Three young local drivers made a little history last year in putting together championship seasons.
Dylan Kwasniewski won the K&N Pro Series East title, becoming the first to win the East and West championships.
Jay Beasley captured the Super Late Model title, becoming the first African-American to take one of three major series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Bullring.
Kayli Barker came in first in Super Stocks, becoming the first female to win one of those top three titles at the three-eighths-mile track.
Now all three are moving on, taking their careers forward into much more intense competition.
Kwasniewski makes his debut in the Nationwide Series, Beasley joins NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and will compete in the K&N East circuit, and Barker will drive exclusively in Super Late Model.
The news Monday that Kwasniewski, 18, would drive a Chevrolet in the circuit just a step below Sprint Cup had been expected. His sights long have been set high, and Nationwide represents the next step in what he hopes is a long and successful NASCAR career.
Kwasniewski’s first race is Feb. 22 at the Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona Beach, Fla.
“I know I’m a good driver, but I know there are also hundreds of drivers out there that are as good as me,” said Kwasniewski, who again this season drives for Turner Scott Motorsports. “I have to set myself apart from them. I have to try my hardest every single weekend.
“The wins may not come nearly as easy as they did last year. I just have to know that.”
The fact he got his training in Las Vegas should help. Kwasniewski is one of four such drivers in NASCAR’s top two series this season, and the 21-year-old Beasley could be on his way as well in coming years.
Beasley dominated at the Bullring last season, ending Scott Gafforini’s three-year championship run by winning an astounding eight of 14 races.
Now he’s in North Carolina on the Rev Racing team that’s part of the Drive for Diversity program.
“For me, it means the NASCAR family is looking at me, and that’s a big opportunity because I was picked by NASCAR, Rev Racing and also Toyota,” Beasley said. “So this is a big step in my career, and an opportunity for me to step forward and to learn a lot and to grow as an individual and as a racecar driver and to have some fun doing that.”
Beasley thanked LVMS, his family, crew and fellow competitors at the Bullring for putting him in this position.
“The competition at the Bullring was really stiff, and I learned a lot,” he said. “The track’s really tough. And I believe that’s really going to help me racing out here in a K&N car and adapting as quickly as possible.”
He begins his season Feb. 16 at the New Smyrna (Fla.) 150, but won’t look ahead at the possibility of trying to become the second Las Vegan in a row to win the K&N East championship.
He does have goals, such as completing every race on the circuit and racking up some top fives and 10s. A victory, of course, would be nice, too.
“I think the biggest thing is if I can be consistent at every track I go to, that will speak for itself,” Beasley said. “I’m going to be a rookie this year, and I haven’t stepped foot on any of these tracks. People are going to be watching: How fast can this kid adapt?”
Beasley’s dream is to race in Sprint Cup, but that’s not where Barker, 16, would like her career to end up. Her ambition is to compete in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Barker hopes to take a step in that direction this season by concentrating on the Super Late Model division. She was sixth in that field last season and named Rookie of the Year.
But Barker split time between that division and Super Stocks. Now it’s all Super Late Model.
“I think it will help me on the track because all my time will be dedicated to that car,” Barker said. “If I can focus more on the Super Late, then I think I’ll have a better chance of performing better.”
She is teaming with Las Vegas-based Sigma Engineering, which will serve as the shop for her Chevy.
Barker has quite a challenge, even with Beasley having moved on. Plenty top competitors remain in Super Late Model, such as Gafforini and Romain Thievin, when the season opens March 29.
“If I perform very well, hopefully more doors will open,” Barker said. “But we’re just focusing on getting this new car built and making sure it’s ready before opening night and first practice.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.