Kaylin Stewart wants to join the exclusive 200 MPH Club this summer at Speed Week on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. But there's something she has to do first: get her driver's license.
Not a typical teen who might while away the summer at the beach, the bubbly 15-year-old planned the time between her sophomore and junior years at New Tech High School a long time ago. Kaylin, whose father Tom is already a member of the 200 MPH Club, is not only chasing land speed records, she is documenting her drive on film and creating a film about all the women who have already cracked the elusive speed barrier.
In pursuit of both her speed record and her documentary, which are running wheel-to-wheel like a couple of race cars, she created a website -- chasing200.com -- that highlights her chase. The home page features three clocks counting down to her green flag dates: the day she turns 16 and "will" get her driver's license; the day she will head to the salt flats for "Test and Tune," a three-day event where she wants to earn her speed licenses; and to Speed Week when she hopes to crack the 200 mph barrier in a Dodge 1500 pickup.
Kaylin's pursuit of began before she was even born when her parents, Tom and Jessica, would make the long drives to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah and El Mirage Dry Lake where many men and a few women drove specially built cars as fast as they could.
Almost 17 years ago, El Mirage was where her mother first told her dad she was pregnant with their first child as she was strapping him into his car for a speed run, Kaylin described with a giggle as if she was a witness.
Just a month after her birth, she made her first trip to El Mirage. A year later, her parents snapped a photo of her - a blonde toddler in diapers and a white T-shirt with checkered flag sleeves on a plastic trike surrounded by miles of flat, snow-white salt - at Bonneville.
"I grew up at Bonneville and El Mirage," she said excitedly. "I learned the ropes. I crewed. I met people."
During those years, Tom ran an extremely modified Chevy Monza. He would eventually join the 200 MPH Club in 2002 with a run of 214. Afterward, he became a crew chief and kept up the pilgrimage to Utah and Arizona. Tom's fastest time is 227 mph, a mark his daughter wants to top.
During those years, Kaylin, a self-described "girly girl'" whose favorite color is pink, crewed for her father and other drivers who ran everything from roadsters to the sleek streamliners. She did whatever she could to be around the cars. She washed them, packed parachutes and announced speeds over the public address system. She even joined and raised money for a group called "Save the Salt," an organization of drivers dedicated to preserving the flats.
Tom said even though his daughter showed a lot of interest in racing when she was young, it wasn't until she got older that he was convinced of her desire.
"When she was really little, she didn't have any choice. We took her with us every time we went," he explained. "When I moved on from my own car and became a crew chief it changed. It's not that fun in a way. It's a lot of sitting in the heat in cars, waiting around. But she always wanted to go. She was driven."
When she was just 5 years old, she calculated that in the summer of 2014 when she turned 16 she could get her license, get her rookie license from the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association and become the youngest driver to crack the 200 mph barrier.
She's already on track to do it.
Even though she's still too young to drive, Tom signed her up for the Santa Maria Karting Association so she could get "seat time." She doesn't race, but often takes the family kart, which features Kaylin's "Chasing 200" logo, to run hot laps.
She's also already topped 100 mph in a "blue Huyndai Sonata" at El Mirage, but she still needs to get her California driver's license and her USFRA licenses.
"It was fun," she said of the speed run. "I feel fairly confident because my dad is going everything he can to make sure I pass my tests."
Her dad is also making sure his oldest child - her younger brother Riley is in junior high school - has a good car to drive when she gets to the salt flats. He arranged for her to work with Wayne Jesel who, with his brother Danny, has ran both NHRA and NASCAR Busch Grand National race teams.
In fact, the truck, a 2005 Dodge Ram 1500, Kaylin will drive at Bonneville, used to be Jesel's shop truck at his Morrisville, N.C. business. Jesel's company manufactures parts for racing engines. Kaylin met Wayne Jesel at a Land Speed Record banquet and he was so impressed with her he offered to let her drive it this summer.
"I thought it was the coolest thing a truck could go 200 mph. I was obsessed with that truck," she said excitedly. "I don't think I stopped smiling for a week."
The truck is more than cool to her dad. It's a security blanket of sorts.
As dangerous as driving 200 mph can be, Jesel's truck has already topped 260 mph and it's proven to be safe even if something goes haywire. Last year, driver Jimmy Barton spun the car several times "for about a mile," according to Tom, at 260 mph. There was no damage to either the driver or the truck, and Barton calmly motored back to the pit.
The truck, the crew and his daughter's drive has Tom pretty confident his daughter will make a good run in August.
"We have the equipment to do it. We're bringing a cannon to a pea-shooter fight," he said of the truck. "I'm convinced we'll get there and she'll make her best attempts. We'll just go from there. You never know if you're going to get a record or not.
"We'll see how she handles it. It's scary, there's no doubt about that. Everybody's got nerves. I was nervous before I drove. It's what you do with them, how you channel them, that determines how you do."
Kaylin said she doesn't think she'll be all that nervous. She already races go-karts and has been barrel racing for several years where she has faced broken bridles and a bruised body when her horse unexpectedly stopped mid-race.
"It's all the same thing of getting yourself focused. It's you, your equipment and the course," she said already sounding like a veteran racer. "I've had all these things happen. I'm ready."
Her grandmother, Jan Middleton, her dad's mother, isn't too concerned, either.
"I think I would be more nervous about it, but Kaylin is so thorough. She's got the best team working with her. Barrel racing is dangerous, too," she said. "Doing it now, (her parents) have control over it."
Her dad agrees.
"I'm really more terrified of her starting to drive to high school on the street. There are so many extra factors there that are out of her control. We can control most of what happens to her here," he said.
As Kaylin began her drive toward joining the 200 MPH Club, it struck her that there were no film records or documentaries on the women already there. A student at Central Coast New Tech High School, she decided to make that her class project.
"I went through all 750 members and found the 23 women in the club," Kaylin said. "I was shocked there were so few."
Women like Marsha Holley, who clocked 229.361 mph in 1978, Tannis Hammond, Sylvia Hathaway and Courtney Hizer, all of whom joined the club in 1987, aren't as well known as Janet Guthrie or Danica Patrick, who made their marks on asphalt racing tracks. But they're just as much trailblazers in the racing world.
Kaylin decided to reach out to all of the women as part of her new project. She had taken a class at New Tech on how to write professional emails, and she sent them all a note explaining her plans to both drive and film.
"Within three hours I started getting replies," she said.
She's gotten a dozen replies so far and has interviewed seven, including Holley, who Kaylin said told her she didn't like doing interviews. Holley told her she was making an exception for Kaylin because she thought her project was so important.
Holley retired from racing and went on to become a stunt woman in motion pictures such as "Titanic," "Pulp Fiction" and "Total Recall." She and Hammond, who lives in Santa Barbara and was Kaylin's first interview, have become Kaylin's extended family and women she calls her "Salt Sisters."
She has Harry Pallenberg, a documentary filmmaker and former PBS producer, joining her as a director and co-producer. Cinemaphotographer Robert Morris, who was attracted to Kaylin's chase for 200 mph, has also joined the effort.
As is the case in racing, paying for the film is proving to be the hardest part.
"You think racing is expensive?" Tom asks rhetorically. "Film is incredibly costly."
In addition to the film being a school project, Kaylin also has designs on entering it in some independent film festivals when it's complete. She has already directed and produced a television commercial for the Pismo Preserve that is airing on local television. And she's becoming pretty media savvy because she's been giving a couple of interviews a week about her quest.
"She's got a career in something when she gets done with this," Tom said.
As excited as she is about the film and telling the story of the women in the 200 MPH Club, she is more interested in joining them.
"The difference between 175 mph and 200 mph is the difference between getting a nice ride and getting into the club," she said.