Meet Danville's Race Car Driver
Tyler McQuarrie is a Danville dad with a penchant for speed.
At home, he’s a mild-mannered husband and father busy raising his three children in Danville. But put Tyler McQuarrie behind the wheel of a race car, and the suburban dad transforms into something else entirely—a speed demon, racing his way to motorsports glory.
Few could manage the kind of life McQuarrie has made for himself—but there are few as driven as the East Bay speedster. Here, he talks about his path to racing stardom, the crazy things he’s done in cars, and how he balances the racing lifestyle with that of a family man.
Q: What drew you to racing?
A: I was always drawn to cars. Recently, I found this paper at my parents’ house—I think it was from first grade. It says, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I wrote, “Race car driver.” It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
Q: What was your first car?
A: A Porsche 914 that was handed down [from my dad]. I went up Mount Diablo so many times in that thing, doing stuff I probably shouldn’t have.
Q: Uh-oh. Such as?
A: [My friends and I] did a lot of stupid things: We used to go [to Walnut Knolls] and jump our cars on the rolling hills. Another time, I was at a party at my friend’s house doing doughnuts or something, and her dad came out and yelled at me.
I ran into him maybe five years ago. He said, “Hats off to you. You really pissed me off when you were younger, but it’s so cool that you made it.”
Q: Are you still a speed fiend on the streets?
A: Ever since I started racing professionally, I’m supermellow—you’d think I was some old man driving around. But there are times when I’ll accelerate on the freeway [with my kids], and they’ll be screaming in the back, having a good ol’ time.
Q: What’s the fastest you’ve ever gone in a race?
A: About 195.
Q: So, who’s going to teach the kids how to drive when they’re old enough?
A: I can’t wait to teach my kids how to drive correctly! Imagine a society where everyone writes a story every day, and you have to read all these bad stories. That’s the world I live in: Everywhere I go, I see bad driving all the time. So, I can’t wait to teach them.
Q: You started racing karts when you were 14. How did you make the jump to race cars?
A: When I was about 16, [I did] a three-day racing school out in Sonoma. I went to the president of the racing school at the time and said, “I want to run in your [Formula Russell] Championship, but I don’t have the money to do it. Could I come and work for free?”
I spent that summer doing work around the [racing school’s] shop, and they let me race a car for free. I think he got flak later for letting me compete because I won the championship. The prize was a full-paid trip to England to race in the World Scholarship. If you won that race, you got a free season in England of racing Formula Vauxhall, which [can cost half a million dollars]. And I won. At the time, I was only the third American to ever win it.
Q: Most drivers focus on one discipline—or one style of racing—but you’re unique in that you race in multiple disciplines: road racing, Formula Drift, and off-road racing, to name a few. What’s it like jumping from one to another?
A: It’s like playing tennis one day, then golf the next, then basketball the next: They all use hand-eye coordination, but there are different objectives for each. It’s the same thing [with racing].
Q: Let’s talk about your 2016 season, which was especially hectic: You raced in almost 30 races across four disciplines. What were the highlights?
A: [For 2016], I got hooked up with a sponsor called Safecraft, an East Bay company [that produces fire-suppression systems for race cars]. We came up with this campaign called #RaceEverything. The premise was that I can race anything, so let’s put me in everything. I was telling somebody it almost felt like I won the lottery.
[June] was an interesting part of the year. In a matter of three days, I was [off roading] in Mexico; in a drift car in Orlando, Florida; then a Stadium Super Truck in Detroit. For the Stadium Super Trucks series [a race that features a series of jumps on the track], I took a red-eye to Detroit. I’d never been to the track before, and there were no practice laps. I was just thrown into the race.
I got up to third place [but] ended up finishing in sixth [out of 15]. It wasn’t very good.
Q: It doesn’t seem that bad given the lack of preparation.
A: As a driver, if you’re not on the podium, you’re bummed. In racing, people can forget about you really fast. If you’re not running well, [companies] are not going to sponsor you.
Q: How do you deal with that pressure?
A: Probably not as well as I should. I’ve been trying to figure out how to do that better, and I’ve raced for, what, 25 years?
But my wife, Nicole—she’s awesome. She reminds me that things will always work out. My family definitely helps [with my stress].
Q: What about when you get on the podium?
A: It’s crazy. It’s the best feeling ever and the best way to thank everybody who puts so much into the program, from the sponsors to the [racing] team. It’s extremely fulfilling to get on the podium and spray champagne.
Q: What has been your favorite race so far?
A: Probably the Baja 1000 [an off-road, cross-country race held in Baja California]; it’s kind of like the Indy 500 for off-road racing. It was the toughest race.
At one point in the race, [my codriver and I encountered] a complete dust out. You couldn’t tell if you were upside down or right side up.
I kept going—it was a total rookie mistake—and we ended up in a ditch [and didn’t finish the race]. This was around midnight, in the middle of nowhere. Your cellphone doesn’t work, the radio doesn’t work, and you’re a hundred miles from an access road. We’re just waiting for a chupacabra to come eat us. Luckily, our team had an airplane flying around [that we could contact by satellite radio], and we [got] out around 5 a.m.
Q: You’re a high-profile racer, but you’re also a husband and father. How do you balance the run-and-gun lifestyle of racing with raising a family back home?
A: When I first came up in motorsports, I was told so many times that if you get married or have a kid, your career is done. But I always wanted a family. If it meant my career would be over, then so be it.
But I didn’t really think [having a family] was going to end my career. I just had to figure out how to make it work. This year, I did anything I could to spend more time at home. I’d be on the East Coast and have back-to-back races, then I’d fly home for a day before flying back. It didn’t make sense logistically, and it wasn’t economical, but to come home [and] spend time with my family—it’s worth the hassle.
Q: Plus, you get to spend time in the East Bay.
A: I absolutely love living in the East Bay. I can ride my bike up Mount Diablo; we can be in San Francisco in 25 minutes; we can go skiing [in Tahoe] in a few hours.
[My family] likes to hang out in Danville, too. We go to Hot Summer Nights [Hot Rod and Classic Car Show] in downtown Danville, and we walk to the farmers market every Saturday when I’m home. It’s amazing. I can’t think of anywhere else that I would want to raise my kids.
Q: What do your kids think about your career?
A: They have been around it their whole lives, so they’re kind of used to it. I had a race in Laguna Seca this year, and my kids [came along]. I got on the podium, second place, and [my team was] spraying champagne. There was confetti everywhere—it was this big celebration. But my daughters were just like, “Could we go to the beach now?”
My son, Miller, is way more into it. He wants to be a race car driver himself. It’s kind of a scary thought as a dad.
Q: Speaking of scary, you’ve been involved in your share of crashes. Is it as terrifying and dangerous as it looks?
A: If you look at the percentages, it’s safer to race than to drive on the streets—at least that’s what I tell my wife.
I’ve never been scared to crash, though. One time, I was in Long Beach for Stadium Super Trucks. I hit somebody, and the hood of my truck went up, so I could barely see where I was going. I went off one of the jumps crooked—and we’re jumping 150, 200 feet—and I’m sideways in the air. I land on the side of the truck, and it rolls. Somehow, I end up on my wheels [again], so … I kept racing. I raced up to third and finished on the podium.
And I remember thinking, My family’s in the stands right now, and my wife is probably freaking out.
Q: You’re really active on social media and constantly updating your Instagram account with pictures and videos of your races, cars, and family. What’s it like having a big social media presence?
A: It’s really cool and interesting. People will come up to me during an autograph session and say, “Aw, that was so cute that you were riding BMX with Miller.” They know everything about your life.
I started the hashtag #babyfarm [for] my family. I’ll go to races with my kids, and random people will yell out, “Baby farm!” It kind of freaks my wife out.
Q: I read that you helped one of your fans with his marriage proposal.
A: This guy hit me up on Facebook and asked if I could help him propose to his girlfriend, who was a big fan of mine. I was like, “Hell, yeah!”
So, he brought her over to sign an autograph [when I was in Orlando for a race]. I signed my name and wrote, “Look behind you.” She didn’t really look at it, though, and was saying thanks and how she’s a big fan. I said, “Why don’t you look at [what I wrote]?”
She looked down and turned around, and he was on one knee. It was really awesome.
Q: You’ll be racing in the Long Beach Grand Prix this April. Any thoughts going into the race?
A: It’s a really cool event for me because I remember going to that race as a kid. I can relate to everybody [watching the race]; I can relate to the kids because I was that kid.
And it’s an example that you can be out there [on the track]. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. Anything’s possible. clpmotorsports.com.