Like many spirited 14-year-olds in Rock Hill, Kayla Lyons is spending her summer days thinking about her first day as a high school student.
But unlike many of her peers, Kayla’s preparation for opening day next month at Northwestern High School is spent on a race track.
Kayla is competing in the Jack in the Box Summer Shootout Series at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.
Almost from the start, she has been extremely successful. In her first race in the Bandolero Division in late January, she finished second. She continued racing in that division for the rest of the winter season and into the spring season. In seven races in the spring season she managed her first Bandolero win and four second-place finishes. She also claimed one Hard Charger Award for the racer who moves up the most positions in a race. In addition she won kart titles at the youth and adult level.
She began the summer season in the Bandolero Division and won her first three races. In week four, she moved up to the Outlaw Division. In that group she is among the youngest drivers and one of only four girls competing each week in a field of nearly 25.
“I feel like I have done pretty good so far,” Kayla said. “I have worked very hard thus far, and I realize that each time I move up to another division the competition will get better.”
Kayla, whose favorite NASCAR driver is Dale Earnhardt Jr., is not backing down. The going has been a little tougher, but she is not discouraged.
“I expected it to be more difficult in this division,” she added. “However, I feel like I am learning a lot and improving every time I go to the track.”
In her first race in the Outlaw Division in the 10-week summer series she was involved in an early wreck that knocked her out of that 20-lap race. Rain washed out the second week. Then last week was a scheduled doubleheader.
In the opening race, she made some outstanding moves to get around some of the competitors and move up in the field. On lap 16 she had nearly maneuvered her way through a three-car wreck just ahead of her, when another driver hit her car and knocked her out of the race.
Returning to the garage, she and her crew repaired the car and had it ready for the second race of the night. Rain moved in and stopped the race. On Tuesday night she will race in another doubleheader, and then have three more single races to complete the summer series.
Tuesday is not the only day she spends at the track. Every Monday night, she goes to the track and practices.
“I use that practice time to work on several things,” Kayla said. “I am in another division now, so I had to get used to higher speeds and more cars on the track.”
“That means I have to work on my line more,” she added. “I am getting used to the 70-80 miles per hour speeds on the straightaways.”
A supportive family
Kayla’s father, Frankie Lyons, has been behind her since she wanted to race. Her mother lives in Kentucky.
Frankie Lyons is always there at practice and the race. He also works in the garage area during races when needed.
“I do worry about her,” he said. “A couple of weeks ago when she wrecked, I was on pins and needles until she opened the roof hatch.”
Kayla, who started racing indoor karts when she was 8, drives a car leased from Cram Racing Enterprises, which is a team of two brothers. They store the car, set it up, and bring it to the track for practice and the race.
If something goes wrong or there is a wreck, they fix the car. They are not strangers to racing; they have ties to Bill Elliott and the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.
“I could have done everything myself, but I figured that leasing was the best way to go,” said Frankie Lyons, a certified diesel mechanic.
He is responsible for securing the sponsors, who provided the money for the lease for each race, for safety equipment, and for the other expenses.
“We have several levels of sponsorships available,” Frankie Lyons said. “It really keeps me busy with my job, helping out at practice and the race, and getting sponsors.”
If she didn’t already have enough to do this summer, Kayla works as an intern at the Indoor Karting Center summer camp. Her duties there involve checking the participants for safety equipment and assisting them in their driving skills.
Once the summer series is complete, she will turn her attention to the fall series and the start of school. She plans to take “Introduction to Transportation” at Northwestern High. During that course, she will be studying automotive body and small engine repair.
Before the fall series starts she will be participating in one event in Winston-Salem, N.C. The fall series is composed of 25 races at Concord Speedway, and she hopes to run as many of them as possible.
She also plans to participate in a few dirt track races and some Legends car practices before returning to Charlotte Motor Speedway in December for the winter series.
“It is my dream to have a professional future in auto racing,” Kayla said. “I feel like I have come a long way in a short time. I know I have a long way to go, but I have confidence in my abilities.”