Ryan Roulette admits his idea of relaxation is a bit different than that of his colleagues.
The resident of Minot, North Dakota, who serves as a pilot in the United States Air Force, likes to spend his free time racing.
“It really helps with my mental fortitude, if you will, giving me something that is for me that has nothing to do with my day job,” said Roulette, who has made three starts on the ARCA Menards Series platform over the last two seasons. “Some guys find it crazy. They say, ‘Let me get this straight. Your balance is going 170 mph or whatever around a racetrack hanging on by the seat of your pants. That brings you balance?’
“For someone like me, yes it does.”
Military service runs in Roulette’s family. He is a third-generation member of the Air Force. His father and grandfather both served, and when it came time for him to decide what to do after graduating from high school, he made the decision to follow in their footsteps.
“It’s always something that was in the background as I was going through high school trying to figure out my life,” Roulette offered about potentially joining the military. “As the end of high school was kind of coming around, I had interest in college, and at the same time I wanted to venture out on my own and do something unique and different.
“Serving my country, especially post-9/11 and everything else that happened there, seemed like it was the right thing for me and what I wanted to do.”
Joining the Air Force has allowed Roulette to travel all over the world. It also has allowed him to pursue opportunities in racing, which ultimately led him to make his ARCA Menards Series platform debut last season during the West Series finale at Phoenix Raceway.
The experience was eye-opening for Roulette, who started 30th and finished 22nd in his first ARCA event.
“When you get to walk into the inside of it (the track) and you’re standing on pit road and you’ve got the car in front of you and your name on it and you’re looking up…it’s a whole different feeling,” Roulette said.
The 36-year-old Roulette has been racing since his high school days. He grew up near Knoxville Raceway in Iowa, the home of the famous Knoxville Nationals sprint car event held every August.
After watching countless races there, a friend gave him the opportunity to try out a lightning sprint, a smaller version of a sprint car.
It didn’t take long for Roulette to be hooked.
“I got a chance to try out a buddy’s car and instantly fell in love with it,” Roulette recalled. “Since that day back in high school I was always trying to find a way into a car.”
Roulette has leaned on a fellow member of the military, NASCAR Xfinity Series team owner, driver and United States Navy reservist Jesse Iwuji, who has helped him learn to navigate being an active member of the military while also pursuing a career in motorsports.
“I got in contact with him five years ago maybe,” Roulette recalled. “He kind of paved the way for me, if you will, as in he experienced being active duty, having to reach out and find teams that didn’t know anything about him.
“It’s definitely tough for me to navigate and explain that I have a lot of experience. It’s just not what guys who grow up on asphalt have. So how do I convert that experience? He was able to help me navigate that portion.”
Being both a racer and an active member of the military can sometimes lead to a hectic schedule. For example, Roulette competed in the Music City 200 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway on May 7, finishing 10th.
Following the race, Roulette returned to his role with the Air Force, which took him to Guam, a small U.S. island territory in the Western Pacific.
He expects to return home to the United States this week, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.
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“Before I even went down to race at Nashville, I was working in the sim at home on iRacing,” Roulette said. “But also that week I’m flying air planes and doing training missions around CONUS (a military team for the continental United States).
“Then I got the opportunity to do that race (at Nashville). Then after that race I’m flying missions and serving. It’s definitely unique in that regard. As much as I’d love to be sitting there with the team constantly working on things, a lot of the stuff I have to do is on the phone.”
When not traveling for the Air Force, Roulette can typically be found racing his own sprint car on the weekends near his home in North Dakota.
He is hoping to add a few more ARCA events to his schedule this season in addition to his local racing plans in North Dakota, but that will depend on both his Air Force schedule and funding.
He wants teams to know that, while he may not be as young as drivers like Daniel Dye, Nick Sanchez or Rajah Caruth, he has plenty of experience in a race car.
Plus, you should never overlook a member of the military.
“We may not have skills in some cases that directly transfer to the civilian sector, but we have a lot of other skills that make us very driven, motivated, and very hard workers in general,” Roulette said. “We’re the types that if you give us a goal line if you will and tell us we have to get from A to B, I assure we’re going to get there one way or another, even if it’s painful for us to get there.”