DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ricky and Jordan Taylor are probably the best two American race car drivers you’ve never heard of.
They aren’t household names because they don’t race in NASCAR and don’t drive in the Indianapolis 500. They drive sports car – for their dad, no less – and they do it very, very well.
In the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the brothers were the workhorses of the four-driver Wayne Taylor Racing team that scored its first win in the prestigious event since father Wayne Taylor won it in 2005 as a driver. Jordan drove long stints overnight in blinding rain, and Ricky closed the race out with a fearless pass of the leader with under seven minutes remaining in the 24-hour race.
In the process, the brothers got superstar Jeff Gordon his first Rolex watch in this event. The “retired” four-time NASCAR champion became only the fourth driver in Daytona International Speedway history to win the Rolex and the Daytona 500 . He let the Taylor brothers carry the load in the new Cadillac program their team helped build with General Motors.
Gordon loved every moment driving for this team, dating back to last year’s test sessions all the way through the race. He enjoyed the non-stop pranks from youngest brother, Jordan, who has a social media savviness and quirky personality that could earn him a career as a YouTube celebrity. Ricky, the quieter older brother, is no slouch but struggles to step outside of his kid brother’s shadow.
Gordon found them engaging, hilarious and, most important, extremely talented on the race track.
“Driving this car pushes the limits of your talent and showcases your ability, especially when you are in those (rain) conditions that they were in,” Gordon said. “Going up against all these other great drivers from around the world, in cold, wet, conditions – that takes a lot of skill. These guys are as good as it gets. I just got to ride their coattails.”
Gordon drove for the Taylor team for free, and in a tearful victory lane, he told Wayne Taylor what an amazing job he’s done as team owner and as a father.
“I told Wayne I am more impressed with him now because I know his kids,” Gordon said. “I know how good kids they are. They work very hard, they are very respectful, they are good-natured, and it made it so special for me. Wayne’s passion and getting to interact with Ricky and Jordan.”
Both Taylor boys cried in victory lane on Sunday. There was relief at finally having won the event after coming so close so many times. They were happy for surrogate father and co-driver Max Angelelli, a fixture throughout their entire lives who got a win in his final race as a driver. Jordan wept because he was so thrilled to see his older brother use an aggressive pass for the win that earned him a moment of the spotlight. Ricky cried because the victory took pressure off father Wayne’s stressful life as a car owner in a niche, but expensive, series.
Told hours after the race what his boys said about him in victory lane, Wayne Taylor broke down in tears, too.
“I’ve already talked about how good they are, but that’s embarrassing because you’re the dad,” Wayne Taylor said. “But 99 percent of the people who talk to me about them do not say they are good racing drivers, they talk about what great kids they are.”
Roger Penske once told Wayne Taylor, “You can slow a fast guy down, but you can’t speed a slow guy up,” and that statement has convinced him his boys were born with a special gene that he recognized when they were very young. It didn’t hurt that Angelelli was their father’s teammate and lived right down the road in Orlando, where he’d stop by the house and school the boys on racing.
“We’ve been family for 20 years now, and he’s taught us everything we know,” Ricky Taylor said. “We used to have classes with Max. He used to be the Professor X, and he’d come over to our house, and we’d have a pen and paper, and he’d teach us about downforce and he’d teach us about overtaking.”
In fact, Ricky Taylor’s winning pass came from one of Angelelli’s many lessons.
“That was an Ax move,” he joked.
Wayne Taylor jokes that he’s too old to be working this hard running a team, and that he spends more money than he makes in the sports car series. But he loves what he does, and loves being around his boys – yet still worries he’s holding them back.
“I’d like to have this kind of relationship, to continue with Jeff and Max and the boys and somehow keep it together,” he said. “Sometimes I question myself, I’m like, `Is this a bad thing that I keep running my kids?’ Because maybe nobody else wants to approach them? Quite honestly, I’d like them to be awarded for their success and for their talent rather than dad is doing it.”
In the glow of the Rolex victory, no one was questioning the path the Taylor boys have taken.
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