OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Like she was shot out of a cannon, 19-year-old Kaylee Bryson rocketed toward the front of Friday’s POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League feature in front of her home-state fans.
Perhaps more surprisingly, to both spectators and to herself, Bryson stayed there and ultimately notched a podium finish during the opening race of the seventh annual Turnpike Challenge.
Wheeling the Toyota-powered No. 71 JBL Bullet by Spike for KKM, Bryson started ninth in the 30-lap feature at I-44 Riverside Speedway, but slowly and methodically worked her way through the field.
She cracked the top five just past the mid-way point of the main event, but cautions inside the final 10 circuits helped her cause and lifted her even further up the order.
After passing teammate Cannon McIntosh for third on lap 20, Bryson was elevated to the runner-up spot when another driver from the KKM stable – Buddy Kofoid – slowed ahead of her with a flat tire.
That gave her a shot at race-long leader Logan Seavey on a restart with nine to go, and Bryson took full advantage. She got a run going down into the first corner, but Seavey hit a rut and his No. 19az jumped sideways, stalling Bryson’s momentum and allowing McIntosh back past her into the runner-up spot.
From there, Bryson stayed close to the top two but could get no closer to attempt another pass, earning a third-place finish in just her second event at the controls of a midget for team owner Keith Kunz.
Despite being pleased with the final result, Bryson believed she had a shot to steal the win in the final laps had the cards fallen her way on the lap-22 restart where she challenged Seavey for the lead.
“I had a really good run going off into turn one, but you know, that track is so rough and you can’t really know what the car in front of you is going to do,” Bryson explained. “You really don’t even know what your car might do if you hit a rut; you kind of get shuffled around and everything. But Logan just hit a rut and got sideways, and it slowed me up a little bit where Cannon and I got side by side and I lost ground.
“It is what it is. It’s racing,” she added. “I had my eyes on the win, because I was really wanting to do well, but I’m very happy with a third-place finish. I knew we’d be strong, but I wasn’t expecting a run like this to come this quickly.”
Friday was Bryson’s best-career finish with POWRi and one that she noted “was really big” for her confidence.
“This kind of a run is a huge confidence boost for me,” said Bryson. “It’s really big for a driver’s confidence, just being with a team like this, because you know your car is going to be good. In that kind of a situation, at that point, it’s all up to the driver, and that helps a lot knowing that you have everything you need in order to be successful.”
It didn’t hurt either that Bryson, from nearby Muskogee, Okla., was racing at a fifth-mile track where she’d turned many laps in the past in micro sprints during the earlier years of her racing career.
“It was just nice being somewhere I’m familiar with. Port City, I’m super familiar there and that’ll be nice to get back to on Sunday, but I-44 is somewhere I’ve been a handful of times and it always helps having laps somewhere compared to going to a track I’ve never been at before and don’t necessarily know how to get around.
“That helped too, I think, in getting us a great finish Friday night.”
With one podium in her back pocket, Bryson is setting her sights on either tying or breaking the record for the best finish by a female driver in national midget competition – second by Holly Shelton in July of 2018 at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Mo.
However, she’s not stressing over if or when she’ll get to that point. She wants to keep her expectations modest and keep growing as she works through her first season with the KKM organization.
“There’s a part of me that is kind of bummed out, honestly, because I was really wanting to get second and I know I had a shot at the win, but third is good for us in our second race as a team,” Bryson noted. “I’m happy with it. As a race car driver, I’m always wanting to better myself and do better during the next race, so I have high expectations for myself … but we want to stay realistic too and know that we might not always have nights like Friday every single night.
“We’re just going to do the best we can and see how it all shakes out, but I’m really happy with how we’ve come out of the box.”