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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Too young for driver’s license, girl sets gear toward 200-lap race alongside teen friend

Danica Dart is steering toward NASCAR.

To reach that goal, she first needed to qualify to race 200 laps at Stateline this past Saturday.

Never mind that she isn’t old enough to drive legally across Spokane.

“Yeah, you don’t have to have a driver’s license,” said Danica, 14, laughing. What she does have is racing experience. Danica started in the sport at age 7 in what are called quarter midgets, open-wheel mini sprint cars. However, she called the Stateline contest “the big race.”

Among nearly 50 drivers entered, only 26 of them were finalized to run in Saturday night’s scheduled 200-lap race. Different rounds of qualifying races were held Friday and earlier on Saturday.

“I’m going to try to qualify in, and if I don’t, then I’ll race for position,” she said. “It’s my first one like this. I’ve never done 200 laps before, or in this big of a race.”

Her dad, Paul Dart, raced about 15 years ago. He said to drive at Danica’s current level, a young driver has to have racing experience and gain a track manager’s approval.

“You have to have a race résumé and then go out on the track and show you can handle the car and handle being around the other cars,” Dart said.

“The Idaho 200 (at Stateline) is NASCAR-style, and pro late model is the official name of the cars. It’s the regional level of NASCAR – the engine packages are very similar, the suspension, the chassis, the way the car looks.”

A Ephrata resident, Danica showed early driver’s ability and won a national quarter midget contest in Las Vegas. Next, she raced in a Bandolero car, built like miniature stock cars with a tube frame and sheet metal cage. Drivers, typically ages 8 to 14, get into those cars through their roofs.

Since 2019, Danica has driven a pro late model stock car, and she works regularly on her vehicle with her dad, grandfather and family friends. It’s a family-centered sport, she said, and a team becomes as close as relatives.

Danica entered the past week’s events alongside her best friend, Kaidyn Moran, 16, of Kennewick. Another female driver was scheduled, as well: Haley Constance, 17, of Snohomish.

Kaidyn does have a driver’s license, but she also got an early start by go-kart racing at a Richland track.

“My brother started off racing; I wasn’t supposed to race at all, and then I took an interest in it,” Kaidyn said. She soon moved into a Bandolero car, as well, and saw Danica at events. In the Bandolero category, Kaidyn won a championship in Hermiston, Oregon.

“Then I jumped into Junior Leagues,” using a stock car that has a slightly smaller motor, she said. Kaidyn won a 2020 contest, the Mountain Dew Junior Late Model Championship.

Driving a pro late model car about a year, she took a seventh-place finish in a smaller Stateline race last summer. This is her first attempt at the Idaho 200. “I have high hopes for this race. My car has always done really good there (Stateline).”

The sport also is a family affair for the Morans.

“My uncle ran the 200 a lot,” Kaidyn said.

“I’ve been spending almost every day out there lately working on my car. My dad is always my tire man. There is a lot of math and stuff that goes into trying to get the tires big enough and to know what tire goes on which corner of the car. My grandpa is always there too, and he does all kinds of stuff.

“Then, I usually have other people come and help. My boyfriend also races pro late models and when he’s not racing, he comes and helps. Sometimes he spots for me. Danica’s dad also spots for me.”

That’s someone in a spotter’s box with a view above the track to offer information to a driver, such as cars coming up nearby.

Answering why she loves the sport is difficult, Kaidyn said. “The adrenaline rush is one of the best parts. When I raced Bandoleros, in one race I flipped my car. The adrenaline rush was so high that I had broken my hand and didn’t feel it. I still finished the race.

“The other part is the family you have out of your car. You have your actual family and then your racing family, and it’s all one big group. I’ve met people over the years that I feel I’ve known forever. I’ve met my boyfriend through racing. It’s just great people.”

And she enjoys her friendship with Danica. “She started dating my little brother, so she was over at my house a lot. We started working on cars together and just doing everything together, so now we’re like sisters. It’s kind of cool racing against her when we can.”

Paul Dart has become best friends with her dad, Jared Moran. “We made a lot of trips, so whenever one of us needs help, we’ll be there. It’s only like an hour’s drive.”

Overall, Danica Dart said she wants to keep on racing and to gain more experience.

“I just like everything about it pretty much – the people you met, the adrenaline rush, and that it brings me and my dad closer and like all my family closer pretty much,” she said. “It’s something I look forward to.”

This past spring, Danica finished ninth in Wenatchee’s Apple Blossom 100. “I haven’t had the best equipment, so I think we were all excited to finish the race and get that position.”

Paul Dart said some drivers have $100,000 cars. “We’re a small team with a small budget.” He and Danica’s mother are divorced, but they got her into racing while doing work in North Dakota, Dart said. He lives in Moses Lake.

“We noticed she had really good car control and throttle control at a young age,” he said. “One thing we do in the winter time to keep her skills sharp is we rent go-karts on dirt. There will be 200 to 300 go-karts, and she kind of dominates.”

That’s up against many stock car drivers, who practice skills in go-karts during the winter months, he added.

“Our goal is by the time she’s 17 or 18 for her to really be competing up front in these big events and going for the wins. Right now, it’s just about seat time and getting more experience.”

Kaidyn said being a female driver isn’t much of a factor. “Being a girl in the sport hasn’t really changed anything for me. I still feel like an equal. When I started out, I felt like I kind of had to prove myself a bit. I think I have, so I feel pretty good about it.”

Braeden Havens, 28, of Spokane, won the Idaho 200 in 2016. Also from a racing family, he was entered again. He said Danica and Kaidyn race well, and that several female drivers have joined the sport in recent years.

“There’s been different female drivers, and they’re all competitive,” Havens said. “They’re all really talented. They’re young and just need more seat time.

“It’s just with anybody – male, female, it doesn’t matter – the more laps you can turn in the car, the faster you’ll be and the better you’ll be.”

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