By Phil Whipple,
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By: Rachel Plant
TAFT, Texas — You don't have to look very deep into the pit areas at places like 105 Speedway, South Texas Speedway and Texana Raceway Park to realize the depth of talent in Limited Modifieds is huge. In every corner and down every front stretch, there are dozens of experienced pilots ready to pounce.
For 35-year-old second-generation racer Tanner Whitmire, this ultra-competitive division is a place to showcase his skills. This year, the easy-going and humble wheel-man has earned three wins, seven top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 15 starts. It's all gelling nicely, and he's happy to explain how it works.
“Everything is just finally starting to click for us this year,” Whitmire said. “I broke down and got a new car late in 2019. I struggled with it at first, but late last year found the speed and consistency in it that I needed. Once we found that sweet spot with the setup, we started make some gains.
“Last winter before this season started, we were able to freshen everything on the car. This year, we hit the ground running and had a little bit of luck on our side, as well. We've had some bad luck too, since I flipped the car earlier this year. We did rebound after that slump, which sure felt good.”
Whitmire has been a name synonymous with success on the ovals for many years around south Texas.
“My Dad was an old asphalt racer, so I've been exposed to the sport right from the start,” Whitmire said. “He ran the old TIDA series. He is a farmer, and one time when he bought some new farmland, it turned out to be right next to a Karting track.
“We pulled in there one day, I jumped in a Kart and made some laps, and that was pretty much it for me. The next Christmas, I had a Kart under the tree. It kind of took off from there. I was very fortunate to be able to travel; we raced all over the southern U.S., as far west as Phoenix, AZ, and as far east as Daytona Beach, Florida. I won a couple of National titles in a Kart, which was a pretty big deal to us.”
After all of his Karting success, Whitmire was ready for a new challenge. And man, he sure found one.
“I jumped from Karts right into a Modified, which was quite a step,” he admitted. “There was quite a learning curve, for sure. It was about a year into it I think before I notched my first feature victory. We weren't quite as successful in the Modified as we were with Karts, but we still had fun.
“We got my first Modified from Lawrence Mikulencak. We struggled a bit, then we had a guy out of Houston show up one day and park next to us in the pits. We needed some guidance, and they jumped in to our rescue. They gave me shocks right out of their trailer, and really helped me find some speed.”
From there, the progression to what he's doing now has gone fairly smooth, with lessons along the way.
“After that we bought a Dirt Works car, and I spent some time at the Shaw Driving School,” Whitmire said. “My first race after that school, I won my first Modified feature at the age of 16. We started headed the the right direction, and started doing some more traveling.
“We made it as far as running the Talledega Ice Bowl over in Alabama. We qualified for the A Main there, and we did reasonably well at the Nationals down in the Rio Grand Valley in McAllen, Texas.
Yet all good things come to an end, and eventually the division began to die out.
“We switched to Limited Modifieds when the Mod thing started falling off. I even ran the old TALMS series on asphalt; I figured Dad was an pavement racer, so I might as well give it a whirl. We won the second time out on that series, and on one occasion I was actually able to pass Mr. Howard Willis.”
Once he got back onto the more familiar confines of dirt, he resumed his command at the front.
“The next year when we did return to dirt, I won the South Texas Shootout in Corpus Christi,” Whitmire said. “There were heavy-hitters from all over there, so that was a huge win for us. One of the Abbey boys was there, fresh off a start at Eldora in a NASCAR Truck. It was some stiff competition.”
When Whitmire suits up and gets ready to compete, he climbs into a machine he says is the very best.
“I'm proud to drive a Western Flyer chassis built by Curtis Allen,” Whitmire said of his steel horse. “It was built in late 2019, and is a really nice car. It's the third Western Flyer I've owned, and I can attest to how well they are built.
“I've flipped one of these things three times; twice in the last one I had and once in this one. To be honest, this one got faster after I flipped it. I jokingly told Curtis when he built me this one, before it gets powder-coated, just drop it off a big truck out on the highway first, so it's right when I get it.”
He loves to joke, yet in all seriousness Whitmire has some solid reasons for choosing this brand of car.
“These cars really are very well built, and I can call Curtis at any time and get direct answers to my questions about any issue we're having. Plus, my friend Kale Westover runs Western Flyer, is very fast everywhere he goes and is always will to help me out. Those two guys are big reasons for my success.”
Along with his raw natural talent behind the wheel and top-notch race car, Whitmire also has several key people behind the scenes supporting his racing program.
“I want to thank my parents, Ronnie and Joni Whitmire, for being there for me every weekend, and my wife, Christen, and sons, Tripp and Braddox, for supporting me and letting me do what I love.
“I also need to thank our valued sponsors, including SAMES Ford, First Community Bank, Tow Boat U.S, Revolutionary Insurance Group, Western Flyer Race Cars, Geddes Race Engines and WRT. I couldn't do this without them.”
As this fabulous season quickly winds down with mostly Fall Specials left to run, Whitmire's focus turns to his son's Karting program.
“My son is having a really good season in the Karts at L-87 and Texana,” the proud father concluded. “In fact, he won a couple of races recently and I didn't. I better just concentrate on his efforts, I guess. He's good, but I will still run my Limited a couple more times this year.
“I'd love to win one of those Fall Specials, like the Jerry Whiteaker Memorial in December at South Texas Speedway. But regardless, this has been a rewarding season and the results have been there. Now I just want to go racing with my boys and enjoy my family. I'm very blessed to have a great life.”