BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — 2023 is the final racing season for Oildale native Kevin Harvick. Even as the community gears up for Harvick's retirement, Kern County's love of racing isn't going anywhere.
At Bakersfield Speedway, on a track Harvick himself has raced before, 20-year-old Tyler Bannister talks about his racing career so far and where he hopes to be in the future.
Bannister has been racing most of his life. His father, Jason, gave him his first car at the age of 4.
"I don't think it was like I wanted to, I was just brought up in it, and it was just something we did on our weekend. It was kind of how people watch football," said Bannister. "This is what we do."
Bannister learned to drive long before he could legally obtain a license at Bakersfield Speedway, taking to the track at age 5. Bannister has won a championship in almost every car he's driven.
Jason Bannister has been beside his son the whole time.
"It's been a lot of fun racing with him, against him," said Jason. "It's one of those deals that there's been a few races where me and him and actually raced each other for the win, and as a parent it's awesome. It doesn't get no better than that."
Jason says he eventually plans to take a backseat and turn wrenches for his son in order to continue to support Tyler's racing career.
Tyler Bannister's rookie season was just 2 years ago, but he took championships at Bakersfield Speedway, Merced Speedway, and won a national title all in that same year.
Bannister has continued that streak, winning multiple championships on both dirt and asphalt tracks.
"I think we wall, anyone in this class, wants to show up and win, but, you know, we're all just here to have fun, and at the end of the day, bring the car home looking like this," said Bannister, pointing to his intact car.
While Bannister says racing brings his whole family together every weekend, everyone feels the nerves as he hits the track, because in racing, it's not if a crash will happen, but when.
For Bannister, that 'when' has already come once. Almost one month ago, Tyler wrecked his car in a near head-on collision on the track.
Bannister's cousin, Cody Hanly, says he couldn't make it to the race that day and had to watch the crash happen helplessly from home.
"To watch it on T.V. and then nobody's answering their phone to tell you how he's doing," said Hanly. "So it gets a little nerve-wracking."
In spite of the dangers, Bannister's family says risk is a part of the sport, and Tyler and his team prep before each race to keep him as safe as possible.
Tyler Irwin, a family friend and crew member, says he helps Tyler's dad check the car before every race to make sure it's as safe as possible.
"Depending on the night, if you have a lot of carnage, at the house they'll maintenance everything," said Irwin. "Check the shocks, their bearings, their tires, their trailing arms, the rear end, just nut and bolt check everything to make sure nothing is loose."
Bannister hopes to continue racing long-term and take his career to Iowa where he says the biggest competitions for full-body stock car racing are held.
While he loves winning, Bannister says sharing the track with his dad is the best part of his journey.
"I've been lucky enough to win a lot of big races. It's really good, but mainly just running with my dad," said Bannister. "You don't really get a lot of of father-son moments, but that's a cool thing."
In his most recent race, Bannister started in seventh place, later being pushed to the back of the pack after he got collected in a wreck, only to eventually come back to battle with the leader and take second place.