Catching Up with Former NASCAR Truck Series Driver Randy Tolsma – Part 1

by Briar Starr On Tue, Nov. 07, 2017

A lot of people may not know the name of former NASCAR Truck Series driver Randy Tolsma. The Meridian, Idaho driver has made 107 career starts over a span of seven years, from 1996-2002. Tolsma also made 13 career starts in what was then known as the Busch Grand National Series.

His first ever start took place at Phoenix International Raceway in 1996, the second year of the truck series. Tolsma started 16th but was relegated to a 29th place finish due to a crash. However, he still has vivid memories to this day of his first race and it made him fall in love with the sport.

“That race in Phoenix was actually the first time I ever drove a truck,” he said. “My entire career was previously spent in open wheel type cars, so little time in full-bodied cars. The team was brand new and we rushed as fast as we could to get the truck built, having had zero time to test.

“One of the funny memories was the very first practice session and the crew chief asked me to back out of our pit stall. I looked down and saw the unmarked black shift knob and realized I had no idea where reverse was. Keying the radio and asking for help brought extremely questionable and disappointed faces from the crew. They had put in lots of hours building these trucks and I think for the first time just realized how green I was. That fear was quickly put to rest when we were 15th fastest in the first session, of around 60-plus trucks in attendance.”

Even though that was Tolsma’s first Truck Series race, he gained a great deal of experience but it was almost too much to comprehend. But, with dedication, he made it work out and enjoyed racing ever since that first time.

“That first race was somewhat overwhelming,” Tolsma said.  “It was a culmination of years of hard work, determination, dreams bigger than I had ever dreamed coming to fruition. As a driver from Idaho, no one had previously made it professionally as a race driver, so the opportunity to race on that stage was something very special. I grew up only dreaming of racing at Meridian Speedway in Meridian Idaho. So envisioning something as big as NASCAR was not even in my thoughts as a young driver. Obviously, at every stage of racing you dream a little bigger but finally realizing the dream of being a professional race car driver was certainly something special.

“I loved the trucks from the moment I first saw them. I had followed since the inception and watched friends get the opportunities that now existed because of the NASCAR expansion. Phoenix was a track I knew well and had already driven in a USAC Midget, Sprint Car and Silver Crown car that same year. I was comfortable with the track, so at least that side of things was familiar. When it came to the race, I obviously made mistakes, but learned lots.”

In the early years of what was then called the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, there were a variety of drivers racing in the series,  week in and week out, and Tolsma was thankful that he was there to compete with those stars.

“I truly believe, I was lucky enough to drive in the Truck Series greatest years,” he said. “It was a series of short track superstars, literally some of the best short track racers ever. You had stars from every division from every region across the country like Butch Miller, Rick Crawford, Ron Hornaday, Jack Sprague, Mike Bliss, Dennis Setzer, Jimmy Hensley, Joe Rutman, Rich Bickle, Rick Carelli, Bill Sedgwick, Jay Sauter, Tony Raines, Bryan Reffner, Mike Stefanik, Scott Hansen, Bob Keselowski, Mike Skinner, Stacey Compton, Dave Rezendes, Doug George, Toby Butler, Chuck Bown, along with the late Tony Roper and Kenny Irwin Jr.”

Randy continues on about the wide range of stars and talks about how different the trucks were back then compared to today.

“You had the road racing aces of Boris Said, Dorsey Schrader and Ron Fellows running full schedules and you very commonly had a handful of Cup drivers,” Tolsma said.

“Sadly I only selected a few names, there were so many more and I hate leaving any out. We also competed against 60 plus trucks trying for 36 starting spots with only 3/10ths of a second separating the field. Cup teams backed many of the teams, but it was also an era where an independent team like I was involved with could purchase engines, trucks and build competitive teams to battle the major teams.

“This was the hottest new series. We were NASCAR’s first footsteps into the Northwest and some of the smaller venues around the country when the NASCAR brand was at its peak. I was no superstar and yet my die casts were sold at Target and Walmart. We had a standalone event at Texas Motor Speedway and we had some 70,000 plus fans in attendance and at the time this was the second largest sporting event in Texas. So with all that said, it was fun. I raced on a big stage with what I truly believe were some of the best racers, real racers, ever.”

Randy’s first career victory came in 1997 at Mesa Marin Raceway driving for former owner Steve Coulter. To this day, he still can remember that win but would have liked to have handled victory lane differently.

“I can remember most everything of that day,” he says. “We were not supposed to win, we were not real competitive and likely not even expected to even compete up front. I qualified well and ran in the shadows of Ron Hornaday and Mike Wallace most of the day. I really didn’t have a consistent spotter at the time so we used the shop fabricator Nick Menudier that day and Nick is a pretty quiet guy. I think he said good luck at the beginning, congrats at the end and very little in between. I was wearing a new suit that the series patches were taped on with rolled up duct tape because it just arrived.

“Ron (Hornaday) blew up a rear end, and so it was just Mike Wallace and me left to battle,” Tolsma said. “Mike started to bobble coming off the corners and I, for the first time, realized it was in the driver’s hands to win it. I got under Mike coming up off Turn 2 and as we drove into Turn 3; I drove more straight that turn. I wanted to run him up into the turn which caused us to hit some, rub some, but it gave me the lead. Then I had the lead and admit to my leg beginning to shake with overwhelming adrenaline. I am not sure there is a fitting description to what that meant to me. Obviously, emotions ran over and I found it difficult to compose myself.

“Something to note and maybe I can redeem myself here,” he continued. “I forgot to thank Chevrolet in victory lane and it cost me some money in support, so thank you Chevrolet. One of the sad moments of that day was when my very good friend Tim Shutt could not make the trip out west because of health issues. Tim was very special to me, he had come down from Indiana with us, and been through all the challenges we faced as a new team. Part of that victory was hollow because he didn’t get to celebrate our overcoming adversity.”

Next week, in Part 2 of my interview with Tolsma, he talks about his favorite tracks and his decision to leave racing behind to focus on his family.

You can follow Randy Tolsma on Twitter at @rtolsmaamci.

 

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