At 24, Jonesville’s Kayla Harrell might seem like your average woman, but on Saturday night, she’s anything but. A criminal defense paralegal in Dobson and gymnastics teacher at Rhythm on Main during the week, Harrell can be found kicking up dirt at Friendship Motor Speedway each weekend.
Racing in her first full season in the Xtreme Stock 4 series, Harrell already has made a winning impression … twice. Kayla Harrell won the Xtreme Stock 4 feature at Friendship Motor Speedway last time out. It was an emotional win in front of many of her supporters, after week-after-week of struggling performances.
“There’s been a lot of hard times in the shop when I wasn’t doing too well,” Harrell said. “When you do your own work and you put your own time and money and everything else into the car, it just makes a win that much more special.”
So how does someone in law and gymnastics get into racing? Her family’s roots seem to be the answer.
“My dad got the opportunity to drive a dirt car, and then he got in a Renegade and I started helping him, and I thought it’d be cool to try it one time,” Harrell said.
Michael Harrell, Kayla’s dad, worked out a deal with a former sponsor to get Kayla in the front-wheel drive UCAR series. Three years later, Kayla has moved up the ranks to the Xtreme Stock 4 series, and has had glimpses of success.
“I’m proud of her,” Michael Harrell said. “It’s been the most fun I’ve had in my life.”
With racing being a male-dominated sport, one could assume that a female racer would be treated differently, race differently, and be raced against differently. That’s not the case for Harrell.
“I run just as hard as the guys out there, I don’t feel intimidated because there’s 16 guys out there and one or two girls,” Harrell said.
Harrell has not only learned about how to handle her race car; she’s also learned a lot about herself. When her success came, she never got cocky.
“I’m not that kind of person, but I have found out that I’m pretty determined, and I think that’s a good trait to have,” Harrell said. “Through racing I’ve been a little more confident about myself.”
Working two jobs and driving a race car every week can be tough, but Harrell said that her racing lifestyle can sometimes make work a bit more fun.
“It’s really cool when I go into work at gymnastics and all these little girls come up to me saying, ‘Miss Kayla! Miss Kayla! I saw you race!” Harrell said.
In the spirit of the speedway’s name, there is plenty of friendship to go around in the garage area. Harrell said that many people, including her own competition, will go out of their way to help her improve.
“I’d like to thank all the people who have been hands on and all of my sponsors,” Harrell said. “I didn’t think I’d ever have this much help. All these people who want to help and see me do good, that’s a really good feeling.”
Harrell sits second in points, but recalled a moment in seasons past where she was leading the points and got too conservative. With wins already under her belt this year, her goals remain the same at the start of the year.
“I’m not really racing for points… just let the points do their own thing and keep my goals the same as the start of the season; learning to handle the car and hopefully getting some more wins. If you can’t have fun doing it, then you shouldn’t be doing it at all,” Harrell said.
The fun resumes at Friendship Motor Speedway July 25.
Ryan DeCosta can be reached at 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.