Kayli Barker has been a NASCAR- licensed driver for two years. She won’t be a state-licensed driver until late next month.
The 15-year-old daughter of a former super stock car driver, Barker was born into racing.
She grew up tightening bolts on race-modified Camaros in her dad’s garage and has been swinging high-performance go-karts, trucks and stock cars around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway since she was 8 years old.
Almost eight years and more than two dozen racing titles later, Barker is less than impressed by the driving tests issued at the state DMV.
“It’s just boring because you have to go slow,” Barker said of regular, street-legal driving. “The (Super Sport Model V-8) Camaro down the straightaway probably goes 120 (mph), so driving for my permit is just kind of mindless.”
Barker plans to spend her 16th birthday in Rossburg, Ohio, watching hero Matt Crafton barrel around the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series track at the Eldora Speedway.
No women look set to take the starting line at Eldora on July 24. In fact, only one female NASCAR driver, Danica Patrick, appears likely to make a racing-related appearance in America’s living rooms this summer.
Barker isn’t the only female driver out to change that, but crew chief Dana Stahl thinks she might be the odds-on favorite to actually do it.
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.
He’s been working to find her sponsors ever since.
“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.”
Barker drives with a plush Underdog mascot in her passenger seat because that was her father’s racing mascot.
She takes pains to emphasize that she doesn’t want to be the youngest or fastest female in a male-dominated sport but simply the fastest and best athlete in every race she enters.
In many ways, the youngest female driver to win a NASCAR Whelen All-American series feature race seems bored by comparisons to the first woman to lead a lap at the Daytona 500.
“I tell people I’m not the next Danica Patrick,” she said. “I’m the first Kayli Barker.”
Now a junior at Mountain View Christian School, Barker keeps up straight A’s and a perfect attendance record while acting as spokesperson for Project 150, a local nonprofit homeless advocacy group, in her ever-dwindling downtime.
Barker’s mom Vicki has sworn to pull the plug on her daughter’s $1,000-a-weekend racing habit should her grades slip, though she admits Kayli has never been in much danger of missing a qualifying round.
“It used to be just a hobby, and now it’s not a hobby anymore; it’s a serious thing,” Vicki said. “But Dana (Stahl) sees something in her, and if she’s got a goal and a dream, we’ll do everything we can to get her there.”
By all accounts, Barker has a bright future. For now, she plans to pursue it from the driver’s seat.
“My dad used to race, and I always wanted to do it,” Barker said. “I got my first car for my eighth birthday, and I knew from the day I won my first race that that’s what I wanted to do.”
And if her pedal foot fell off tomorrow?
“I’d learn how to drive with my left.”
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3839.