Drag racing wasn’t even on her radar, but Kaylynn Simmons has found a home on Clay Millican’s Top Fuel team as the lead clutch specialist for the Rick Ware-owned Parts Plus dragster, and she’s establishing herself as one-to-watch in NHRA.
Simmons majored in Automotive High Performance and obtained her CDL, and just before graduating from the University of Northwestern Ohio, she got a phone call from a friend asking if she’d be interested in being part of an NHRA team.
“I was dead-set on going to NASCAR,” says Simmons, who grew up racing on dirt. “I was about to take a position with GM as a dyno technician, and I told my friend, I’ve never been to a drag race, and I don’t know what a fuel car is. But I decided to try it. I graduated from college on a Tuesday, started with Terry McMillen’s Top Fuel team on a Wednesday, and the following Monday left with them for Vegas.”
Simmons was the clutch assistant to start, but a handful of races into the season, the lead moved to another team. Then-crew chief Rob Wendland worked with Simmons over the next several months, and she was promoted to lead clutch specialist.
“To be honest, it was an absolute trainwreck at first,” she admits. “But by the end of the season, everything started to click.”
Simmons’ work ethic, attention to detail, and ability to learn and grow caught the attention of her peers and of Millican. She is now in her seventh season with a fuel team in NHRA, working with one of the most popular drivers in the sport.
“Man, Clay is so genuine,” she says. “There is never not a smile on his face. He’s a killer driver, and the amount of feedback he gives you right after the run is incredible; he’s on the radio immediately. To have that feedback so quickly is very helpful for what I do. It’s very cool to have a driver that’s so in tune with everything. He’s just so great to work with.”
At the race shop, Simmons’ day-to-day involves inspecting and preparing – alongside her clutch assistant – everything they’ll need for the next race. They have everything serviced and ready so that when they get to the track, they’re 100 percent ready to race.
Simmons’ immediate future includes marrying her fiancé, Blake Holding, who crews for the CAPCO Top Fuel team. They’re set to be married in May, the weekend of the Indianapolis 500.
“I refused to date him at first, because I’m out here to be career-focused,” she says. “But what do you do when the right person walks in? We keep it professional at the track, and when we’re home, we’re together. It works.”
As for the future of her career, Simmons’ intention is to continue to learn and grow.
“The next goal in NHRA would have to be car chief,” says Simmons, who also states that she is perhaps interested in one day being crew chief but is also intrigued with the thought of pursuing a career in Formula 1.
“But before I get carried away and even remotely begin to think that far ahead, I need to learn the rest of the departments of the race car. I would really like to see all the small stuff and get a good understanding of every aspect of it. I’ve been doing this for seven seasons, so I have a lot of knowledge – but there is always more to learn.”