2014 Coca Cola 600 | Charlotte Motor Speedway

Olympian Clary says he can be fast outside the pool, too

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comMay 25, 2014 

— Olympian Tyler Clary is used to making a splash. He intends to carry that over to motorsports sooner rather than later.

Clary, who won gold in the 200-meter backstroke at the 2012 London Games, plans a second career act in a stock car. While training in Charlotte for the 2016 Olympics, he’s also getting seat time. He has quite a mentor in six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Clary watched Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 from Johnson’s pit. The two struck up a friendship, and not just because they’re Southern Californians. Clary is convinced the precision he learned through swimming carries over to race cars.

“Racing is a game of marginal gains. As a swimmer, I’ve been in that environment,” Clary said. “Every time I get in the water I’m trying to maximize my kickouts, my strokes, looking for that extra hundredth (of a second). There’s going to be a big carryover. Precision is going to be a big thing.”

This isn’t just celebrity dabbling. Clary has been around motorsports most of his life. His first swim club raised money by working merchandise booths at then-California Speedway in Fontana. He caught the bug, although there was only so much he could explore with swimming at the forefront.

But he has fit in some resume-builders. He received one of 33 spots in the Indy Car Academy last year. He won a pole and placed second in the top level of a celebrity race at Long Beach, Calif.

His move to Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center was no coincidence.

“I do well in an environment where I have multiple things going on. The fact that this is the heart of NASCAR is perfect for me,” Clary said.

“The cool thing about this area is there are so many tracks within two hours of here. I could do all the testing I want. Get all the seat time I need to be ready when I put myself in position.”

The friendship with Johnson was more serendipity. Johnson was visiting the pool and Clary asked if he would hang around after practice for a chat. He told Johnson of his aspirations and was struck by what he and Johnson shared.

“His career path is a lot like mine in that he was an asphalt rookie in his mid-20s. He did off-road stuff for the longest time,” said Clary, 25. “I’m sure he was getting some of the same answers I get sometimes: ‘Oh, you’re too old. You’ll never do it.’ 

Clary believes otherwise and he doesn’t lack for confidence:

“I want to be in a stock car or a truck as much as possible. My goal is a full-time truck seat by 2017.”

Wash-and-fold, straight to your tent: Some campers spend as many as three weeks in the infield or on the grounds surrounding Charlotte Motor Speedway leading up to the Coca-Cola 600.

That’s a long time to live with dirty clothes. So the speedway worked with laundry detergent brands to come up with a free-of-charge solution.

They installed a laundry lounge, complete with an air-conditioned place to chill in front of a flat-screen television as clothes go from wash to spin to dryer. Two adjoining trailers housed about a dozen pairs of washers and dryers. The service, which was located outside Turn 1 across Morehead Road, did more than 1,000 loads.

Better yet, they offered pickup and delivery options. Two custom-designed golf carts came complete with gigantic laundry baskets attached to the cargo areas.

A look inside: Anyone using the laundry lounge was close to the fan zone near Gate 8, which featured plenty to see and do including a firefighter challenge.

For those curious just how all that equipment fits inside a Sprint Cup car, the No. 43 U.S. Air Force Ford booth provided a full-size mockup car, half with sheet metal, half without, so everything placed within the car’s skeleton was viewable.

The display gave up-close views of how the fuel cell routes the gas can to the motor and how the safety devices create a cocoon around the driver.

Vroom: When it comes to horsepower, Cessna has everyone beat, displaying a jet engine model near the garage. Seemingly, that engine wouldn’t have passed NASCAR inspection, but you never know.

Memorial Day double: Kurt Busch wasn’t the only one commuting from Indianapolis to Charlotte to experience racing’s longest day.

Country music artist Brantley Gilbert performed a prerace concert at the Indianapolis 500, and then flew to Charlotte for a similar performance at the Coca-Cola 600.

Foundation of a friendship: Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., hung out before the race with Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen. Earnhardt tweeted that he and Olsen plan to work together on their respective charitable foundations.

Of course the real challenge would be Olsen convincing Earnhardt to give up his Washington Redskins for the Panthers. Childhood allegiances aren’t easily broken.

Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart was also scheduled to attend the race.

Approaching 3,000: Amazing what the speedway’s ticket office can do with data bases. The track determined Sunday’s fan base included people from 2,976 cities worldwide. That included 11 foreign countries, the most distant being Australia.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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