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Kaylee Bryson wheels the Sam Pierce Racing Silver Crown Series machine at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. (Mark Funderburk photo)

Bryson: A New Direction

If one traveled back to the beginning of the 2022 racing season, it is doubtful that many so-called insiders could have predicted the direction Kaylee Bryson’s career would take.

Perhaps some foresaw her relationship with Keith Kunz Motorsports had an expiration date. Others might have surmised she would give the Silver Crown Series and sprint cars a whirl if presented with an opportunity. To suggest these as possible options was no great leap of faith as all fell within the category of short-track, open-wheel racing.

Given the success Bryson had in pavement late model racing it would be easy to conclude that she would at least cast her gaze to NASCAR. Yet, daresay few could have imagined that early in the next calendar year the diminutive Oklahoman would be competing at iconic Sebring (Fla.) Int’l Raceway.

Bryson, of Muskogee, Okla., has been enthusiastic at every step of her young journey, and success has largely followed. There is little question her heroics on the one-mile oval in Springfield, Ill., captured the imagination of fans, and the attention of racing stakeholders. By then her deal with Toyota was already on the wane. It left her with some uncertainty on where she might land. Yet, racing is an odd business. In this arena, chance, timing and relationships matter nearly as much as talent. Unfortunately, we have entered an age where – at least in some sectors of the sport – money trumps all.

Thankfully, this is a story that is consistent with the old adage that luck is where opportunity and preparation meet.

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Kaylee Bryson helps prepare her Dale Howard Racing 360 sprint car. (USCS photo)

Bryson’s introduction to the sport came from her grandparents Mike and Jan Ross, the owners of Sawyer Chassis in Broken Arrow, Okla.

“They got me a little cage kart to have some fun at the track,” Bryson said. “There were no expectations. We didn’t know what would come of it.”

She began at 3D Raceway in Haskell, Okla., and when prodded adds, “I won a lot of races and it just snowballed from there.” It snowballed in part because Mike Ross saw there was little reason for her to continue dominating at this level, so she moved to micros at places like Port City Raceway.

“I didn’t just start winning right off the bat like I did in go-karts,” Bryson recalled. “So the micros challenged me and that was really good for me. There were a lot of heavy-hitters there and they weren’t fooling around.”

She got the hang of it and progressed to the point where she “could go to the track and have a chance to win.”

She spent considerable time at this level, scored a win at the famed Tulsa Shootout and eventually decided it was time to move on. Impressively, she took matters into her own hands.

“I knew Toyota was funding girls in midget racing, so when the Toyota people were at the Chili Bowl, I introduced myself and asked them if they would sponsor me,” Bryson explained. “That’s how I ended up having three years with Keith.”

Just getting this opportunity taught her a simple but valuable lesson. Sometimes when you covet something the most important step is to ask for it.

Her best of three seasons with Keith Kunz Motorsports came in 2022. She began the year by becoming the first woman to crack the starting field for the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals. Then, she landed in the seventh position in the USAC National Midget Series points, and this result, along with her work in the Silver Crown series, netted Most Improved Driver honors.

However, the one event that may eventually shape her future, came in an unusual way.

An offer to race a Silver Crown car arrived via Facebook. The invitation came from fellow racer Aaron Pierce.

“I get a text on messenger asking me if I want to drive his Silver Crown car at Port Royal,” Bryson recalled. “I thought, ‘This guy is full of shit. He is not going to let me drive his car.’ I get messages like that all the time. People ask me to drive their car and nothing comes of it. I just went along and didn’t expect anything, but he followed through.”

Her first chance in the big cars came at Pennsylvania’s Port Royal Speedway. It did not go well. There was a mechanical issue that sidelined her in the opening moments of the first practice session.

“Once I was around the team, I saw how hard they were working. I know they meant well,” Bryson said. “I felt it was something that could turn into something more.” It did.