Written by Stephen Conley
August 8th, 2013
For many race car drivers the love and determination starts at a young age, For Las Vegas native and current Super Stock points leader Kayli Barker, it started not long after she was born.
Kayli’s father Ron was racing Super Stocks when Kayli was born and she said “I grew up around it, I was at the track as a baby in a carrier”, So when you are rocked to sleep by the sounds of racing engines, who would be surprised that she grew up following in her father’s footsteps and developing that heavy right foot early.
Kayli also took a different route than most kids her age that wanted to race—mainly due to her mom Vicki saying no to go-karts. She would spend a lot of time at the track with her dad helping in any way she could and this is still true today, as when we spoke she was just coming from the garage working on her race car. Since Kayli could not run go-karts she wanted to race bandolero, but the minimum age for these cars was 8 so patiently she would wait, or patiently as a little kid could until her 8th birthday. After “bugging” her parents, Kayli’s birthday present would arrive in the style of a brand new bandolero race car. A nice present for sure.
Kayli admits that it took some time for her to get a grasp on these cars and gain confidence, “It really took me about 3 years before I felt confident that I could drive it in the corner side by side and it would stick” But when she did gain that confidence, it was certain she made the right decision to follow in her Father’s footsteps. Six years in bandolero, two Championships in 2009 and 2011.
Then the decision came to move up to Super Stocks in 2011 for a handful of races. “We wanted to make sure I was eligible for Rookie Of The Year in 2012”, A full season in 2012 and a win in her 8th career start earned her the Rookie Of The Year title at the age of 15. That win also entitled her as the youngest woman to win in the Whelen All-American Series; she also holds the honor of being the first female to win two track championships at Las Vegas.
Asked what it means to hold those titles of being the first woman to achieve these accomplishments, especially in a time where female racers are making headlines? Kayli said, it really shows I’m out there to be competitive and not just mess around. This is what I want to do for a career and not a hobby. I’m really here to do this and hop in a car and produce.” With Danica Patrick making headlines as a female racer, Barker says she doesn’t want to be the next Danica, but the first Kayli Barker, and while she’s working her way to that point, there are some that believes she will.
Dana Stahl, The longtime NASCAR racing coach and car builder worked with Matt Kenseth, Derek Thorn and other racing circuit stars before running into Barker at “the Bullring” at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway last summer. “That girl has more talent than 75 percent of the top experienced drivers out there,” Stahl said. “She takes her car right up to the limit. She knows what it takes. “I’ve seen her do stuff in a race car that simply amazes me.” John Bisci, the PR Representative at Las Vegas Motor Speedway says she has the talent and certainly on her way up.
It’s not just People that work in the sport, but her competitors that also see her talent. Jay Beasley, the current point’s leader in the Super Late Model Series at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring also speaks highly of Kayli’s talents.
Kayli Said, “It means a lot, because I know I don’t have a bad reputation out there. I’ve been taught to race people clean. I’m not one to be overly aggressive and pushes too hard for a spot and wrecks half the field. I’ve grown up out there, so I’ve basically known them all since I was born, there are always rumors around the track and people talk about others. I’m just glad I’m not one of those people getting talked about in a bad way.” When asked about all the positive comments from her fellow racers and people that run the series.
Kayli stays out of the rumor mill and away from the negative publicity in part to the Christian values she has.
Racing is not always an easy area to hold and keep up with such strong values, but Kayli says, “My faith will help me develop respect, it’s really hard to say how some in the NASCAR world accept that, but I don’t have a problem with it. It really helps me keep my anger under control and not flying after people in the pits.” There are many that will appreciate that and the core values she brings to a very intense sport.
Her Christian values are also shared by one of her idols. Drag Racing superstar Erica Enders-Stevens, a lot of comparisons between the two, both started racing at the age of 8 and who currently give everything they had on and off the track. Racing hard and trying to market themselves in a clean wholesome manner, but struggle to find the Sponsorship, Eneders-Stevens said to Kayli when learning of Kayli, Dream big and anything is possible and continues to surround yourself with the right people.
When asked about other idols in the sport, someone she truly wants to be like when it comes to racing, it didn’t take a split second for her to rattle off Bobby Labonte and Matt Crafton.
Labonte a Sprint Cup Series Champion and roll model for many racers, and Matt Crafton who some say is the cleanest and one of the most respected racers in the Camping World Truck Series, are two drivers for any young racer to idolize. Barker said when asked what drew her to Matt Crafton. “I was a huge Ted Musgrave fan, but one Vegas race he crashed in practice and got fired before the race, so I needed someone else to follow. I saw the bright neon yellow truck and said I like it. Ever since then became a big fan of him. For my 16th birthday we went to Ohio for the Eldora race and went up to Sandusky to visit ThorSport Racing, Talked to GM, got a full tour of the shop and Matt showed up for an hour on my birthday to help me celebrate. He is a really great guy and it meant a lot to me for him to even take time out of his schedule to come out and visitme for my birthday.”
Not a bad way for a race car driver to spend their Birthday. Crafton Finished 8th in that race to solidify a great 16th birthday for Barker.
With recent issues in short track racing, a big deal has been made about safety and is it good enough. Kayli talked about how her cars are set-up and how her race team takes to keeping her safe in a time where cost is a big issue as well. “Ever since I was in a bandolero I always did drills, where I’d buckle in with my helmet on and see how fast I can get in and out of the car in case of a fire.” This is also a practice she still does today in her Super Stock and Super Late model. “We are also required by NASCAR to have the HANS Device” (a head and neck support device) “It keeps my head and neck stable in case of accident” Barker explained. She also went on to explain in her super late model she has a custom seat that has been fitted to her exact measurements and molded to her body. “Now, my super stock, it’s just a generic racing seat.” She said. Custom seats are extremely expensive and in a time where funding is difficult for even the top NASCAR stars, it makes extra difficult for the local racers, especially as Kayli told us she lost one of her sponsors after the very first race of the season. “It was really a shock to us” Barker said. We were committed to two full series and after the point’s leader in the Super Stocks missed a race we were first in points and we decided to keep on going.
Kayli and her race team which is owned by her family work extremely hard trying to find sponsorship. Family friends help out and small local businesses adorn the side of her 34 “plus 2” Camaro. Kayli is a very marketable young lady and would be a boost to any company. If you are interested in helping a young racer that has plenty of long term potential, please contact us here at Motorracingdigest.com or thru Kayli’s Facebook page, or Vicki Barker Kayli’s mother.
Kayli also has taken to doing a lot of Charity work. Racing, being a high school teenager and helping two charities, that is enough to make this reporter tired, but she has the energy and drive.
Project 150 and the Las Vegas Labrador Rescue, Project 150 is a program based around helping homeless high school students, their saying is “High School Is Tough Enough” If you are interested in helping this organization, especially as kids begin to return to school. Please check out their website at www.project150.org. Her other charity is helping place lost Labrador’s in homes. www.lasvegaslabradorrescue.com is their website along with facebook.com/lasvegaslabradorrescue
It’s not often you find a 16 year old that will take on so much, but you have to give her and her family so much credit for instilling such great values.
The drive and dedication that Kayli Barker has to become a top level racer is nothing short of heroic. When asked if the Sprint Cup Series is where she wants to be, surprisingly enough it’s not. ThorSport Racing in the Camping World Truck Series is where she wants to go. The competition seems closer and much more enjoyable in that series. Plus I’m sure it helps ThorSport is where her hero Matt Crafton resides.
Maybe one day a spot will open up for her to bring her number 34 “Plus two” to the Camping World Truck Series and showcase that talent. I asked her about that number and the story behind it. Every racer has a story behind their number and this one is no exception. 34, my dad ran 34, plus being big Chicago bears fans 34 was Walter Payton’s number. It has really significant to me and it’s on everything so I hope to keep it thru my career. And what about the “Plus Two?” Our family friend is 36, and since I wanted to be 34 he would joke with us, if you’re not 36 you can’t pit down here you have go all the way down to the other end, so we added the plus two and it’s stuck ever since.
34, 36 or whatever number this young lady runs you can be assured it will be at the front.
Danica Patrick may have the spotlight for marketing, but Kayli Barker has the spotlight coming to her for success. Keep an eye to the west as this rising star will one day be burning bright in NASCAR’s top levels.
Follow Kayli on both Facebook and Twitter.