It's not often that athletes get to truly go out on top. They all say that's how they want to do it, but rarely does is happen. That's why everyone was stunned when two-time defending World of Outlaws champion Jason Meyers abruptly retired at the start of the 2012 season. Meyers cited a chance to spend time with his two daughters and his wife, Robyn, and an opportunity to move into a "new career" as a family man as the main reason for stepping aside following two dominant seasons at the top level of Sprint Car racing.
Paul Arch's photo of Jason Meyers driving the number 21 race car to a 5th place finish at Knoxville
But Meyers wasn't done, not yet at least. As the Knoxville Nationals neared in early August, Meyers found himself with an opportunity to return to the biggest Sprint Car race in the world, a race that he has been so close to winning in the past, only to see it slip away. The opportunity at revenge came through friend and fellow California racer Tommy Tarlton, his father Tom, and their Tarlton and Sons racing team.
"Jason is a close friend of mine and a professional," Tommy Tarlton said. "Before the season, when he started talking about retiring, my father and I approached him about the possibility of running a car for us at the Knoxville Nationals. Jason was in favor of doing so because he had been so close to winning it before, and he really wanted to have another shot at winning it."
Meyers said he thought people misunderstood his decision to step away from racing on a full-time basis, not understanding that he was not leaving the sport he loved, but instead just taking a break from the day-to-day grind of a full-time driver at the top of his game.
"I think one misconception of some was that I was leaving the sport for good," Meyers said. "My intentions have always been to change what I do for a living so that I can be home and be a dad. But my entire family and all of my friends are in racing and to ever leave it completely would mean leaving them and that is something I never want to do."
After six months of not racing wheel-to-wheel at speeds over 100mph, one might think Meyers was a bit nervous or unsettled strapping back into a racecar, but instead Meyers immediately established himself as one of the fastest drivers at the race. "I know this sounds cliché, but it's like riding a bike," Meyers said. "I spend every day right now in an uncomfortable position trying to learn a new business and get up to speed as fast as possible, so climbing back in a racecar was the most comfortable thing in the world to me. It's what I know and I know it well."
Jason Meyers qualifying win on Thursday in the World of Outlaws
Meyers turned in a magical performance on his qualifying night, winning the Thursday qualifier and setting the team up for a top-10 start in the Saturday 50-lap feature. Meyers spent the first half of the race riding around in the back half of the top-10. When it was time to go, Meyers started picking cars off, driving up to fifth.
But Meyers simply ran out of laps, and had to settle with a top-5 finish in his return to competition. Still, for a one-race effort with a rusty driver, everyone involved with the team was satisfied.
"I couldn't be happier with how our return went," Meyers added. "It was very satisfying to go back to Knoxville with the Tarlton team and run as well as we did. For the entire team to go back to Knoxville for a one-off trip and win their qualifying night and run fifth at the biggest race in the world, we were all very excited. It took a lot of great people and their efforts to pull that off."
Tarlton said that while Meyers enjoyed himself, the team also benefitted greatly from the experience a champion and world-class driver like Meyers brings to the table.
"On and off the track Jason helped our team with his experience from travelling the country as well as running a team as a business," said Tarlton, himself a two-time champion of the Ocean Sprints series. "Doing it for a career over the last ten years, he has so much knowledge about the sport that continues to be really beneficial to our team, helping us get to the next level."
After a weekend back in the saddle, Meyers was candid about whether or not he is contemplating a return to the seat on a full-time basis in 2013. "It's always really comfortable going back to what you know and I would be lying if I said there wasn't that little part in me that still burns for the drivers seat," Meyers said. "Just recently, another opportunity came up and I had to turn it down. What I can tell you is that anyone who knows me well knows that while it takes me a while to make a decision, once I make that decision, it is final. My family is very important to me and the two greatest things I can hope to accomplish in life are to be a great husband and a great father.
"I have no regrets. We were able to spend ten years living my dream and now it is time to prepare for the dreams of our kids. I wouldn't give a single year back, but we are now on to another dream and look forward to remaining a part of the racing world in some way. Make no mistake, I still want to race, and plan on doing so, but it will only be on a level where I can be home with my family and my business."
Sounds easy, right?
Tarlton said his team is thankful of the support K&N has provided to their championship winning team.
"K&N provides us with their top of the line products to keep us in front of the competition. We currently run K&N Air Filters, Outwears, and use their filter spray and filter cleaner. Much of the success we have on the track comes from the components we use and our ability to prepare away from the track."
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