FARMERSVILLE, Texas — These days, you're apt to find most teenage boys locked in fierce battles with their friends on a video game, or maybe hanging out at the mall harassing teenage girls. We all know kids aren't in love with the automobile anymore, or competition, or anything that requires effort.
Yet for 14-year-old Cooper Tiller, that common stereotype does not apply. You see, he was offered a chance to go racing this year, and he jumped on it. His father, Charlie Tiller, elected to put him in a Jr. Limited, and it paid off. In 22 starts, Cooper earned 11 wins and 21 top-five finishes in North Texas.
“I have my uncle, the owner of 1st Choice Towing, who gave us a lot tips, tricks and great setup ideas,” the naturally talented young racer explained. “He has been racing a long time, and has guided me as I learn the ropes. My grandfather gave us a 305 motor he had, and we got all season out of it.
“My Dad has also been a huge help, teaching me how to do things on the car. We have another guy, Bart-2, who has provided financial support, and we sure appreciate that. So it's the good people in my family and some great friends who've helped me get started. I work hard at it to make them proud.”
So no big essay into a racing background this week, my friends. Here, we have a bright young man who's just diving into our sport, and he loves it. It's a sign that not all kids today are glued to a couch.
“This class is where I'm learning how to race,” Tiller explained. “My Dad used to design and apply graphics to race cars, and has been around them for years. One time, we went to the track and my brother told my Dad he should put me in one of those race cars.
“About a week later, he had found one available and asked me if I really wanted one. I told him yes, and he brought it home. We got a trailer, and Dad told me if I really wanted to race I had to work on the trailer and get it repainted. So I did the work, and that's how I got my chance to go racing.”
So the kid got his feet wet in 2021, and then hit the throttle wide-open in 2022. I can't wait for 2023.
“Last year, we were at Superbowl Speedway in Greenville and I was just trying to get used to the car,” Cooper explained. “I spent roughly half the season getting seat time and learning what this sport is all about. This year, we decided to step it up a notch and go for the points title.
“I've learned a lot from just spinning out in the corners and running three-wide with some of these kids. It's just been a whole lot of fun during the learning process. To be honest, now I'm hungry for more.”
Tiller says unlike most stick-and-ball sports, dirt track oval racing is more of a mental game.
“This sport is the most fun I've ever had, and is way different than basketball or football,” he said. “When you're sitting in the chute waiting to go out on the track, your adrenaline is pumping. It forces you to focus. Everybody has the same goal, but you need to choose better lines and out-drive them.”
As we all marvel at the success in his first season at Grayson County Speedway, the life event that sparked this new adventure is extremely moving. Turns out, racing together is a healing experience.
“My wife passed away in 2020, so we needed something to keep our hands and minds super busy,” Charlie Tiller explained candidly. “We call this deal Racing4Mom, and it's how we honor her memory and cope with our loss. From the start, Cooper has really blown me away with how he's handled this.
“We struggled with communications a bit during the first half of the season. Finally, I stopped telling my son how we were going to do things, listened to him, and realized he already knows what he wants in the car. I figured I better just shut up and help the boy set the car up for his driving style. It worked.”
Cooper has been like a sponge throughout 2022, soaking up information at every opportunity.
“It's really fun to be out in the shop; listening to my uncle and Grandfather teach me things,” Tiller said. “They have so much knowledge, so it's neat for me to try and understand this sport and what it takes to be successful. I know I have a lot more to learn, but also know I'm going to enjoy the process.”
So, I know some of you naysayers are already thinking sure, the kid had little competition all season.
“This is actually a pretty tough division to jump into right away,” Cooper said. “There are quite a few fast kids who made me work hard for those wins. It was never easy because a few of them are fast, every week. They've been in this kind of car longer than I have, so they're comfortable and focused.
“But I learned a ton as I went along this year. I realized you need to race against people faster than you to learn how they get there. I studied lines and figured out where my car wanted to run. It's part of it.”
When this fine young student/athlete/racer suits up and gets ready to race, he climbs into a cool old car.
“To get him started, I bought a 1983 Taser chassis that's had all the updates,” Charlie explained. “A guy out of Louisiana built four of them, and this is the last one. This chassis came through a list of winning drivers, including Jason Webb back when he ran Jr. Limited cars.
“As for the motor, it's a 305 from Sunset Performance Engines, one of our sponsors. The bottom line here is, you don't need a million dollar car to win races; just a million dollar heart. My son has what it takes, the newer high-dollar race cars will come later.”
Along with his obvious natural talent behind the wheel, Tiller has some great folks in his corner.
“I want to thank 1st Choice Towing, A&G Automotive, Bar-2, SPE, MOWTIME and AMSOIL,” Tiller said. “We couldn't do this without them, and sure do appreciate their support.”
With his 2022 season now completed, this enthusiastic young racer is focused on 2023, and what his future in racing may hold on down the road.
“I think next year, we're going to get us a 350 motor for my car,” the careful, conservative Tiller said. “I'm just going to get used to it for about half the season, then make the move up to SportMod. After that class, some day I either want to drive an Outlaw Modified or a Late Model. I have a few goals.”
By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas Staff Writer
Photo by Debra Hix/Hix Photography