Ryan Hardwick had a five-year plan to get into the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and especially the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
But a confluence of events in November, when Hardwick won the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Am World Championship at the Vallelunga and newly crowned GT Daytona class champion Madison Snow announced his decision to step away from sports car racing, accelerated that plan.
Earlier this month, Hardwick was introduced as the driver who would share the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo with Bryan Sellers for the full 2019 season.
In effect, everybody is looking for back-to-back championships next year.
“Like a lot of these things usually go, there was a bit of me being in the right place at the right time type of thing, along with just some good timing,” Hardwick said.
“I was coming off a big win there with Lamborghini in the Super Trofeo world championship. That timing of winning that championship along with the North American championship in the amateur division for them, along with Madison Snow’s decision to step away from racing, all of those things just kind of came together at the same time.
“There was a vacancy on the Paul Miller team and they needed a Silver driver with Madison leaving. With me getting those wins in the Lamborghini, I was in their good graces and a driver they were wanting to develop. It really was an accumulation of all of that coming together.”
Hardwick is quick to give credit to Super Trofeo for his rapid ascension to the WeatherTech Championship.
He won five races and finished second in the Am class in his debut season in 2017 before winning five more races this past season en route to the Am title in the North America series as well as the World Championship.
“When I first started racing, I chose the Super Trofeo series, because after a lot of research, it kept pointing me towards that specific series and that specific car,” he said. “It would develop me faster as a driver than any other series, and I believe that was true.
“I mean, that car, you have no choice but to be disciplined and learn how to drive that car, or else. It’s a really challenging car and a really competitive series to drive in.
“My goal was always to make it to IMSA. I didn’t think it would happen in two years. I thought it would take me a little while longer, but I give a lot of credit for my driver development to that car and that series in Super Trofeo.”
Hardwick’s relationship with motorsports goes back much further than just the past two years of racing Lamborghini sports cars.
As a youngster, he raced off-road motorcycles and Jet Skis, which eventually led him into the powersports business. What began as a single Honda motorcycle dealership in Tennessee back in 1999 has become quite an empire.
“We’ve grown that business to now be one of the nation’s largest retailers of motorcycles, ATVs and personal watercraft,” Hardwick said.
“Our dealership group, we have eight locations, and we sell a little over 9,000 vehicles a year, so we’re one of the top three largest retailers in the world. We carry 11 brands of motorcycles, ATVs and Jet Skis. It’s a really fun business. I actually got into that from my passion. I grew up riding and racing off-road motorcycles, and then also raced jet skis and personal watercraft.”
He’s also proud to have the support of his good friend, Andy Frisella, whose company, 1st Phorm, has provided substantial support to his racing efforts the past two years in Lamborghini Super Trofeo. That support will continue with Paul Miller Racing in 2019.
“[It’s] a very, very large, successful company, very passionate about health and fitness and helping people achieve their goals,” Hardwick said. “Obviously, they help and support a lot of athletes, from professional athletes in baseball, football, basketball, wrestling, obviously bodybuilding and that type of thing, a lot of CrossFit athletes so they’re really, really big in the fitness space.
“This is – through their sponsorship of me – their first foray into auto racing and they’re really, really excited about growing and growing into the IMSA paddock and being on the IMSA grid full time. It’s a great company led by great people.”