The Wildest Chili Bowl Prelim Imaginable Nets an Underdog Winner
Jan 11, 2023
It’s the immediate aftermath of a hard fought sixth place finish in a wild Chili Bowl Midget Nationals prelim night at Kaylee Bryson climbs out of the car and is surrounded by a group of young girls wanting pictures and autographs.
Naturally, Bryson immediately engages with them, the team holding off their debrief so the 20-year-old can make more life-long fans. This is important work because it wasn’t that long ago that Bryson was one of these girls and she didn’t have that many women to set as her north star.
Proving to them that they can do this too is important to her, and over the past two years in the Tulsa Expo Center, she has proven they can do it well too.
"I've been coming here ever since I was a little kid," Bryson said. "I've always been passionate about racing. It's crazy to think about back then, I'd walk by the Keith Kunz pit area and I never thought I could be here, race for Keith. I still feel like a bit of a fan girl. It's hard to believe that I get to be one of those racers that a young girl like myself would have wanted to look up to. It's exciting and a dream come true to be a part of this. …
"Obviously, being a female in motorsports means something because it’s not as common. It's a guy’s sport so to represent young girls walking in the pit area who want to do this too. It’s crazy again to me because I didn't have the sort of role models that exist in the pit area now and I want to do right by those fans. It means a lot to me that I can be that change."
Bryson made history in this building last year when she became the first woman to qualify for the Championship Saturday Feature. She finished 18th following finishes of C17, I8 and L9 in previous efforts.
The accomplishment, while personally satisfying, was also professionally essential for reasons no one knew at the time.
"Chili Bowl last year was really going to be my last race," Bryson said. "I didn't want it to be. It was a lack of sponsorship. I knew I would need to turn some heads here last year to keep my career going.
"It was a lot pressure, but you know what they say about desperate times and desperate measures, and we ended up doing pretty good and turning some heads. We picked up a lot of help after this race last year and that was our main goal to keep my career going. I feel very fortunate that it played out that way."
It's hard to imagine that Bryson wouldn't have found a seat somewhere if not for what happened last year, but it likely wouldn't have been full-time, much less in the USAC Midget Championship with KKM.
Bryson improved her average finish from year-to-year in the series from 1-to-7 top-5s, 3-to-15 top-10s and improving from 16th to 7th in the final championship standings. There were high hopes that Bryson would get to Victory Lane last year, and while that didn’t happen, she quantifies it as a good season because it kept her racing and she made great strides.
"I think everything went right to be honest," Bryson said. "Our goal was to keep my racing career going and I've never really faced that scenario before. So, I say everything went right because we kept it going and picked up some sponsors and got another year of seat time."
And while this week is not as professionally dire as last year, this is her final planned start as a full-time USAC Midget driver with Kunz and it certainly wouldn't hurt for her to show out the same way as 2022.
With that said, she does have full-time agreements to race TA2 and the USAC Silver Crown Series with Aaron Pierce Racing. And that's not all.
"I have some really exciting news, but I'm not allowed to announce it yet, maybe in the next week or so, and it's hard to be hush-hush about it," Bryson said. "For me the most part, it's full Silver Crown and TransAm. That's exciting to have road racing, dirt and pavement in the Crown Car."
And she's in a really good spot to make her second consecutive A Feature on Championship Saturday too. Her sixth-place prelim run places her in a B and it's just a matter of replicating last year.
"We're sitting pretty decent in the B feature on Saturday," Bryson said. "I've pretty much got the rest of the weekend to sit back and relax, and think about what I can do."