Tye Wilke, a 16-year-old from Detroit Lakes, has won three of five races in competitive INEX Legend car fields on three different tracks this spring.
His first win came in his second race of the season at Sheyenne Speedway in Lisbon, North Dakota.
“I was running second in the heat when my throttle broke and I had to go off the track,” Wilke said.
His throttle went awry in the second lap and after managing to continue he was unable to finish his heat forcing a run from 22nd position in the feature race.
Lisbon is 20 laps to the finish and Wilke found a way to get by 21 racers on the way to an amazing first win of the season.
“I tried to find lines and make passes and go from there,” he said. “There were three cautions and that kind of helped me.”
Making a big run is not an all-out full throttle sprint through traffic. Wilke had to pick and choose spots to make moves and avoid trouble.
“You kind of let up in the corners,” he said. “It was scary and I got hit in my left rear and almost spun out. I corrected and got going; it was pretty fun after that.”
Wilke’s second win was at Red River Valley Speedway in Fargo where he charged from the fifth starting position to lead 11 of the 12 laps in the INEX Legends feature and take the win.
The closest finish was in the qualifying heat where Wilke and Moorhead’s Brody Carlsrud finished within inches of each other with Carlsrud taking the win.
“He barely beat me,” said Wilke. “I made passes and it got a little close sometimes in the feature. There was one caution in the middle and from there it was hammer down.”
Wilke won the feature handily by half a straightaway.
His third and most recent win was in Jamestown where he won his 8-lap heat and dominated the feature starting from the third position. He was so fast he had more trouble negotiating lapped racers than those chasing him.
“I had almost a full straightway - they were coming out of the corner and I’d already be across the track,” Wilke said. “I won the heat and got a good redraw. You kind of just pick and choose where you go and once the lapped cars started coming into place it was challenging.”
Wilke has two INEX Legend cars, one for dirt tracks and one for asphalt powered by 1250 Yamaha street bike motors. Top racing speeds range from 60-80 miles per hour depending on the track. Places like the 102-year old Norman County Raceway in Ada have longer straightaways. Wilke has a third place finish posted there this season.
This year, he’s been running a brand new Hoosier tire that has made a difference in how his car handles.
“It’s like a sprint car tire,” said Wilke. “If you don’t have a new tire on you can really tell. They’re more of a softer tire. They stick better and they’re really grippy.”
Wilke got his start at 9-years-old racing Go-Karts and is planning this to be his final season of racing Legends. His next move will be to 305 winged sprint car.
“It’s identical to a 410, like the World of Outlaws, just a different motor,” he said.
He has no plans of stopping there. He wants to make a run at the big time.
“Just keep going up and my goal is NASCAR,” he said.
Wilke has already met NASCAR racers Tony Stewart and William Byron. He brought some luck to Stewart after getting a chance to pick his starting card in Fargo a few years back.
“I picked the spot he started and he was battling for second for a while,” said Wilke. “I think he won that race and I got to go down to his race trailer and meet him again.”
Wilke is a two-time national and international points champion and got to meet Byron on a family trip to a race in North Carolina. One of Wilke’s points trophies is autographed by Byron.
The Wilke family makes plenty of trips around the country to NASCAR races. At the Texas Motor Speedway, Tye got a chance to race on a track next to the actual NASCAR race track.
“The tar is actually a lot harder than racing the dirt,” he said. “It’s like following the leader, just one lane. You have to pick and choose where you want to pass.”
The rest of the summer is going to be full of racing for Tye and his family.
Wilke is creating and continuing healthy rivalries this season. Besides Carlsrud, he noted Ulen’s Ryan Braseth has been fast this year running a new liquid-cooled motor.
“Everyone is fast,” he said. “When you start up front you’re always wondering who is coming.”
Wilke is looking for more sponsors and is offering a decent return on that investment with the way he is racing this season.