Hayes is proving those wrong who have underestimated her
By Bert Lehman
Editor, Full Throttle Magazine
Most 15 year old girls who want to race cars would have to do a lot of convincing in order to get their parents to let them race. That wasn’t the case for Kelsy Hayes of Sturgeon Bay.
“I used to sit in the stands and watch Julie McDermid race and I’d say, ‘I want to be like her. But I guess I never thought about it seriously until my dad actually suggested it when I was 15,” Hayes says. “I always wanted to be like Julie one day but I never thought it was possible. I never thought my parents would put me in an actual race car.”
Hayes wasn’t a stranger to racing as her grandpa and dad, Billy Hayes, raced. She says she also raced go-karts for two years starting when she was 10 years old. So when the opportunity presented itself for her to race a car, it was an easy decision.
“I jumped on board right away,” she recalls.
Hayes, 20, says her racing career began in the four-cylinder division, but that didn’t last long.
“Because my four-cylinder blew up,” she says with a laugh. “And my dad said, ‘I’m done. We’re not going to race four-cylinders. It’s pointless because you don’t learn anything. So either move up or we’re not racing anymore.’ So I moved up to a Hobby Stock. I did that for the remainder of the season.”
A full year in the Hobby Stock division the next year was followed by a jump to the IMCA Northern SportMod division the following year.
She says the IMCA Northern SportMod division is less expensive to be competitive in than the IMCA Modified division. This played a role in her decision to choose that division.
“It’s still an open-wheeled car and it’s still a class that can be raced all over,” Hayes says. “You’re not just stuck in one area like some of the classes are. I like that aspect of them. Most tracks invite SportMods to come to them especially for specials. They have us come to them too, so that’s kind of nice. Mostly I just like the open-wheel part of it and it being faster than some of the other classes.”
She laughs about it now, but she says her introduction to SportMod racing was forgettable.
“When I first got my SportMod I was just finishing up my year in Hobby Stocks and I was racing my SportMod at the specials because that’ how late I got it,” she recalls. “I was at Luxemburg and a guy stopped in the middle of the track and I went to move toward the high side to get out of the way so I wouldn’t hit him. He ended up moving then, and I didn’t see me and he started going up to the top of the track. I hit my brakes really hard, and at the time I didn’t realize that brakes can get set to all front or all rear. The way they were set, so when I hit the brakes, it ended up turning me right into the wall. I smashed into the wall with my new car. My dad was not happy.”
That introduction didn’t dampen her spirits, but it did show her that the sport can be dangerous. An accident at Seymour Speedway in 2011 reinforced that. She says she was racing three-wide in corners three and four when the two drivers to the outside of her spun. This caused her to spin and she was hit by another car.
“Then I don’t know exactly what happened but by the time I got in the pits, which actually took quite awhile because the wrecker didn’t bring me in, they actually brought me into the center [of the track],” Hayes says. “I finally ended up driving into the pits after there was another caution. I took my helmet off and my head felt like my brain was pushing on my head. It felt like there wasn’t enough room in my head. My dad freaked out and had the paramedics come over.
She says she was taken by ambulance to the hospital and was diagnosed with a concussion.
“It worried me, but I wasn’t going to give up racing because it’s something that I really enjoy,” she says. “It did make me think that it was scary and I don’t want it to happen again, but I would never give up racing.
“I was worried they weren’t going to let me race, so I asked when can I and they said as soon as the symptoms go away.”
She was back on the track a week later.
Hayes says her mom, Jayne Hayes, never had a problem with her racing, but that her mom gets very nervous.
“She’s excited about it,” Hayes says. “She’s my biggest fan, but she gets really nervous when stuff happens.”
Hayes says she’s not immune from nervousness.
“I get nervous every time I go out to race,” she says. “All the time I’m sitting in the lineup I’m really nervous. Then when I get out there I’m fine. I think I got more nervous as I got up to the faster classes.”
Hayes doesn’t show her nervousness on the track, as she has already notched up some feature wins. She says winning her first feature in the SportMod division was exciting because it seemed to take forever to happen.
“There were so many times when I came so close to winning it,” she says. “I’d get passed with a couple of laps to go or something silly like that. That was a huge thing, it finally happened. It just showed that all this hard work paid off between my seat time and my dad and Randy (Theys, her main pit person). It showed that their hard work paid off finally. The fact that it was at my hometown was really nice because all my friends were there, all my family was there, all my fans were there. When I won it was like the whole stands were excited about it so that was nice too.”
She won also won a feature early this season at Oshkosh Speedzone.
Hayes says the feature wins and other top finishes have helped ease some of the underestimation some had toward her because she is a female driver.
“Because I’m a girl I get underestimated sometimes,” she says. “… It makes me try harder because when people say you can’t, you try that much harder to prove them wrong and show them that you actually can.”
She says most drivers are helpful.
“Some of them try to help you and give you advice. They really welcome you beating them,” she says. “Others have a serious issue with that.”
Hayes, who is currently attending UW-Stout and majoring in graphic communications management, says she would like to move up to the IMCA Modified division in the future, but her ultimate goal is to race a Sprint Car.
“Because it’s fast and exciting,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to race one. It seems really cool and it’s the fastest thing on dirt.”
(This article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)