In It For The Long Haul

In It For The Long Haul

New elements will always be incorporated into drag racing. It’s inevitable. And when they do, most of the fanbase will just as surely see the new “thing” as coming from out of nowhere. What the mainstream can’t see, however, are the roots of change: the groundwork laid before inspiration becomes action. Of course a little good luck is always included, as well. Both of those factors — hard work and random chance — are certainly evident in the subject at hand. Are we talking about the rise of no-prep? Nope. Rather, the power couple that is Kayla Morton and Chris Hamilton.

Independently, each became known via Discovery’s original Street Outlaws series, based in Oklahoma City. Chris became known to the public first, identified by his nickname “BoostedGT” in the inaugural season of what would become a landmark program for the racing industry. As a Texan, his ‘outsider status’ has anchored the Oklahoma-versus-The World theme and, for the uninitiated, has highlighted the nation-wide scope of street racing.

Kayla, meanwhile, was deeply involved in her own racing, just outside the reach of television cameras. Truly, she grew up in the sport. “Dad raced Pro Stock, in the ‘80’s,” she says, “And then when I was born, they just took me to the race track, all the time. I grew up there and in the shop, and when I turned 16 it was just my turn to start driving.” On the track, her career started in a 10-second bracket car and quickly progressed to Outlaw 10.5. There, in 10.5 series local to her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, she piloted her orange, silver, and pink-accented 2005 Mustang with ProCharger-fed, big-block Ford power built by her dad, at STK Specialties. It’s with that car that she first entered the no-prep scene.

At the same time, she was widely known as the top — if not the only — female street racer in Oklahoma and surrounding areas. As she puts it, “Really I’m the only girl in that area that races. And I’ve been doing it for a long time.” So, as the Street Outlaws crew was looking for new challenges and new challengers, Kayla got the call. “Big Chief just called me one day and asked me if I wanted to participate in the show,” she says. And while it wasn’t the start of her racing career, by any means, it was definitely the start of something different.

Dad raced Pro Stock, in the ‘80’s. And then when I was born, they just took me to the race track, all the time. I grew up there and in the shop, and when I turned 16 it was just my turn to start driving. – Kayla Morton

Being a street racer in that region, she and Chris already knew of each other. “Originally, when Chris and I raced on the street, we didn’t love each other,” she explains, “Until that episode. Then, we started dating.”

And in a sentiment that’s surely familiar to many in the racing industry, Kayla notes, “It’s extremely hard to find a partner who loves the sport, and is so ‘poured into’ it, as you are. So when you find somebody that understands the lifestyle and the sacrifices it takes, you hang on.” Indeed, as Kayla herself says, “Our whole life has revolved around cars, and racing. It’s our life.”

That lifestyle has since led Chris and Kayla to continually develop and expand their racing programs. Kayla, for instance, entered the rapidly growing no-prep format with her Outlaw 10.5 car, achieving results in original series like Shannon Morgan’s Redemption races and the Dirty South No-Prep Series (DSNP), run by Scott Taylor and Mike Murillo. The transition to the new format wasn’t really a big deal for her. As she puts it, “I have a lot of experience and seat time in all different situations, so I think I adapted well.”

What was perhaps a larger hurdle to overcome for Kayla and the family team was building an entirely new car to fit shifting rule sets. More specifically, the rule set for Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings. Set up by Pilgrim Studios and Discovery Channel to be filmed for television, this new series boasted big purses and big exposure for each of the racers, but demanded steel roof and quarter panels. The Outlaw 10.5 car being composite-bodied, it was not eligible for an invitation. So a new from-scratch build was undertaken. The Hot Mess Express, as it’s been dubbed, carries over several characteristics of the old car — chassis and body work by Lansdown Race Cars, a ProCharger feeding a big-block Ford from STK Specialties, and a Lenco that Kayla shifts herself, with levers. But that all is now carried by an actual S197 Mustang, original steel from the production line.

As viewers will soon see on Season 2 of No Prep Kings, the team was challenged to get the new car running right. “We really, really struggle with the car, in this upcoming season. We had just catastrophic failures sometimes,” Kayla admits. But in part to manufacture some momentum for the 2019 race season, she says, “We hung in there, made every race and fought really hard. I’m hoping next season, that will pay off.”

For his part, Chris gained renown for honing, refining, and ever-sharpening the tool that is his yellow stock-suspension Mustang. The original “‘Nanner”, an early SN95 model, was seen on the debut season of Street Outlaws but soon after made way for an equally yellow ‘New Edge’ car. (After selling the first car as a roller, Chris says it’s almost found it’s way back home: “Believe it or not that car is literally two miles from my house now. It changed hands like four times, you know. Now it’s two miles from my house again.” However he adds, with disappointment, that it’s currently powered by a big-block Chevy.)

With the second yellow car, he’s made his own legend both on the street and in the exploding no-prep movement at tracks across the country. Motivated by a single-turbo small-block Ford, that combination proved sufficient to run with big-tire cars, on any surface. “That car kind of did everything,” Chris acknowledges.

But with ever more attention (and investment) focused on both street racing and no-prep, his competition soon figured out what’s necessary to be reliably competitive: a bigger tire. In other words, if Chris wanted to compete with other major players, a big tire would have to be in his future. And thus a new build was started on his side of the garage, as well. Actually it had been already started and semi-abandoned, by Kayla’s dad.

Originally, when Chris and I raced on the street, we didn’t love each other. Until that episode. Then, we started dating. – Kayla Morton

“It was kinda weird,” Chris says. “That thing sat, on the side of their house, for years. And, of course I’d go over there and see it sitting there, and my brain would start turning every time I’d see it.” After some time, a deal was made and he acquired the car.

Built up and finished by Team Z, the chassis was equipped with drivetrain components like a Proformance transmission and ProTorque converter. The STK Specialties 400-inch Ford was finally transplanted out of the older car and into the new build, but not before a conversion to M1 fuel and twin turbos, again from Precision. And while small tires were fitted to the car in its first season, due to his familiarity with combination, Chris intends to race it with big tires and wheelie bars from this point forward. And don’t worry, a second small-block Ford motor has already been sourced for the yellow car for its return to competition soon.

As both of them develop new cars and travel to race with No Prep Kings, the pair bring an all-hands-on-deck approach to their program. Indeed with Kayla’s dad owning the machine shop and building their motors, she and Chris driving, and their oldest son Austin starting his own career in junior dragsters, the entire family is involved. Even their youngest son, Cooper, facilitates racer diplomacy as he wanders the pits. As Kayla says, “He’s like a little track baby. Everybody knows where he belongs, so somebody always brings him back! He loves Monza the most — they’ve become great buddies.”

Truly, the camaraderie in the pits seems to arise from the sacrifices each team makes just to get there. Kayla and Chris are no exception. As soon as Chris gets off work (yes he still has a normal job), the family hits the road, often driving through the night in shifts. And he admits, “You’re kind of a zombie the next day, so that sometimes may ‘hinder’ your decisions on data analysis and what tune-up you’re going to put in.” But, as they’re both committed for the long haul, together they push forward. “You know what, we power through it and make it work,” Chris says. As Kayla concludes: “We make it happen.”

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