2012-07-13 / Neighbors
Rylee rules the road
She’d watched racing on television with her dad and gone to an annual NASCAR race in Las Vegas with her parents since she was an infant.
Her parents eventually relented and, when she was 5, Rylee was given a kart for Christmas— and so began a passion for racing that continues for the 7-year-old.
Karts are small, open-wheel vehicles and—depending on age and the ability of the driver—can be built to go over 100 miles per hour in the upper-age divisions. Kart racing offers an introduction to competitive race car driving for youngsters interested in motor sports. Many of today’s lead NASCAR and IndyCar drivers began with kart racing.
Rylee took first place at the International Karting Federation’s Grand National Championship in Fresno on June 22. The Grand National Championship, a premier racing event for karting, is a four-day event that draws racers from around the western United States. It is divided by age into multiple divisions.
Rylee was the youngest driver to win the race in its history and the first girl in the kid kart class division made up of 5- to 8-yearolds to take the checkered flag.
Rylee started racing for fun in 2010.
“She was in the back of the pack most of the time,” said Colleen Martinez, Rylee’s mom. “It was a lot harder than she thought it would be, but it was a great learning experience.”
In August 2010 while practicing at a track in Fontana, Rylee met Jerry Henderson, who became her coach and soon after began working with cart designer Jeremy Drew and mechanic Phil Carlson to create a team for Rylee.
She began racing competitively in 2011.
Rylee is in the middle of the 2012 season—her second competitive racing season that runs from November to February. She races select races throughout the year and all the races for both the International Karting Federation racing club and the L.A. Karting Club.
“This year, when we had (the racing team) in place, Rylee has been in the top five in all of her races,” Martinez said. “She has qualified with the fastest time in about 85 percent of her races.”
As part of the IKF circuit, Rylee races two to three times a month anywhere in the region that includes Southern California, Nevada and Arizona.
Her practice regimen involves training at tracks throughout Southern California. Rylee practices twice a month with Henderson and often puts in an eight-hour day on the track.
Henderson has been training Rylee since 2010.
“The first thing I noticed about Rylee is there is no quit in her,” Henderson said. “She wants to keep training. She wants to keep going.”
Henderson works in tandem with Rylee on the track, modeling “proper lines” and passing.
He works with her on starting drills and to make her more aggressive on the start—an area where she has struggled the most.
Henderson describes Rylee as a shy little girl. Yet, when she puts on her race helmet, she is a whole different kid on the track.
“She wants it more than everyone else, and you can tell,” Henderson said. “She’s got the ability, but mostly the passion for wanting to do this—that contributes to her success.”
Often Rylee is the only girl in the race.
“Some of the dads have an issue with their sons being beat by a girl,” Martinez said.
Henderson believes the keys to Rylee’s success are her work ethic and determination on the track.
“Many people are amazed she went out and won nationals,” Henderson said. “I’m not because she works harder than everyone else. Her work ethic is beyond the rest of those kids.”
Henderson describes Rylee as the best kid kart driver in her age division in the country right now.
While Rylee’s goal is to someday race professionally— either in Indy or NASCAR— Henderson’s goal is for Rylee to be fully sponsored to cover all the costs she incurs racing.
Martinez said approximately $25,000 is spent annually for entry fees, kart motors, driving gear, training and fees to practice.
The success does come with challenges. One of Rylee’s parents’ greatest concerns is helping Rylee to balance racing and just being a kid.
“Because she races so much she does sacrifice a lot,” Colleen Martinez said. “She doesn’t get to attend all the birthday parties her friends do. It’s hard for a 7-year-old to miss that stuff, but if given the chance to race or not, she will choose racing.”
Next year Rylee will move up to the junior racing class division of 8- to 12-year-olds.
Martinez hopes Rylee will be able to start racing different types of cars on different terrains and get as much experience as possible so she will be noticed by different car drivers for possible sponsorship opportunities or the chance to participate in a racing development program.
In the meantime, Rylee is enjoying her summer swimming, playing with water balloons and going to the water park. She loves playing My Little Pony and enjoys the movie “Tangled.”
Rylee will race again July 15 at the L.A. Karting Championship club race in Fontana, one of the competitive karting clubs to which she belongs.
“I like being first,” Rylee said. “I like when the people clap, and I get a first-place trophy.”