Dream of driving at Daytona to come true for blue collar racer Kayla Surles
Surles is one of four competitors who will drive for Mullins Racing in ARCA Pre-Season Practice at Daytona
Kayla Surles is paving her own path into the ARCA Menards Series and she hopes that will begin when she takes part in the ARCA Menards Series pre-race practice at Daytona International Speedway in January with Mullins Racing.
The 21-year-old from Fredericksburg, Virginia, has become one of the dominant drivers on the Modified racing scene in the Commonwealth. She picked up six wins at Dominion Raceway, finishing runner-up in division standings at the four-tenths-mile track.
However, it’s not just her on track success that’s earned her the opportunity to go to Daytona, it’s also her off-track work ethic. She is also the shop manager at Bugsy’s Repair, the commercial automotive repair shop owned by husband-and-wife Willie and Dinah Mullins, who also own the Mullins Racing ARCA team.
“I’ll go anywhere from helping to sand the trucks and helping the painters get those ready to paint, to mechanics and welding and all that,” Surles said. “Last year, they had talked about driving their ARCA car before the test because of all the help during the pandemic, and I told them, ‘I don’t want you to put me in the car because you think that’s what I want for all the help, I want you to put me in the car because you think I might do well in it.’ They said ‘alright, show us what you got’ and it was kind of a breakout year for me. I had one win last year, and this year everything kind of came together.”
Willie Mullins, who finished second in the 2018 ARCA Menards Series season opener at Daytona and is a veteran of 25 ARCA Menards Series starts, views Surles as an irreplaceable member of his team.
“At 21 years old, the amount of forethought that she already has is incredible,” Willie Mullins said. “Her ability to look at our workload and see what needs to be done next is what you expect from a much older employee. Because she works with us, I work on the cars after work, and she started coming around and helping. She mentioned wanting to run for us and needed to prove herself. She got six wins at Dominion and became one of the dominant drivers in Modified racing in Virginia.
“She came in and showed performance through the entire year and proven who she is. She’s learned from her mistakes and became a better driver. She’s proven her work ethic at our business, her team and our team, she’s 100 percent dedicated to whatever is in front of her.”
Surles’ dream of racing began as a child in Flagler Beach, Florida, a short drive away from the Daytona International Speedway. Growing up, she attended races at The World Center of Speed, and her passion for racing led her to begin chasing down a dream of one day competing on the sport’s biggest stage.
From there, she would pursue a racing career, competing in Kart racing and eventually moving up to the IMCA-style Modifieds raced at Dominion Raceway.
“I actually had a friend that started go-kart racing and my dad took me to one of the races,” Surles recalled. “I was super competitive as a kid and I wanted to race with them and see if I could do better, and it kind of spiraled into what it is now. I started off in go karts and it was an odd year, I was either winning or being wrecked and there was no in between. It was one of those years where you think, ‘Do I still want to do this? Do I want to continue to get wrecked and spend money for a handful of wins or do I want to see if another sport will pique my interest?’
“Then, one of my dad’s buddies hit him up and said, ‘hey I just bought this Modified and I want to see what Kayla can do,’ so we went straight from dirt karts to Modifieds.”
Surles has scored seven wins in the Modifieds and comes into Daytona with momentum after a runner-up finish in the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park in Lucama, North Carolina.
“It’s super cool to get to practice an ARCA car at Daytona,” Surles commented. “It’s something, when I was growing up in Florida 20 minutes north of Daytona, I wanted to go to the track, I want to be inside the pits. I was always involved with cars with my dad. I wanted to see what was going on. When I moved up here, it all came true. I’m super excited. A bunch of my family that lives in Florida is going to get to see me drive a car. I’m so excited.”
Surles’ plans for 2023 involve more than just practice at Daytona. She plans to continue racing Modifieds and make a few starts in a Limited Late Model at Dominion Raceway. She also hopes to make her ARCA Menards Series race debut later in the season.
“Dinah and Willie are starting a driver development program in the Limited Late Model, and they might put me in a few races in that,” Surles explained. “We are trying to figure some financials out to be able to run in a short track ARCA race or two, we just need more sponsors to do that.”
The ARCA Menards Series pre-race practice at Daytona International Speedway takes place on Friday, January 13, 2023, and Saturday, January 14, 2023, from 10 a.m. EST to 5 p.m. EST each day.