■ DRAG RACING wasn ’ t even on her radar , but Kaylynn Simmons has found a home on Clay Millican ’ s Top Fuel team as the lead clutch specialist for the Rick Ware-owned Parts Plus dragster , and she ’ s establishing herself as oneto-watch in NHRA .
Simmons majored in Automotive High Performance and obtained her CDL , and just before graduating from the University of Northwestern Ohio , she got a phone call from a friend asking if she ’ d be interested in being part of an NHRA team .
“ I was dead-set on going to NASCAR ,” says Simmons , who grew up racing on dirt . “ I was about to take a position with GM as a dyno technician , and I told my friend , I ’ ve never been to a drag race , and I don ’ t know what a fuel car is . But I decided to try it . I graduated from college on a Tuesday , started with Terry McMillen ’ s Top Fuel team on a Wednesday , and the following Monday left with them for Vegas .”
Simmons was the clutch assistant to start , but a handful of races into the season , the lead moved to another team . Then-crew chief Rob Wendland worked with Simmons over the next several months , and she was promoted to lead clutch specialist .
“ To be honest , it was an absolute trainwreck at first ,” she admits . “ But by the end of the season , everything started to click .”
Simmons ’ work ethic , attention to detail , and ability to learn and grow caught the attention of her peers and of Millican . She is now in her seventh season with a fuel team in NHRA , working with one of the most popular drivers in the sport .
“ Man , Clay is so genuine ,” she says . “ There is never not a smile on his face . He ’ s a killer driver , and the amount of feedback he gives you right after the run is incredible ; he ’ s on the radio immediately . To have that feedback so quickly is very helpful for what I do . It ’ s very cool to have a driver that ’ s so in tune with everything . He ’ s just so great to work with .”
At the race shop , Simmons ’ day-to-day involves inspecting and preparing – alongside her clutch assistant – everything they ’ ll need for the next race . They have everything serviced and ready so that when they get to the track , they ’ re 100 percent ready to race .
Simmons ’ immediate future includes marrying her fiancé , Blake Holding , who crews for the CAPCO Top Fuel team . They ’ re set to be married in May , the weekend of the Indianapolis 500 .
“ I refused to date him at first , because I ’ m out here to be career-focused ,” she says . “ But what do you do when the right person walks in ? We keep it professional at the track , and when we ’ re home , we ’ re together . It works .”
As for the future of her career , Simmons ’ intention is to continue to learn and grow .
“ The next goal in NHRA would have to be car chief ,” says Simmons , who also states that she is perhaps interested in one day being crew chief but is also intrigued with the thought of pursuing a career in Formula 1 .
“ But before I get carried away and even remotely begin to think that far ahead , I need to learn the rest of the departments of the race car . I would really like to see all the small stuff and get a good understanding of every aspect of it . I ’ ve been doing this for seven seasons , so I have a lot of knowledge – but there is always more to learn .” – KELLY WADE DI
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