Over time, as you work in the sport, one thing you learn is that there’s good teams to work for, there’s bad teams to work for, and then there’s once-in-a-lifetime teams to work for. What makes a team fit any of these categories doesn’t always come down to results, but often the intangible blend of performance, satisfaction, and most importantly chemistry among the group.
This once-in-a-lifetime category is why our latest episode of “Dinner with Racers” presents the story of Pacific Coast Motorsports, and why qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 can have such dire consequences for the “little guys.”
When we watch the final day of qualifying for the 107th Indianapolis 500 this Sunday, we’ll know who’s on the front row, we’ll know who’s on the last row, but the point of today’s documentary episode, “Bumped,” is to pay homage to the overlooked story: who’s going home.
Enter a tale from qualifying for the 92nd Indianapolis 500, during the halcyon times of May 2008, when the illusion of a healthy economy was vibrant, and an astounding 37 cars arrived to qualify for 33 starting spots. It was the beginning of a new era for Indy, with Champ Car teams now officially arriving, and a mad rush for series and teams alike to accommodate the flood of new entrants.
One such Champ Car convert was Pacific Coast Motorsports, a fun-loving Southern California-based group, who despite their love of skateboards and surfing, still managed to generate results in a variety of road racing categories. Originally funded by California-based businessman Tom Figge to create a home for his son Alex to race, the team enjoyed success after success from 2002-07 including a Formula Atlantic title with Jon Fogarty, multiple podiums in ALMS and Grand-Am, and finally stepping up to a two-car Champ Car program in 2007 with the all-new Panoz chassis.
Equally noteworthy, however, was the team’s one-of-a-kind identity. Notorious for being a cohesive group that seemed to enjoy the process more than the all-too-serious paddock, the team was personified by team manager Tyler Tadevic, who to this day is one of the most memorable characters to anyone who has the unique fortune of meeting him.
Tyler personifies why bumping matters.
It was the merger of Champ Car and the IRL where the story really turned for the team. Uninterested in oval racing and disillusioned by the voiding of all Champ Car equipment, the Figge family, who had effectively paid for the whole effort to that point, decided to walk away.
Seeing a shot at Indy slipping away, and with a team chemistry that everyone knew was once-in-a-lifetime, Tyler did the unthinkable. Pulling from his savings on a team manager salary and re-mortgaging his home to sweeten the pot, the guy with no high school diploma put his and his family’s livelihood on the line to buy the team out from the Figge family, literally risking everything he owned just to acquire the team’s assets.
To be clear though, all he acquired were the assets. The ability to keep the team going, including payroll, spares, consumables, travels, etc., were all problems for later. There was no business plan, no safety net, just blind passion to keep the team going, and with a shot at Indy.
However making Indy, and the prize money promised with making the show, had more at stake than just Tyler’s debt.
Crew pay? Tyler needed the prize money to cover.
Travel expenses? Tyler needed the prize money.
Engine bill? Tire bill? See above.
Put simply, Tyler’s plan to keep the group together hinged on one thing: make the show. If they didn’t, not only would Tyler lose it all, but he’d have a team of extremely loyal people left hanging without months of back pay.
This is what Indy meant to Tyler, and what the entire team at Pacific Coast Motorsports was willing to sacrifice.
Of course I’m writing this to promote a television show, so to see what happened and hear the whole story you’ll have to check out our episode. But we chose to tell the story of Tyler and Pacific Coast because in the current era it has become too easy to overlook what bumping has meant over the years.
Most RACER readers will remember the Bump Day legacies of people like Roger Penske, Bobby Rahal, James Hinchcliffe or Fernando Alonso not making the show, but lest we forget the people like Tyler Tadevic who lost a lot more than pride.
When the run for 33rd is complete and someone is forced to go home on Sunday, spare a thought for the Tyler Tadevics of the sport, because it’s their stories that remind us that risk in racing often goes beyond life and limb.