As Bryan Clauson toiled in the shop, suddenly a wry smile crossed his face. The source of his amusement was one of the newest additions to the team. Tyler Courtney’s upbeat and infectious personality was accented by his unruly, mop-like, blonde hair. As the duo bantered, Clauson was poised to make a fateful pronouncement. “You look like Sunshine in the movie Remember the Titans,” he said. In one of those moments that enlivens the seemingly endless chore of race preparation, the garage roared in approval.
Racing nicknames are a curious phenomenon. Yes, they can be used derisively, such as the time when future Formula One champion James Hunt was dubbed “Hunt the Shunt.” At other times, a nickname is just what is needed to help separate one from the pack and thus garner some needed attention. Suffice it to say, the moniker “Sunshine” stuck and, since that point, Courtney has done his part to underscore that he is one of the bright young lights in an increasingly stocked USAC racing inventory.
Courtney came by his interest in racing honestly. His maternal grandparents, Mike and Verla Farrar, owned Indiana’s highly popular Lincoln Park Speedway, and promoted races in Putnamville for 17 seasons. Not content to stand on the sidelines, Sunshine’s mother, Shelly, rubbed elbows with legends of racing in her time as a trophy girl. In time, Shelly met future husband Tony Courtney and, almost by necessity, the bridegroom found himself knee-deep in the sport.
Tony would eventually give dwarf car racing a whirl, and would be among those in his discipline to break in the second generation 16th Street Speedway in downtown Indianapolis. Legend has it that Sunshine made his first appearance at a race track before he was a month old, and by the time he entered elementary school he was ready to go quarter-midget racing.
His first race was in 2002 at the Mini-Indy Speedway at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, and later that summer he scored his first win with the Kokomo Quarter Midget Club. He can look back at plenty of wins and a whole lot of fun. However, unlike some of his peers, his schedule did not include madcap dashes across the country in the fanciest rig money could buy.
But, there was one road trip where a chance meeting turned out to be a life-changing event. “The first time I met Tim and Bryan Clauson, I was racing quarter-midgets in Topeka, Kansas,” he says. “I think they were on their way to run a sprint car somewhere. It was a big Grand National event, so they stopped by. Tim and my dad knew each other a little bit, and we traded T-shirts and things like that.”
From there, Sunshine stepped up to the 600 micros, and had plenty of success at Logansport and Peru, Indiana. Yet, he instinctively knew that the family could ill afford to go chasing races across the land, particularly as the recession crippled his father’s construction business.
Like so many teenagers who had developed a passion for racing, he was yanking hard on the chain, but saw no clear path for going forward. It was here that he called upon an old relationship. “I had sent a message to Tim,” Tyler recalls, “and asked him what I need to do to take the next step as a driver. He got back to me and said come to the shop and we would sit down and try to figure something out.
“So, I think the following Monday or Tuesday I was there. I was 15, close to 16. He said, ‘Look, I can’t afford to put you in a race car right now, but if you want to come to the shop, hang out and learn how to do things the right way, and work on racecars, you are more than welcome.’ That’s what I did. I started helping them in 2009, and the next year I helped them all summer.”