JEFFERSON CITY – It all started with a phone call.
“Reid called me in December of last year and said, ‘I got a kid that I think has a lot of talent,’” Brennon Willard, Ryu Taggart’s mentor, said.
Willard’s family owns Lebanon I-44 Speedway in Lebanon, Missouri. There, drivers since 1982 have learned how to race.
“Lots of people say their kids have talent, but I’ve known Reid a long time so I trusted him on that,” he said.
Choosing the path to race under Reid Millard was not an easy feat. On the other side of the world, Ryu’s father Jeff Taggart had to pull some strings.
A childhood friend of Taggart’s, Ron Dye was the first person he looked to for help.
“He always knew exactly what to do and he was great with set-ups,” Taggart said.
But there was one catch: Dye was in retirement from racing for 5 years already.
“I begged and pleaded with him to come out and help us and without his help, Ryu wouldn’t have been able to get to where he’s at today,” Taggart said.
Ryu Taggart said the two biggest transitions for him moving to another country was the food and driving on the other side of the road. Now living in Jefferson City, Ryu said the past two years weren’t always easy.
“When I first moved here, I was still homesick at times, sometimes I would step out of the classroom because tears would start forming in my eyes,” he said.
Moving overseas from Okinawa, Japan, Ryu Taggart came to Jefferson City to start his career in America. But that wasn’t the original plan.
Jeff Taggart said, “My dreams growing up was to race NASCAR, but I never wanted to push my kids into racing or anything. So I stayed in Okinawa, Japan trying to avoid racing.”
For Ryu, avoiding racing was not the case. Driving karts since he was four years old, Ryu has earned a myriad of achievements over the years.
While in Okinawa, he gathered five track championships. In 2018, Taggart switched to the asphalt Pro Late Model series at Lebanon I-44 Speedway. There, he earned the title of the 2018 Missouri State Pro Late Model Rookie of the Year.
But it all comes at a price for the young driver.
“Being a kid and doing all this, it’s kind of like a sacrifice,” Taggart said. "I don’t really get to hang out with my friends at all, so I’m kind of busy working and racing and practicing as much as I can.”
And part of his busy lifestyle involves making pizzas on the side.
“He is the model employee," Prison Brews owner Debbie Brown said. "When he comes to work, he comes to work early…He is a hard worker. It doesn't matter what you ask him to do, he will do it.”
Katlyn Adams, Prison Brews server, said, "Ryu always makes sure the pizzas are literally perfect. If there’s one little bubble in it, he’ll redo it and make sure it’s sent out perfect and nice for you, so you have good tips.”
Taggart said the focus required to race is just like making pizza. Luckily, that focus carries over well to the racetrack.
Willard said he’s seen successful drivers race on the speedway in Lebanon, and Taggart happened to match their talent.
“We’ve been fortunate to see Mike Wallace come through, Jamie McMurray come through, Carl Edwards come through,” Willard said. “So what I saw those guys do, I used that [for Ryu] and hopefully it will help him along the way.”
Taggart is currently in Daytona, Florida for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity combine and will be there until the end of the week.
Taggart said his dream is to be a professional racer.
"Seeing the other professional drivers, they keep on pushing me. I want to be there one day, going fast, going 150 to 200 miles an hour, and maybe someday I can go 300 miles an hour...," Taggart said.