Confident in the backing of Keith Kunz Motorsports, Kaylee Bryson had little apprehension entering her first Indiana Midget Week.
In the months leading up to the iconic event, the 19-year-old from Muskogee, Oklahoma, gained valuable seat time running against the top racers in the country through a combination of USAC and POWRi events.
Still, the first night was an eye-opener for the driver of the No. 71 midget, who qualified 37th in the 46-car field finished 11th in her heat and seventh in the C-Main.
“Racing with USAC is definitely a bigger game-changer than running with POWRi,” Bryson said. “Midget Week is even more intense with all the competition. The first night I kind of struggled because the competition was so insane. It took me a minute to adapt.”
By Night 2, at Gas City I-69 Speedway, the gloves came off. After qualifying eighth, she pulled a wicked slide job on Brady Bacon and held off Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to finish third in her heat. After starting third in the feature, Bryson secured a top-10 finish.
“The second night, I started to get a feel for it and ran in the top 10,” Bryson said. “I got to race with the big boys for the first time. That was something else—a big learning curve. I’m having a blast doing it. Racing with these guys is helping me become a better driver.”
Bryson understands that, if she wants to reach the pinnacle of racing, there’s no better opportunity to showcase her potential than with KKM.
“I’m really excited because this is my first speed weeks in a while—but my first with KKM,” Bryson said. “When you go out on the track, you know your equipment is going to be set up for optimal performance. It’s great to be with a solid team, knowing you don’t have to worry about the car messing up or something falling off or something dumb happening. Everything is put together.
“They know what they are doing. They know how to work with you, how to talk to you about the track and teach you about what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. I just love that about this team. Everything is perfect, so you know it’s all up to you.”
She’s not taking the opportunity lightly. Bryson studied race videos prior to coming to Indiana. She has relied on KKM teammates Buddy Kofoid, Cannon McIntosh, Daison Pursley—and former IMW champ (2104-15) Rico Abreu—to navigate these tracks for her rookie run.
“The tracks are all new to me,” Bryson said. “I’m kind of just trying to ask people what they think and get advice from everyone else on my crew.
Bryson’s path to midgets began at age 9 in go-karts at smaller tracks around the Sooner State. As her proficiency improved, she graduated to micros.
“We just started winning—and decided to ramp it up a bit to micros,” Bryson said. “When we won there, we wanted to win more and move up and up to where we are now.”
If racing weren't enough to fuel her competitive flame, Bryson also played high school golf. She credits her parents with her ambitious spirit.
“I think my whole family has a bit of competitiveness in them,” Bryson said. “We all compete against each other, wanting to win. So I guess you could say it runs in the family.”
As an aspiring racer, Bryson admired fellow Oklahoman Christopher Bell, who climbed the Toyota Racing Development ranks to NASCAR’s top tour.
“He started the way I started, and I’m kind of following in his footsteps,” Bryson said. “I’m trying to do the same things he did. He used to race at Port City—that’s my home track. He used to race at I-44, and I go there a lot.
“I love watching him in midgets because he’s really good on dirt. He has so much experience. He worked with Keith Kunz Motorsports, and he was always around people who knew how to set up a car. He’s evolved into an incredible racer.”
Bryson isn’t sure about the remainder of her 2020 schedule—whether it will lean more towards POWRi or USAC. She only knows she wants to run as much as she can.
“The more races, the more seat time, the better I’ll get,” Bryson said. “It’s a big difference between USAC and POWRi. The competition is insane jumping from POWRi to USAC. Both offer really great experience, but in USAC, I’m racing the best in the business.
"When you’re racing the best, it’s going to make you better, obviously. But it’s fun racing both.”