South County Beat

A.G. girl chases a dream: Breaking 200 mph at Bonneville Salt Flats

clambert@thetribunenews.comMay 13, 2014 

Family photos of Kaylin Stewart’s first trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1999 show a blond-haired toddler gripping the handles of a small scooter, surrounded by acres of hard, white salt.

At 13 months old, Kaylin was too young to remember that trip. But the Stewart family continued to travel each year to Bonneville in northwestern Utah, and Kaylin recalls selling T-shirts, working on cars and announcing records during annual events such as Speed Week, held each August since 1949.

In 2002, her dad, Tom Stewart, joined the Bonneville 200 MPH Club by setting a record of 214 mph in his 1978 Chevy Monza.

“It’s been a large part of my life out there,” the Arroyo Grande teen said this week. “It’s a family out there. All of my adopted uncles and aunts are out there.”

Now 15 years old, Kaylin hopes to become the youngest member of the 200 MPH Club, and one of only two dozen female members. She’ll get her chance in August, about a month after she turns 16.

Kaylin is combining that goal with another passion — filmmaking — and is kicking off a crowd-sourcing campaign Wednesday to raise money to finish a documentary about the two dozen women who have set records driving over 200 mph at Bonneville. The film will also incorporate her quest to join them in August.

Kaylin grew up on the Central Coast, attending Ocean View Elementary and Paulding Middle schools, both in Arroyo Grande. Involved in local theater from a young age, Kaylin had appeared in several short films and TV pilots by the time she was 6.

As she grew up, however, Kaylin said it became more difficult to get roles, mainly due to her height (she’s 5 feet 9 inches). (Younger brother Riley Thomas Stewart has had more success, appearing in several films including “The Lucky One,” which also stars Arroyo Grande native Zac Efron.)

“I wanted to be more behind the scenes,” said Kaylin, now a sophomore at Central Coast New Tech High in Nipomo. “I’ve always been good at project management, so producing and directing makes more sense than acting.”

Meanwhile, in almost annual trips to Bonneville, Kaylin noticed a dearth of women racers.

Intrigued, she combed through a list of names of every person who has set a record of 200 mph or more at Bonneville. Out of about 750 people, only 23 were women.

“It really shocked me,” Kaylin said.

She started emailing the women in September, writing that she wanted to share their stories. To date, she has interviewed seven women, including Marcia Holley, the first woman to make the 200 MPH Club in 1978 at 229 mph.

“She was the trailblazer,” Kaylin said.

After gathering hours of footage, however, Kaylin didn’t know what direction her film should take. Enter producer Harry Pallenberg, who Kaylin ran into at the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona in January.

Pallenberg, whose film credits include “California’s Gold” and “Where They Raced,” a historical account of Southern California’s racing scene, suggested including Kaylin’s story in the documentary to tie the film together.

“I want to inspire teenagers,” she said. “Just because you’re a teen doesn’t mean you can’t make a movie or break a record.”

Since Kaylin doesn’t yet have her driver’s license, she’s been practicing on a Santa Maria go-cart track.

After she gets her license — which, fingers crossed, will happen July 10 — Kaylin will get some experience driving a NASCAR stock car at Bonneville during a three-day “test and tune” event; and take a teen driving class at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Phoenix.

“It’s a tall order to take a kid who hasn’t driven before and put her in a car at 200 miles per hour,” Tom Stewart said. “She’ll be well prepared.”

Kaylin will go for her record in a modified Dodge pick-up with twin turbo-chargers that generates 2,000 horsepower. The truck, owned by Wayne Jesel of North Carolina, holds records in different classes from 219 mph to 262 mph.

Kaylin needs to break 220 mph to set the record for the particular engine she’ll be running.

“It seems a little crazy,” Kaylin said. “It is a little crazy. So we’re good. I realize on the film side and racing side I have two incredible teams. I realize I couldn’t do either by myself — and I don’t have to.”

Get involved

Kaylin Stewart’s crowd-sourcing campaign starts Wednesday on indiegogo.com. Her goal is to raise $50,000 to finish a documentary film about the women who have set speed records of 200 mph or greater at the Bonneville Salt Flats — and her efforts to join that group. Learn more at http://chasing200.com/.

Cynthia Lambert writes the South County Beat column on Wednesdays. Reach her at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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