DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – He's one of the top racers in America, and almost always overlooked, even on the day the boldest move of his career gave him the biggest win of his life.
Ricky Taylor used a gutsy pass with less than 7 minutes remaining in the Rolex 24 at Daytona to fearlessly grab the win for Wayne Taylor Racing. After, he stood in the background in victory lane.
He had an American flag draped over one shoulder, a Rolex watch crammed under an elbow, and was content in the shadow of his extrovert brother, Jordan, NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon and retiring veteran Max Angelelli.
On the day the limelight should have been his, Taylor's move Sunday put Gordon in a group with Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and Jamie McMurray as the only drivers to win both the Daytona 500 and this prestigious sports car race.
Team owner Wayne Taylor, father of the two workhorses on the team, was ecstatic for his quieter older son. Jordan has a personality larger than life, and even if the brothers are equally talented, Ricky never gets the credit he deserves.
"I don't think Ricky has had a fair evaluation of his talent and I think today, if he doesn't get it after today, then I don't know what to say," Wayne Taylor said.
The team was in the top three for 23 hours but found itself trailing Action Express in the final hour in a battle of new Cadillacs. His shot at the celebrated victory was down to one final attempt at a pass of Filipe Albuquerque, and Taylor dove inside of him entering Turn 1 of the road course.
Taylor seemed to have the inside lane, but it wasn't clear if he could complete the pass. Contact between the two cars sent Albuquerque spinning, and IMSA reviewed the action to see if Taylor warranted a penalty. IMSA said there was no offense.
Wayne Taylor said it was about time his oldest son showed what he's made of inside a race car.
"I think he needs to be bold," he said of the 27-year-old. "God, if there's anything anyone can teach him is to take some (gosh darn) credit, you know? Stop just being nice because this is an unfair business."
The Taylor team won its first Rolex since 2005 - when Wayne Taylor was still a driver, and it marked the first victory in the event for his sons, who grew up in Orlando and have been coming to this race their entire lives. The lineup included longtime Taylor co-driver Angelelli, who was adamant this was his final race, and Gordon, who won the first Rolex watch of his career. Gordon ran this race once before, in 2007, with the Taylor team.
Chip Ganassi Racing also won its seventh class race . But team Taylor was the story.
With so many feel-good elements to this victory, it was easy to overlook Ricky Taylor. He praised what he learned from working with Gordon, reflected on his longtime mentorship with Angelelli and was relieved to have given his father a victory that might ease the burden in a constant search for team funding.
But that move? Well, for that he seemed quite pleased with himself.
"There was only one way to win, and it was to go for it," Ricky Taylor said. "From my perspective, it's Max's last race. There's a lot of emotions going on. I wanted to win terribly. We were either going to make a move and do something and win or sit there in second and wait for, wait until next year, basically. I didn't want to do that.
"A lot of people want to be the quarterback on the last down of the Super Bowl. I know I have three other guys who can do just as good a job, so I would have been just as happy to let Jordan stay in the car. But they said it was my turn, and I was ready to take it."
Albuquerque, of Action Express Racing, was not at all happy with the second-place finish.
"I don't think I lost the race, to be honest, because I don't race like this," he said. "He hit me in the back. He didn't even wait for me. He just took off. A true racer in my opinion, in the end, deep inside, I would feel a little bit ashamed with the win."
Ricky Taylor was baffled by Albuquerque's assessment.
"Wait for what?" he asked. "Any driver would have done what I did."
Angelelli, meanwhile, will step outside of the race car with another Rolex for his collection. He'll stay busy helping Cadillac develop its new program, which had a rousing debut and dominated the race. The manufacturer went 1-2 overall and proved to be no match for any other cars in the prototype class.
Gordon didn't carry a very significant part of the load in victory. Still, it's a coveted Rolex watch for Gordon in a trophy collection that includes four NASCAR championships and three Daytona 500s.
"I haven't been this emotional for a win and an experience like this for a very long time," Gordon said. "The reason is because I know what this means to this team, Wayne, these kids, Max. Oh my gosh, this is amazing. Daytona has always been special, but this one sent me over the top. I'm just blown away right now."