CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Tyler Clary loves to race, whether he's in the water or behind the wheel.
Still, the guy who won a gold medal in swimming at the London Olympics figured no one would take his other passion seriously if he didn't make a bold gesture.
So, he packed his bags, moved to the heart of NASCAR country, and struck up a friendship with six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
Clary hopes it will ultimately pay off with his own stock car ride, though swimming remains his top priority at the moment.
"It becomes more real for everybody, especially when you're knocking on the doors of the teams, you're meeting people face to face," Clary said. "They can see it in my eyes, how I carry myself, that I'm serious about it."
The plan is to take more swimming gold at the 2016 Rio Games before switching full-time to NASCAR the following year. There would be stints in both Trucks and the Nationwide Series, with the ultimate goal of moving up to Sprint Cup in 2021.
By then, he'll be 32 years old, certainly rather old by racing standards to be breaking in as a rookie.
But Clary shrugs off those who might say he's been stuck too long at the starting line.
"It used to be that you had to be young to take the impacts and forces and conditions inside the car," he said. "Now that the driver support systems have come so far, you can do it into a much older age than you used to. Just look at Mark Martin," referring to the driver who was still highly competitive well into his 50s.
Besides, Clary added, "I've made a living doing things people never thought I could."
Indeed, a chip-on-the-shoulder outlook has helped Clary keep up with more gifted swimmers such as Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. In 2012, Clary failed to make the U.S. Olympic team in what was seemingly his best event, the 400-meter individual medley, but he shook off that disappointment to qualify in two other races. Then, at London, he upset Lochte in the 200 backstroke for the first gold medal of his career.
Clary's love of cars goes back to the earliest memories of his family heading to the California desert to race dune buggies. As a self-proclaimed nerd, he was especially intrigued by the high-tech world of Formula One but knew it would be a real longshot to break into that form of racing. NASCAR was a better fit.
"The capabilities of the Formula One car are incredible," Clary said. "But I think the capabilities of the drivers in stock car racing are that much and more. You have less grip, you have less downforce, the cars are heavier, yet they are still doing things in those cars that most people would think are impossible."