Last month, young Kaylee Countryman was belted into her first 'real' race car at the Podium Club at Attesa. It was only two years ago when her parents bought her first kart.
She was only 12 back then and has dominated her class in PKRA racing ever since, seriously impressing the people who can spot talent objectively.
They say she's got it, and she's the real deal. Age, size, shape and gender don't matter if you're a natural. That's the difference between a driver who can be good and a driver who can be great, because winning speed just can't be taught.
By all opinions and accounts so far, it looks like Kaylee Countryman is naturally fast.
Friday was a practice day. Benefitting from a few December training sessions with Podium Club Academy chief driving instructor Tim Rose, she was concentrating on getting used to the 513 kg/1130 lb., 145 hp Rush SR in traffic, and finding their shared limits.
This vehicle, part of the fastest growing spec series in America, is far different than the 23 hp Rotax Junior kart Kaylee usually races. With a triple roll bar, six-point harness, no-lift and auto-blip paddle-shifting system, adjustable aero bits and almost infinite setup options, it is a whole new ball game to a karter.
Until Friday's last session Kaylee was P1 among 23 entrants, most with months or years of experience in a Rush. But she practiced without full ballast so race day meant 50 lbs. of added weight, setup adjustments, and new shocks. Saturday morning she was driving what felt like a completely different car.
The first practice session was brief and challenging, as was qualifying. On her second lap in time trials a car in front of her dropped fuel in a corner, with Kaylee spinning off track and then frying the starter motor trying to get back on. Still, that one lap gridded her P13 out of 20 for the Saturday heat race.
Then, Deja Vu. On lap one, three cars around her made contact and went into the gravel trap. The heat race was black flagged and restarted single file with Kaylee in 10th.
She finished eighth in the semi-final and from that starting spot quickly passed P7 to start running down the lead pack in the final. Halfway through the race her engine overheated and blew a head gasket, apparently ending her weekend.
Fortunately, Kaylee had made a lot of friends in her introduction to the RUSH Auto Works family. At the end of day one she had a new Rush SR to race on day two, and she was excited to make the most of it.
In Sunday qualifying she spun out early while trying to thread the needle between two other cars that spun right in front of her. No contact, no damage, so she started her heat race in 12th -- and stalled the car on the grid. That put her at the back of the field (15th), but she moved up nine spots to finish P6, where she would start in race two.
The final grid had 21 cars. Early on Kaylee passed one, then two, then three competitors to be running third. By that time winner Glen Conser (who also finished P1 on Saturday) and runner up Erik Gerlof, both very experienced Rush race car drivers (and about three times her age), had already pulled away.
So, Kaylee Countryman, at 14 years of age, having never raced a Rush SR before the weekend, podiumed in her second event.
This was her first non-kart race weekend, but far from her first podium finish. And it will certainly not be her last.