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Goffstown teenager's driving career is on track

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 17. 2012 12:23AM

Goffstown High student Kayla Cazares, 17, is seen at her favorite track, Canaan Fair Speedway, where she recently achieved her first stock-car victory. (COURTESY)

Her friends give Goffstown teenager Kayla Cazares grief about her driving habits.

'Oh yeah, they give me a hard time about driving so slow,' said Cazares, who turns 17 in February and is finishing up her final year at Goffstown High School.

'They call her a slowpoke,' said Kayla's mother, Lisa Lambert. 'On the street, she does the speed limit. She takes out her speed on the racetrack.

Sure does.

Cazares has been getting faster and faster on the racetrack, and that speed is taking her places.

She's missing school this week to take part in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity Combine at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va.

Call this Career Week for Cazares, who has worked her way up through the racing ranks, competing first in go-karts at tracks around the state and then in stock cars at tracks such as Lee USA Speedway and the Canaan Fair Speedway.

Drivers will be chosen from a field of 17 at the Combine, and from returners from this year's Drive for Diversity program, to fill likely six or seven spots on Revolution Racing teams for 2013.

'It's the biggest opportunity of my life, and I'm going to go and give it my all and do what I know,' said Cazares. 'It's going to be real tough competition.'

Cazares flew for the first time in her life early on Monday morning to Georgia with her mother and father, David, who has always been her crew chief.

Tuesday morning, the Combine began three days of 'American Idol'-style evaluating - replacing the singing with racing at high speeds around a racetrack - that includes marketing and media aptitude, as well as physical fitness to go with driving skills.

'The schedule is pretty jam-packed,' said Derik Crotts, the general manager of Rev Racing, which runs the Diversity program for NASCAR. The 17 drivers, selected from a field of 60 applicants, will go through cognitive and physical testing and work on simulators today. Tuesday night they heard from a former Langley track champion about how to negotiate the track.

There are two on-track sessions, including timed laps, today. Some drivers, not necessarily those who will eventually be picked, will go back on the track on Thursday, Crotts said.

More evaluating and then negotiating of contracts will take the better part of the next couple of months, with the goal to have things settled before New Year's, Crotty said. The plan is to announce the teams during NASCAR's annual pre-season media event in Charlotte in January.

NASCAR started the Drive for Diversity program in 2004 to create opportunities in auto racing for female and minority drivers and crew members. Rev Racing has teams in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and Legends Racing.

'It's opened up a whole new world for women and minorities,' Lambert said. 'Our money can only take Kayla so far. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to make it as a driver and become one of the K&N drivers. That's definitely been her dream.'

The K&N Pro Series makes regular stops at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as one of the support races for the track's Sprint Cup weekends in July and September.

Cazares submitted a one-minute video declaring why she ought to be picked for the Combine as part of her application for the program this summer.

'I told them about how I'm doing high school in three years instead of four and about being a straight-A student and the awards I've won in each division of racing and where I've finished,' Cazares said. 'I told them how I work with foundations like Make-A-Wish and that I feel with the right team and my abilities, I can get the job done on the track with marketing and things like that.'

Cazares is coming off an exciting September. She found out she had qualified for the Combine on Sept. 13. Two days later, she won the first stock car race of her career at Canaan Raceway in the last race of the season.

'That really meant a lot to me,' she said. 'We were down on horsepower, and we won the last race, and we now we're ready for next year and ready for what comes.'

Ideally, her next year is highlighted by the Diversity program.

Cazares and her team - she raves about the support she gets from her family and sponsors and others, especially on Tuesday crew nights in the race shop at home - will have a car ready to go on the American Canadian Tour next season. But she hopes she has other duties and has to fit ACT races around Rev Racing responsibilities.

One of the drivers at this week's Combine is 15. Others range in age up to age 24. Cazares is one of two 16-year-olds.

If she doesn't qualify for a spot on the team this year, she can come back and try again.

'All 17 (drivers) coming in are accomplished, and we'd be happy and honored to have them in our program,' Crotts said. 'Unfortunately, there aren't 17 spots. But they're also young enough that we'd expect and hope that if they don't get in this time, they'd all apply next year as well.'

At the moment, Cazares, who has worked out for years and has stepped things up with a physical trainer in the last month, is thinking little about trying out again next year. Nor is she focusing on longer-range pursuits, such as her interest in being a pediatric oncologist.

'Racing has always been my No. 1 choice,' she said. 'If I don't make it, I can try again. But I feel like I'm ready to go there and make it this time.'

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