Tommy Tarlton wasn’t what you would call “skinny” when he grew up. Sure, he was strong – the strongest in his high school during physical tests – but plain and simple, he was overweight.
A passionate football player without the proper size to follow that dream, Tarlton had to reevaluate his life goals after graduating high school. All along there was one sport that had intrigued the 300-plus pound high school graduate: racing.
“My dad raced a lot when I was growing up and it was always a cool hobby to be a part of from the sidelines,” he said. “So when I realized I wasn’t going to be an NFL player, I imagined that racing could provide a similar excitement as running around and hitting players on a football field.”
Tarlton asked his dad for the chance to drive and he was met with one obstacle.
“My dad told me that if I could get down to 220 pounds, I could get in the car,” he said. “It took six months of running and training, but I finally hit that goal and my dad lived up to his word.”
In 1993 at the local dirt track in Hanford, Calif., an 18-year-old Tarlton hopped into a sprint car for the first time. Actually, it was his first time in any race car.
“My cousin, Monte Faccinto, lapped me twice,” Tarlton said with a smile.
However, the next weekend was a different story. Tarlton won his heat race in Hanford during only his second race, which began to write the story of the 17th member of the Tarlton family to become a racer.
There were a couple of years in 600cc micro sprints, including track championships in Lemoore, Tulare and Hanford and a national title in 1995, before Tarlton stayed in full-sized sprint cars beginning in 1996.
In only his second race back, Tarlton claimed his first career feature. That was the first of more than 100 feature victories across the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
Tarlton even won the track championship in Tulare his first two seasons and that began the drive toward competing with a traveling sprint car series, which heated up in 1999. As he was searching for sponsorship and planning how to join the World of Outlaws for the 2000 season, Tarlton’s father, Tom, was severely injured when a restaurant he was eating in was struck by a car.
“It was really serious,” Tommy said. “My dad was in the hospital for awhile and recovering long after that. So I shifted my focus to the family business and have raced on the side ever since.
“That’s kind of what took me from the path of being an outlaw racer to a contractor. I like to say I’m a professional race car driver, but my career is in contracting.”
Tarlton raced sparingly in the mid-2000s before teaming up with veteran crew chief Paul Baines at the end of 2007. Since then, the duo has won more than 30 races together and the highlights continue.
Tarlton has claimed the last two Ocean Sprints championships and he’s won several mega events throughout California in the past couple of years, including the Johnny Key Classic, the Pombo/Sargent Classic and most recently, he became the inaugural winner of the Howard Kaeding Classic.
While Tarlton still has the dream of traveling with a national sprint car series, he’s more than happy racing on the side as he spends time with his family and growing Tarlton and Son, Inc.