Clay Cup presents big opportunity for Hammer

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 12, 2014 

Deming Speedway driver Kaitlyn Hammer is more than ready for the next step.

She's currently 46 points out in front of all other drivers in the 600 restricted class and has four tournament wins on the season.

"I feel like I improved a lot from last year," Hammer said in a phone interview. "How I can adjust to the track, my racing line and everything has improved from last year."

At only 15 years old, Hammer has already started to dabble in the 600 open class, knowing that this will be her last year in the 600 restricted.

On Thursday, July 17, she will face some of the toughest competition and she'll have to face it in both the 600 restricted and 600 open.

"We feel ready for the new challenge," Hammer said. "After three years in the 600 restricted, we're going to move up to the open."

Racing two events in the same tournament will make Hammer a busy driver, but it also allows Hammer and her crew to get a feel for the car in the 600 restricted before the 600 open races begin.

Hammer has already proven she's able to advance through the ranks. She started racing quarter midget cars at 5 years old. Her dad, who has pit crew experience at Deming and Skagit Speedway, got her into the sport.

"When I was that little, I wasn't too competitive," Hammer said. "I really enjoyed my friends and being able to drive a race car."

At 8 years old, Hammer started taking it more seriously. She got "super competitive," she said.

"Something must have clicked," Hammer said. "Before, I would go out and drive the car around the track and not think anything of it. When I turned 8, I wanted to win."

She did quite well and eventually progressed to the big cars. With the change in cars comes many other differences Hammer had to adjust to.

The most obvious difference is the change from asphalt to dirt. The workload also increases.

Quarter midgets race every fifth weekend - about 10 races a year - jumping up to 23 or 24 races a year in the 600 restricted class.

"That was a big change," Hammer said. "I just had to keep getting better and keep improving."

Hammer will have to keep improving if she wants to reach her end goal: racing a 360 and 410 sprint car.

To do that, she'll have to keep up with the male-dominated sport. No females currently race in either 360 or 410 sprint cars at Skagit Speedway.

"It's different because you have to let them know you're there and it's not just a boys thing," Hammer said. "I've managed to fit in well with a lot of them. Spud Allen and Jared Gunderson treat me like their own."

First, she must turn some heads at Clay Cup. She has a good shot to win the 600 restricted class, having already caught the attention of fans and fellow drivers alike this season by dominating the class.

She's trying not to put much pressure on herself, though.

"We feel pretty good about it. We would like to get in the top three," Hammer said. "The mentality is we're just going to wait and see how it goes once we get there."

The 600 open is where she will really look to star. Letting drivers know she's there so she can go into next season as a known contender will be the goal.

Even if Clay Cup doesn't go her way, she's in prime position to take home the 600 restricted season championship. As just a Granite Falls High School student, that would be quite an accomplishment.

Reach Joshua Hart by email at joshua.hart@bellinghamherald.com or by phone at 360-715-2851.

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