Bryson makes history at Chili Bowl

Image by Joey Barnes

Bryson makes history at Chili Bowl

North American Racing

Bryson makes history at Chili Bowl


Tanner Thorson may have won the 36th annual Chili Bowl Nationals, but it was Kaylee Bryson that stole the show on Saturday night at the Tulsa Expo Center.

The 20-year-old from Muskogee, Oklahoma already set the tone that something special could be in store after winning her heat race, finishing second in the qualifier and then sixth in the prelim night feature last Tuesday. That stout performance had her starting 10th in the second B-Feature on Saturday night, where she pushed the cushion and utilized the top lane to surge into the lead in just a handful of laps. Undeterred by numerous late restarts, her No. 71K Keith Kunz Motorsports Toyota remained out front for the remainder of the 20-lap race.

The result made Bryson the first-ever female to make the A-Feature of the Chili Bowl. The previous best mark was held by Harli White, who finished 19th in a B-Feature in 2016.

“It was super fun,” Bryson told RACER. “I just had a mindset that I wanted to make the Chili Bowl (A) Feature and it’s been my dream ever since I was just a little girl. You know, coming here we have been super nervous, but amped up at the same time. I’ve just wanted to make this show so bad. So going out there for the B Feature, I just gave it my all and it turned out good for us in the end and we got the win. I can’t thank my team enough: Toyota Racing, James Hodge Toyota and Keith Kunz Motorsports. They really made this possible for me, and I’m just so blessed to have this opportunity.”

While her drive in the B-Feature rewrote the history books, it was also remarkable because up to that point, no driver was able to rip the top lane and make a charge to the front.

“I really had to search for the moisture (for grip) because I knew I was desperate,” she said. “I started 10th, they took the top seven. So, I knew that I really had to go. Once I found a good line and good moisture, I just stuck with it and we kept passing cars. So I was like, ‘Man, we’re really solid up here.’ So, I just kept driving it harder and harder, and we won the race.”

Bryson’s impact was recognized instantly as she received a boisterous crowd reaction on par with the likes of NASCAR stars and Chili Bowl champions Chrisopher Bell and Kyle Larson during driver introductions for the main event.

She started 12th in the A-Feature, but the quarter-mile oval underwent a makeover with track preparations changing the conditions significantly in the build-up. While Bryson managed to break briefly into the top-10 of the 24-car field, she ultimately ended up fading in the 55-lap main event and finished 18th.

“The track was totally different,” said Bryson, who was making just her third career Chili Bowl start. “It’s just part of learning. I think if you’re going to learn anywhere, it’s going to be at the Chili Bowl because you’re racing 110 percent every lap. I’m taking a lot away from this event and I’m grateful to be able to learn and have this opportunity to be able to get more experience under my belt and more seat time.”

In the end, Bryson’s outing did not go unnoticed, especially by KKM teammate and two-time Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu.

“It’s great for the industry,” said Abreu, who finished third on Saturday night. “Coming from Keith Kunz’s stable, Kaylee did a phenomenal job. It’s just cool to be a part of that, witness it. We’ve all been waiting for that girl to come through the ranks. … There’s some girls out there that are coming through, especially the Kunz stable, that are not afraid to stand on the gas. And when you’re like that, you’re bound to put yourself in contention to win a race.”

When looking back at her historic night, Bryson showed that barriers are non-existent.

“I just hope that if anybody takes anything away from this, it’s that anything’s possible,” she said. “You know, you can put your mind to anything and make anything possible. Obviously, I was nervous coming into this race because these guys are amazing. These guys have been doing this way longer than I have, and they’re just so experienced and so talented. I was obviously nervous because this is a tough show to make. So, once you put your mind to something you can achieve it.”

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