Team chemistry is one of the most important parts of Sprint Car racing. Each individual piece of a team contributes toward building a championship formula. And with four straight World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car championships entering 2023, it’s a formula Brad Sweet and his Kasey Kahne Racing crew have mastered.
But heading into this season, a gap needed filled. Joe Mooney, who was the car chief in the four-time championship trio with Eric Prutzman (crew chief) and Andrew Bowman (tire specialist) accepted an opportunity to fill the crew chief role for Anthony Macri.
Insert, Tye Wolfgang.
It was an in-house hire as Wolfgang worked on Kasey Kahne’s #9 last year. But before that, he was on a winding road prior to landing at KKR.
Like his predecessor, Mooney, Wolfgang hails from Pennsylvania and fell in love with the sport early in his life. He dabbled working on a team with his cousin before getting his first true crewing opportunity as a teenager with a local driver.
“My first job, I guess, in racing was when I went to work for a local guy named Colby Womer,” Wolfgang recalled. “I just kind of started out there when I was probably like 13 or 14, sweeping the floors and doing whatever. That was my high school job. It beat working at McDonald’s.”
With the help of parents who supported his dreams, Wolfgang made the switch to online schooling midway through high school to more heavily focus on racing. Eventually, Wolfgang’s efforts led to what he considers one of his most beneficial opportunities. His phone rang and esteemed mechanic – Shane “Noisey” Bowers – was on the other end.
“I got talking to Shane Bowers, “Noisey,” who at the time had just gotten hired by Brock Zearfoss to start building a road program,” Wolfgang said. “Shane called me up and was like, ‘Hey, I know you want to go do this. Would you be interested in coming on board? Let’s try to build this deal to go race on the road.’
“Everybody that’s every given an opportunity to work on their stuff or help me is important, but “Noisey” probably got me further ahead in the shortest amount of time… He really took me under his wing. He took a chance on a kid – 16 years old – a high school kid and took me on the road with him full-time and was like ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’ He gave me the structure and kind of showed me what it really took to race on the road.”
After an educational stretch with Zearfoss and Bowers, Wolfgang worked in a few different places before another key phone call. Kahne gave him a ring to see if he’d be interested in joining KKR. The two talked further that weekend at Williams Grove Speedway, and Wolfgang was brought aboard.
His time with the #9 team further highlighted his potential and earned him the spot with the NAPA Auto Parts #49 crew when Mooney departed. But with the opportunity also came pressure. Pressure he didn’t let sink in. Wolfgang said he knew if he did his part, there shouldn’t be any disruption in the formula that won the #49 team four straight titles.
“It’s extremely big shoes to fill,” Wolfgang said of moving to his current role. “Obviously, what these guys have done the last four or five years is absolutely incredible. You’re walking in to what’s the best program in motorsports, in my opinion. There’s a lot of pressure there, but you’re still just racing. It’s still the same. You’re still just racing Sprint Cars.”
The results so far illustrate Wolfgang fits right in. With 36 of 80 races in the books, Sweet leads the standings as he continues his “Drive for Five.” The Grass Valley, CA native has already surpassed his 2022 win total as he’s tallied six victories this season. He’s on pace to have more podiums and laps led this year, too.
Wolfgang credits much of his success to the already established standard by the #49 team. Working alongside Prutzman and Bowman has made his job easier. He’s simply trying to pick up where Mooney left off.
“The wins this year, that’s not a credit to me,” Wolfgang said. “I just show up and try and do my job. That’s what Eric and Brad and Andrew and these guys have built over the last five years just paying off. They’ve made my transition easy. Eric, in my opinion, is the best crew chief in the country. Brad Sweet is the best Sprint Car driver in the country. Andrew is the best tire guy in the country. And hopefully we continue to progress with what we’re doing and guys will say I’m the best car guy in the country at some point. I don’t feel I’m there yet, but hopefully we’re working towards people feeling that way.
“These guys are the bar. I didn’t have to raise the bar. These guys have already set it. I’m just trying to maintain it for these guys. I don’t want to be the piece that lets this program or these guys down or anything like that. When I say pressure, that’s what I mean. It’s not actual pressure. Eric knows what he’s doing. Andrew knows what he’s doing. Brad is great at what he does. So, it’s just showing up and filling the slot that was left to the best of my abilities.”
Half a season remains, but the #49 is in position again to battle for the title until the end. And if they come out on top at the World of Outlaws World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Nov. 1-4) it’ll be five straight titles for Sweet, Prutzman, and Bowman – and a meaningful first for Wolfgang.
“I think it would probably mean a little bit more to me than anybody else just because that would be my first,” Wolfgang said. “Growing up in central Pennsylvania, all I cared about was winged Sprint Car racing. And all I ever wanted to do was be an Outlaw, win Outlaw races, win an Outlaws championship.”
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