Makayla Tyrrell’s life is a study of the routine. Wake up, time for work. After that, class. Homework, then straight to the track.
Makayla’s head buzzes throughout the day as she weaves through a packed schedule. She balances her responsibilities of working full-time
as a manager at Firehouse Subs and being a full-time student in order to make time for one all-important activity: racing.
“I don’t think anything will ever stop me,” she said.
Makayla was behind the wheel of a car even before she had her license. At the tender age of 13, she started driving around a dirt track, but her interest in racing had been percolating long before; at two, she was a “mini pitman” for her father. By 16, she had 10 feature wins under her belt. In 2014, the Jacksonville Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame recognized her achievements by naming her that year’s “Up and Coming Star of Tomorrow.”
You’ll often see her roaring around tracks in Georgia and Florida in a bright-red 2011 Larry Shaw open wheel modified racecar with 3D splashed across the roof and sides. Never afraid of machine power, off the track she rolls around in a Ford F250—bright red, of course.
At the track, Makayla trades her blouse for a racing suit, her glittery nails shimmering when she wipes the mud from her car. When she pulls that long blonde hair up into a bun, it’s time to get to work.
Other racers may overlook the teen with a country accent and big green eyes who seems every bit the quintessential Southern sweetheart … until they’re staring at the words “Daddy’s money,” emblazoned in bright yellow letters across her car’s trunk as she whizzes past them, always with a smile.
Makayla can be found on the track most weekends, practicing or competing. The 19-year-old estimates she’s been in 80 races. She’s already made a name for herself, snagging up 13 trophies, including 11 first-place wins. She treasures the memory of driving into the pit with tears in her eyes after that first win. “I got out my car and my dad gave me the biggest hug ever. You couldn’t wipe that smile off my face for two days.”
Makayla’s success shouldn’t be much of a surprise; after all, racing is in her blood. The self-proclaimed daddy’s girl says she’s learned everything she knows from her father, David. “I’ve always told him I want to be just like him,” she said. “He’s my role model.”
David Tyrrell has more than 60 feature wins and three track championships; in 2015, he was inducted in the Jacksonville Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame. Because of him, Makayla grew up on racetracks, among the tires and pit crews, eager to help any way she could.
“My mom was so persistent; she didn’t let me do anything. She had me sit on top of a race trailer and be his little cheerleader,” she laughed. The first official task she was allowed to do at the track was to hand her father his gloves and helmet and help him put them on after he strapped himself in. As time went on, she took on more responsibilities, such as helping change tires. “She would stand there by the car until I went out onto the track,” David said.
Though her father fully supports her racing career, he insists it comes in second, behind her education. Changing tires, lapping opponents, and earning points are the easy parts; finding the proper balance can be more difficult.
After she got her first car at age 13, a fixer-upper street stock ’76 Camaro, Makayla says she would speed through homework to help her father work on it. That year, she and her father were outside working on the Camaro when a tow truck rolled up with the red 3D. “I had no idea it was mine,” she said.
Like many teens, Makayla began her first job in high school. But she didn’t let that hinder her training, dedicating as many night and weekend hours to racing as she could. David assisted with some vehicular maintenance.
Nevertheless, inevitably, something had to give. “I didn’t have any friends and I still don’t have many friends, ’cause this is what I do,” she admitted. “The majority of them did play with dolls and makeup and all that stuff but I wasn’t into that, so I kind of stuck to myself with the older people at my pits.”
Now that Makayla’s racing career has taken off, David has put his own racing on the back burner, focusing now on helping his daughter succeed.
“I really like teaching and watching her, you know. But if I’m racing at the same time, then that can’t happen,” David said.
Makayla has come a long way since that first race, when David says she drove like a granny.
“I thought I going so fast, but really I was going so slow … . I was so embarrassed,” she laughed. Other drivers lapped her three times. She came in last place.
Other than achieving such a high level of success at such a young age, being a woman sets her apart from most of the competition. Makayla says she’s proud to be a rare female in the male-dominated racing world. But it hasn’t all been without conflict. Often the only woman in a race, she’s also usually among the youngest of the drivers. Most drivers are a great deal older, some twice her age, or more.
“The best feeling is when you come back and you outrun them, and you show them that just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean you can run me over,” Makayla said.
She says some older male competitors have tried writing her off, and some have even tried driving through her. Overcoming the barrier created by their assumptions, and proving she is just as capable as they are, has been one the toughest challenges she’s faced on the track.
“I had to learn to put on my tough-girl pants and show the guys that just ’cause I’m a teenage girl doesn’t mean you can run me over all the time,” she said.
“You should have gotten out of the way” and “Girls shouldn’t be out here anyway” are among some of the comments she says she’s heard around the track. At one race, she recalls, she was being nudged so hard she began spinning toward the retention wall, but before she crashed, she managed to save herself from colliding face-first. David says that, at times, he’s confronted other racers about their aggression, or “rough driving” his daughter.
Though she faces a cloud of adversity, Makayla chooses to perceive it as having a silver lining. She strives to be a role model for other young girls on and around the track.
“I take time with my fans at the track. I have a bunch of little girls that run around with my shirts on and I care about them, you know,” she said.
Makayla hasn’t made up her mind, but says she’s been toying with the idea of pursuing professional racing as a career. She doesn’t want to set her heart on it, though; she’s afraid of having it broken. In the meantime, she is a full-time student studying to be a respiratory therapist. She plans to continue working and going to school full-time, and keep racing to beat the odds.
Makayla says that her father’s tutelage has been crucial to her success on the track. That, and experience.
“Racing isn’t the type of activity you can learn from reading a book,” she said.