Browser warning

Drag Racer Ready for UT’s Speed

Published: October 31, 2011
Kelsey Lay ’15 says she's not an adrenaline junkie. She just loves the ride.
Kelsey Lay ’15 says she's not an adrenaline junkie. She just loves the ride.
It isn’t unusual for Kelsey Lay ’15 to hit 180 miles per hour in 7.5 seconds. As a junior dragster, Lay trains to hit top speeds as fast as she can.

“I’m safe on the road though,” said Lay who drives a Hummer when she’s not on the racetrack. “I get it all out on the track.”

Lay, of Bloomingdale, FL, started racing at 17 with a Junior dragster, a vehicle that topped out at 85 mph.

“I did that for three months and then I had to go faster,” said Lay, who attended the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School to get her competitive driver’s license with the National Hot Rod Association and at 18 became the youngest competitor at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, driving a Super Comp dragster.

It’s not enough speed though. Lay has been working on getting her top dragster’s license which means she’ll move up from 1,000 horsepower to 3,500. She hopes to have that by the end of the year.

“I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I don’t like roller coasters or free falls,” said Lay, who practices at the Bradenton Motorsports Park. “I just love the ride. I always wish it was longer.”

The ride is only seconds long, 7.5 to be exact. And she starts each one the same way.

“Ninety-nine percent of it is mental,” she said. “I have to be consistent.”

She dresses in safety gear from a head sock to keep her hair from catching on fire to a helmet that keeps her from getting whiplash when the parachute is pulled to stop the car. She puts her left glove on first, then the right. Arm restraints are buckled to keep her safe should the car roll. Then she gets a few minutes to clear her mind.

“If you have problems with friends or something is really bugging you, you have to address the issue,” she said. “You don’t want to get into a 1,000-horsepower car with issues going through your head.”

Once she hits the gas pedal, the force pushes her way back in her seat. She’ll hit 60 feet in 1.1 seconds where everything blurs into one single, tunnel of vision. In most competitions, Lay is driving against men in their 40s and 50s.

“It’s intimidating but once you are in the car, it’s fair game,” she said. She’s made many good friends with the other drivers.

Lay grew up watching her dad, Fred Lay, who raced for 25 years. He is the president of Lay Racing of which his daughter is the sole driver. She has sponsorship – Moe’s Southwest Grill, Transitions SOLFX Sunwear, Construction Services, Inc. of Tampa and Tampa Jax Wax – and really enjoys the marketing that goes with that.

“I love the fans and the support they give me at every event,” she said. “Fans are attracted to female racers because there aren’t a lot of us.”

As a marketing major, Lay said she’d like to work with the NHRA either as a top fuel dragster (an 8,000 horsepower car that gets up to 330 mph in 3.8 seconds) or do marketing for the organization or a team.

She said she does love car shows though she is more into horsepower than how a vehicle looks. In high school she took auto tech so she could intelligently talk about cars with the people she was meeting at shows and races. Don’t get her wrong though, she also enjoys her femininity. This fall she pledged UT’s Delta Zeta sorority.

“I am a girl too,” she laughed. “I like to shop.”

Lay’s next race will be in December at the Snowbird Nationals in Bradenton.

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
Sign up for UT Web Alerts