Jordan Taylor and Rodney Sandstorm love the challenge North Wilkesboro Speedway presents for their oval racing debut
An opportunity in motorsports is often the result of being in the right place at the right time, and building relationships with the right people make such an opportunity feasible. Jordan Taylor‘s path to North Wilkesboro Speedway is the latest example.
The 32-year-old Corvette Racing driver in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is set for his debut racing a stock car on an oval track. The moment will come in Wednesday’s CARS Tour Pro Late Model race at the historic 0.625-mile oval (7:30 p.m. ET, FloRacing).
For Taylor, this is simply his long-awaited opportunity to compete in an oval event after years of watching stock car racing with a curious eye. Yet the fact that his chance arrives during NASCAR All-Star Week at North Wilkesboro, of all times and places, makes the challenge all the more notable.
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The Apopka, Florida resident’s road-racing resume is loaded. Running his fourth full-time season with Corvette, Taylor is a four-time IMSA drivers champion. He’s won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway and the 12 Hours of Sebring. Overall, he has 24 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship wins, 11 of which have come with Corvette.
The Rolex 24 victory in 2017 began the chain reaction that led to Taylor’s entry with E33 Motorsports in Wednesday’s Late Model race at North Wilkesboro.
“It‘s kind of all fallen into place in a weird way,” Taylor said. “It started with me driving with Jeff Gordon in 2017 … we won the Rolex 24 together, so it kicked off the relationship in a nice way.”
Taylor’s connection to Gordon led to the IMSA driver being involved with Hendrick Motorsports’ program when the NASCAR Cup Series team took to the Daytona road course in 2020. Taylor said that experience was the primary reason he was invited to contribute to Garage 56, a special entry from NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports set to compete in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
RELATED: Year in review: Garage 56 — NASCAR to Le Mans
The domino effect continued from there. In part because of his experience with a NASCAR stock car in the Garage 56 program, Taylor was pinned in March as the replacement for an injured Chase Elliott in the Cup Series race at Circuit of The Americas, where he completed every lap and finished 24th.
Even after all that, Taylor wanted more from stock-car racing.
“I reached out to a few people to see what other opportunities there‘d be in the stock-car world,” he said. “Greg Ives from Hendrick [Motorsports] — I‘ve gotten to know him pretty well. He was actually the one who made the introduction to E33 Motorsports. They had an open seat available for North Wilkesboro, and they asked Greg who he thought could do it. Greg asked if they‘d be up for giving me a shot at an oval.
“The E33 guys have been amazing — super helpful and excited to be a part of my first oval experience.”
Some might see Taylor’s appearance at North Wilkesboro as a sort of ploy, especially given Rodney Sandstorm’s presence. (Rodney Sandstorm is Taylor’s playful alter ego. It began years ago when he pranked Gordon wearing a leather DuPont jacket and jorts. He’ll have the Rodney Sandstorm attire on hand at North Wilkesboro should he decide to play the part.)
But this is no ruse. Taylor is approaching his first oval start in a serious manner, and he’s well aware of the challenges he faces.
Taylor’s only experience in a Late Model is the testing he recently completed at Florida’s Orange County Speedway and North Carolina’s Ace Speedway. He’s studied videos of drivers running Pro Late Models at North Wilkesboro and has spent time learning the track on iRacing.
A new race week is upon us, a much different one for me! If you want to get some behind the scenes from the week, join the discord here: https://t.co/AYCGugAD9N pic.twitter.com/FWqmg7rUq3
— Jordan Taylor (@jordan10taylor) May 15, 2023
Even knowing a Pro Late Model would feel completely different than a Corvette C8.R, Taylor was stunned by the test.
“The biggest surprise was how much grip [Pro Late Models] had,” Taylor said. “And how much speed you can go into the corner with; how far you can attack into the corners. A much higher limit than I was expecting. And that just leads me to think about how difficult the racing‘s going to be.
“You watch these drivers run side-by-side and nose-to-tail, lap-after-lap for 100 laps. So testing it is one thing. Getting to a race weekend with a bunch of other cars is going to be a whole different thing to learn.”
Taylor’s awareness of the difficulty the North Wilkesboro race will bring is part of the reason he’s not entering with expectations. He’s approaching race day the same way he viewed his COTA Cup Series start in March: “I want to show some speed if I can, and be in the mix somewhere in the pack. I don‘t want to fall off the back of the pack. I just want to have a respectable showing.”
Ultimately, as Taylor described it, this is “just going to be a cool experience.” And it helps that he’ll have one of the sharpest looking cars at North Wilkesboro.
Despite Taylor’s association with Gordon, the Rainbow Warriors throwback paint scheme on his No. 1 Pro Late Model was not his idea. The E33 team conceived the look and pitched it to Taylor, who had no issue playing the Rodney Sandstorm game.
Taylor also noted it’s fitting that Gordon, sporting the Rainbow Warriors look on his Chevy Monte Carlo, won the last time the NASCAR Cup Series visited North Wilkesboro, in the fall of 1996.
Almost 27 years later, the Cup Series is back at North Wilkesboro for Sunday’s All-Star Race. Thanks to Taylor and E33 Motorsports, an iconic paint scheme is back, too, ready to grace the historic venue. Or so the driver hopes.
“This opportunity — it‘s going to be a lot to take in,” Taylor said. “Hopefully we‘ll just be somewhere in the mix.”