Mid-morning Friday is not the best time to have a scheduled interview with Tyler Reddick.
The reigning Xfinity Series champion isn’t frazzled per se, but he’s undoubtedly stressed. Reddick’s tell is when he starts messing with his dirty blonde hair. And before long, while talking to this reporter inside his Richard Childress Racing hauler at Richmond Raceway, the hat gets tossed onto the counter, and the hair is being pulled on, swiped at or pushed around. He can’t seem to stand still, moving from one side of the aisle to the other.
It’s over seven hours before he’s due to race in the ToyotaCare 250 with the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus on the line. Except, practice didn’t go well. At 24th on the speed chart, Reddick isn’t happy with the car or its speed. So yes, he’s stressed and wanting to get back to his team.
There’s no sign of the fun-loving, energetic and outgoing 23-year-old who has appeared before the NASCAR world more and more regularly in recent months; the one who replaced the shy and reserved driver who broke into NASCAR with Brad Keselowski’s truck team and then won a championship with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Xfinity Series operation. Now with RCR, Reddick is excelling on the track, and lighting up a room – and social media – off it.
“I think I used to be worried about what I say, what I do, and it’d get taken the wrong way,” Reddick says of his ‘new’ personality. “I just came to the conclusion that I’m going to piss somebody off someday, so I might as well just be myself … Hopefully, I don’t lose my job over it.
“You always hear that in NASCAR you’ve got to be cleaned up, got to be corporate; you got to do this, you got to do that. Can’t say the wrong things, got to do the right things. Look good. Talk good. Be PC. But, like I do on the racetrack, I just want to be myself off the racetrack and push the limits.”
Reddick was quick to prove as much early in the year when he clashed horns with the official NASCAR Xfinity Series Twitter account. When new hype videos began to surface for upcoming races, Reddick, the champion, noticed a trend: He wasn’t included in them.
His tweets have also been aimed at drivers, such as this reply after the Daytona 500:
Reddick said he’s managed to avoid any blowback from RCR – so far – and credits both his team PR rep, Kayla Whapham and girlfriend Alex De Leon with acting as effective filters when his own falls short.
“Oh, I think he’s great,” team owner Richard Childress told RACER. “He’s a lot of fun to work with. I think we’ve got a good shot of winning the championship; we will win some races before the year is over and I’m excited about working with him. He’s doing a great job for us.”
Reddick’s change in demeanor was not driven by any sort of epiphany. Running well simply makes it easier to be outspoken than if he were wrecking cars and running 30th.
Instead, Reddick looks like a natural goofing off in Dash 4 Cash promotional videos, and will show up at Bristol driver introductions wearing a Dolly Parton wig and fully embracing his pink Dollywood Chevrolet.
“I ain’t going to roll out to Bristol driver intros wearing a wig,” laughs Christopher Bell.
Reddick tells his team to “give me everything” to do because he enjoys it. Appearances. Autograph sessions. Media availability. Reddick is comfortable engaging with others, although trying to entertain a bunch of kids is a struggle even though if Reddick calls himself childish.
“I would hate for someone to say, ‘Well, Tyler Reddick could be doing more,’” he says. “I want people to know I’ll say yes to anything.”
All the talk about how he’s changed trips Reddick up. Asked to describe who he is, Reddick doesn’t know how to answer. A nearby crewmember speaks up and says Reddick is “confident”.
“No, not today,” the driver replies, making a clear throwback to the morning has gone. “I wouldn’t call [myself] bipolar, but I have two modes: happy-go-lucky, and then I think what you mainly saw [in the past] was my more reserved, quiet, keep to myself mode.
“More times than not I’m not as serious as I need to be. I don’t know how to describe myself; I don’t even know. Who I am? What am I?”
How about the face of the NXS? Sure, Reddick hasn’t won a race yet this season, but it hasn’t been for lack of effort. He started the year with perhaps the fastest car in Daytona, was hunting down Bell for the lead in Atlanta before an untimely caution, crashed in Las Vegas while racing inside the top five, and in the five races since then, Reddick hasn’t finished worse than fourth.
Or as Bell reminds everyone with a smile, “He’s the defending champion! That’s the only face there is.”
“I don’t even know if the series has a face,” Reddick says. “I think if you look at ‘Mr. Excitement,’ the guy that’s the fastest, it’s Christopher Bell. You look at the most tenacious, hard-racing guy out there that doesn’t give up an inch, Justin Allgaier. If you look at a guy that gets out front and gets away, you got Cole Custer.
“You got the guy who likes to go sideways, hit things, and do unpredictable stuff… I feel like I fit that role pretty well. You’ve got a lot of different characters in good race cars, so I don’t know who truly is the face.”
As the interview winds down, so does Reddick. He’s back in the moment.
“Did I say anything that was any good,” he asks before we go our separate ways.
Always, and there’s no doubt he’ll continue to do so.
As for how the rest of Reddick’s day in Richmond goes, it dramatically improves. When qualifying is washed out because of rain, it puts him on the front row, and the track position proves essential. Reddick challenges inside the top 10 most of the night, and despite losing power steering, battles to his sixth top-five finish in eight races, which keeps him the points lead.