in his first race of the year – the Ice Bowl Late Model Main in Eastaboga, Alabama.

To anyone paying attention to a 12th-place finisher, this should have opened eyes throughout Florida’s racing community. For Clem made up eight places on a 1/3-mile track.

Later that month, back in Ocala, Clem would start seeing the chessboard clearer. During a Late Model race, Clem moved up from 15th to third with 20 laps to go before a front shock broke. The temporary setback didn’t take Clem’s eyes off his prize – constant improvement.

“After that race, I knew I definitely improved as a driver,” he said. “My car got better and I started to learn how the track works and how it works and changes later into the night. You have to pay attention to all of that stuff.”

Much of that paying-attention-to-greater-details stuff lands on the shoulders of Clem’s dad – famed radio personality/racing aficionado Bubba the Love Sponge. The owner of Clem’s home track, Bubba Clem brought in Nichols as crew chief, handles Tyler’s Facebook and Twitter feeds and makes sure the Prodigy has his head where it’s supposed to be at all times, whether that’s a math textbook or a textbook on tactics for his next race.

“I’ve been strict on him, but for 14, he’s polite and respectful,” Bubba Clem said. “And if his grades slip, I will take his racing away until they get back up. Thankfully, I’ve not had to do that in the eight years we’ve been racing.

“I wanted to do this. ‘Cause I'm just a regular dad. And I want to do what regular dads do, give our children opportunities we may have not had.”

One of those opportunities brought the Clems to Indianapolis for the Performance Racing Industry convention, where, for the fourth consecutive year, Tyler can improve his once-shy, but emerging and mature personality by talking to sponsors and other industry maestros. Featured among that, naturally, are K&N Filters, which holds a secure place in Tyler Clem’s eyes.

K&N-sponsored Tyler Clem in Victory Lane being interviewed by an official

Mature beyond his 14 years, Tyler Clem has improved behind the wheel -- and in front of the mic

“They were my first sponsor ever, when I was driving quarter-midgets seven, eight years ago,” he said. “They’ve been with us for eight years and they’ve helped us by making great products. They’re my best sponsor to this day.”

Meanwhile, Tyler Clem is already looking forward to 2017, to qualifying in all three classes at the Winternationals, to knowing what adjustments his cars need in greater detail, to knowing how tracks will perform not only day-to-day, but hour-to-hour and continuing to see the racing chessboard as just that – a chessboard.

Note he didn’t say anything about more plaudits from three-time Sprint Cup champions who before his recent retirement – not coincidentally – used to drive the same No. 14 as Clem did. But Tyler Clem is ever-mindful, ever-seeing about the role and stature that Tony Stewart has in both of their chosen sports.

“It gives me a lot of momentum because he’s one of the best racetrack drivers to ever live,” Tyler said. “To hear him say nice things about me really means the world to me. I’ve looked up to him a long time and hearing that definitely means a lot to me.”