Tooleys bonding through racing at Southwest Speedway
Waiting for a feature race in Mandan to begin in the starting lineup, Dickinson native Jay Tooley told his son that the race was dedicated to him. He wanted to reward Travis for all the work he does on the No. 15 car with their family name displa...
Waiting for a feature race in Mandan to begin in the starting lineup, Dickinson native Jay Tooley told his son that the race was dedicated to him. He wanted to reward Travis for all the work he does on the No. 15 car with their family name displayed across the top.
That day, May 20, Jay went on to take his first feature win since he quit racing 20 years ago. In a way, Jay has been racing for Travis ever since he picked it back up two years ago.
Travis, who has chronic neck issues, wanted to race since he was a child and heard how skilled his dad was. But because of his condition, Jay picked the sport back up at Travis’ wish.
May 20, Travis said, was one of the happiest days of his life.
“He said, ‘I’m going to concentrate as hard as I can, and I’m going to do this for you.’ It meant a lot,” Travis said. “Just getting to be a part of a race team is pretty awesome.”
A few years ago, Travis tore two arteries in the back of his neck and had 15 strokes in the back of his brain. He dealt with short-term memory loss and stuttering initially as he recovered.
“It’s like if you break a bone, that bone comes back stronger in that spot,” Travis said. “If you do something to an artery, they don’t know if it comes back stronger or not.”
If Travis were to snap his head from side to side, he could injure those arteries again, which could lead to more strokes or death.
He was planning on going from motocross when he was younger to auto racing and following the footsteps of his family, as Jay is a third generation racer and Travis would be the fourth.
Instead, he had to sell his dirtbike and snowmobile when he was injured.
Travis, 27, is still dealing with neck issues as those arteries may never fully heal. But the Tooleys are hopeful for recovery for Travis so he can race within the next couple seasons.
But until then, Jay is racing for his son, and that means the world to Travis.
“It’s challenging but rewarding,” Jay said. “It’s to be able to see him do everything except get behind the wheel. … My goal was just to do it for three years or until his healing was a little more progressed.”
Jay first started racing in 1978 and raced for more than 10 years before dropping out of it for about 20.
But then, when Travis got out of college and was injured, Travis tried to talk Jay back into it three years ago.
“I really didn’t want to,” Jay said. “But in a long, roundabout way he talked my wife into letting me race for a couple years. Just with enough talking and talking, then he talked me into it.”
Luckily, Jay, 55, managed to get enough money from old sponsors to fund his new project. And with his wife’s green flag, Jay’s decision became much easier.
“Everything came together,” Jay said. “So I decided to give it a shot.”
Back in Jay’s first stint of racing in western North Dakota, his brother Todd Tooley said, he was unstoppable with numerous feature wins and track championships.
“He just had it dialed in,” Todd said. “At that point in time, he had that eye of the tiger.”
And having that past success kept Jay open to the idea of coming back - he wants to prove that he’s still got it.
“Travis would love to get into the car himself,” Todd said. “But I think he’s so excited to see his dad race. Travis does so much research on these cars, how different they are from when Jay used to race, he’s a big part of setting the car up.”
Supporting his dad, Todd said, is a positive outlet for Travis.
“From what I’ve been told by many people, he was the best around, not even locally but in the nation,” Travis said of Jay. “I guess growing up all I ever wanted to do was race, seeing his old helmets. All I ever did was play race cars in the yard.”
Jay says that if Travis is ever healthy enough to race, his son could do a better job on the track.
“I just like being around race cars,” Travis said. “When I was little, that was my No. 1 thing was race, race, race. I went to college for baseball, but my heart always wanted to be in a race car or be around racing. That was my big drive for it. No matter what, I wanted to get back into racing somehow.”
When Travis was injured soon after finishing at Bismarck State College, he started helping other racers around Southwest Speedway.
He learned enough there to get the drive back for racing, and he figured since his dad was so good then, he could help him race now.
Travis is the brains, he said, and Jay is the driver.
Jay said that Travis took the leadership role on their family race team, especially because Jay is playing catch-up on the new technologies of the cars.
“I just want to do the best that I can because it would be a huge reward for Travis,” Jay said. “I set my goals to do it for all of his hard work and efforts.”
The competition is tough, Jay said, considering that he’s up against drivers he raced against all those years ago but never stopped racing.
He’s just trying to get back up to speed.
So Travis, whenever he has time off from his job, comes by to work on the car.
And although the relationship can get testy at times, Jay said it’s been rewarding.
In fact, his whole family, including Travis’ brother Tyson in Minot, has rallied around these races in the area.
“That’s another thing that’s been rewarding to Travis is seeing our family get together and bond,” Jay said. “Between him and his brother, they get to share a lot together.”
Todd remembers when Travis said about a year and a half ago how happy he was to see the family bonding over it - he’s gotten to see his family much more now. Jay initially got out of racing to spend more time with his family, but he’s now back in it and bringing the family closer together.
Travis hopes his son, Jax, at three and a half months old, can get into racing when he’s old enough.
Maybe then Travis can live through his son, but until then, he’s just fine watching his dad.
“Usually the parent gets to relive stuff through their child. We kind of have to do it a little backwards,” Travis said. “Every single night we’re going to the track, it’s a pretty big accomplishment in my books. … Pretty much every day we go to the race track is a dream come true.”