Kallee Mills stepping it up for 2020

Kallee Mills has grown up with drag racing her entire life. From junior dragsters to X275, she’s no stranger behind the wheel. But in 2020, she plans to dive into the deep end and test out the no prep waters. She will be driving Golden Kong, the 1968 Camaro driven last season by her father, DeWayne Mills. Sporting a ProLine 481x with twin 88mm turbos, the car debuted to a lot of fanfare in 2019, winning six out of nine No Prep Kings events in the Future Street Outlaws class. With the upcoming season quickly approaching, No Prep Racing sat down with Mills to discuss taking over driving duties for her father, racing with family, and being an inspiration to the younger generation.

You’ve been racing for quite some time now. When did you first get started driving?

I started racing when I was nine years old, in a junior dragster. I started out going…my first pass I ever made was 15 seconds at like 50 mph. I told my dad, “This is fun, but it’s so slow, it’s boring.” I had a go-kart at the house that I ran around in – ‘cause I just grew up around racing. We dirt-car raced, we drag boat raced, we’ve been all sorts of racing. So I got in a junior, and I was like, “This is slow.” My dad was excited, he was like, “That’s good, she wants to race.” So I started out junior racing, I was pretty successful in that.

And then I got in the Golden Panda. My dad asked me what kind of car I wanted when I was 16, and I said, “I just want a race car.” So he built me the Panda car – which he raced it originally – and I told him I wanted that car to race. He’s like, “Well what do you want to paint it?” I said, “I want it to look just like yours.” The Panda car has a flat hood, it’s got the cool look to it and everything. I was always like, “Okay, we’re gonna start off slow, I’ll go 5.50’s or something like that.” The Panda, it’s an LS setup with a single turbo. And then my first pass ever in a door car, I went 5.01, I think. And then we just started going faster and faster from there. At that point, I was like, “Wow.” I thought five flat was fast. So we did that, and we haven’t really looked back. A lot of people are going to say, “Oh, small tire and big tire’s a lot of difference, and yeah I agree, it is. We’re not gonna go out and run as fast as we were when my dad was driving, but we’ll take it slow, and I think it’ll be a lot of fun.”

What ultimately led to the decision for you to start driving Golden Kong?

We talked about it towards the end of last year, after I graduated college, doing testing over the winter, because there’s not a lot of small tire races besides Duck’s big races. My ultimate goal is running Pro Mod, so I feel like this is a step up to do it. So we had talked about testing. I talked to Jamie Miller, our tuner, about it, and he was like, “Yeah, I think that’d be a good idea.” So ultimately, I was going to start testing this winter, and then my dad got diagnosed with prostate cancer the week before PRI. That was kind of the ultimate thing, where he’s not going to be able to race probably for six months. It was either we get out of it, or I step up and get in it. And it was already talked about, so that’s what we went ahead and did.

Your dad has since had surgery for his prostate cancer. How is he doing?

He’s doing good. He goes back Monday. They sent the stuff back to pathology to get the report, so we’ll find out more on Monday. But the surgeon was really happy with his surgery. He’s just sitting sat home now for four weeks with nothing (to do). He can’t leave, he can’t pick up anything more than a gallon of milk.

You made an official announcement at PRI that you’d be driving Golden Kong. What was that entire experience like?

We were supposed to have the stickers there before the show, and we were gonna put them on and then roll the car in, and it was going to be the entire deal. But I didn’t order them until the day before we left, so the stickers were late. So it was kind of like we did a sticker ceremony. People stopped and were like, “What’s going on?” After that, I posted it on Facebook, and it blew up. I didn’t really expect it to be that big of a deal. The next day, I was standing over at the booth, and people kept coming by. I see my dad has a big following, but I didn’t realize how big of a following I would get from that. That was super cool, just to talk to people, and get to know more fans. It was interesting, it was awesome.

You recently tested the car down in Florida. How did it feel to finally drive the car for the first time?

It’s a lot different than anything I’ve raced before, but I actually like it better than the other car I’ve driven. So I’m doing good in the car, learning a lot. It went extremely well. There’s nothing that went wrong, except for the fact that we broke a motor. But I got it shut down and did the right stuff, so nothing was hurt too bad. We’re getting the car put back together and getting it ready. I’m really comfortable in the car. Before I even took it out, my dad made sure I knew where every switch was, every little lever. But it’s just different when you’re sitting in the shop and saying, “Where’s this, where’s that?” and you can point to it, and when you get in the car, it’s a lot different when the car’s running or you’re driving. The main purpose for the testing that we did was I was going to go a little past 60 ft., almost 330 ft. on the first trip down. I actually ended up running it 400 ft., getting comfortable throwing the chutes without turning the wheel, because I’ve never had to do that. Then when we went back down to test in Orlando, that was when we were really going for the numbers, and trying to get me back up to speed. As of now, I feel like I’m pretty comfortable in the car, and the times that I ran were pretty competitive in No Prep Kings. We’re gonna test again, probably early March, a couple of times before heading to Tucson to the season opener of No Prep Kings. Work on a little bit sketchier track. The No Prep Kings tracks, after the first night, they’re pretty prepped. It’s not super sketchy out there. But we’re gonna go out again and get some more seat time, and work a little bit on a sketchier surface.

Your family jumped into the no prep world last year. What are your thoughts on this style of racing compared to what you’ve done in the past?

The first thing I always say is, we ran some X275 stuff with my car toward the end of the year, because I was concentrating on graduating college, and I told all the radial guys, “No prep has us spoiled.” We go there, we run, we get our runs done that day. As far as No Prep Kings goes, they run us on a specific schedule. You know you’re gonna get two runs, there’s no sitting and dragging the track for hours upon hours. As far as the people go, it’s all just great. All the people that have welcomed us into no prep racing, we’ve made friends. I mean, Mike Murillo and them, they’re good people. We were down in San Antonio this weekend, and we hung out with Mike and Lisa and William. As far as the people go, it’s just as good as the radial world. It’s definitely got us spoiled on the set schedule, and not sitting in the car for hours upon hours. I mean, you’re going to have oil downs, but it’s a different type. My dad always says the no prep stuff, like No Prep Kings…every race besides San Antonio at Alamo City Motorplex…this no prep stuff is honestly like racing was when I was young, when my dad would go out. He had his Outlaw 10.5 car, and they didn’t have all the rotators and sprayers, all this technology to prep the track. That’s what I grew up around, and that’s what he raced on. So I know a lot of people say, “Oh, well he’s just new, and he’s the new guy on the block.” But what we’re doing now is just what we did 10 years ago when we didn’t have all this technology and stuff for the radial racing and things like that. What you get at pretty much any local track is a no prep. I mean, they drag it a little bit, they spray past the finish line or whatever. But once you get the cars doing the burnouts past the starting line, the tracks turn around pretty quick.

What are some of your fondest racing memories from this past year?

We went to a local event in Tulsa [Midnight Drags]. That week we had a lot of big changes. Me, my mom and dad had to figure out what we were going to do with our program. We sat down and talked and we didn’t really know what our next step was. At this point we didn’t have a crew guy or help besides me and my mom. We went out to our local track, and all our friends came out and helped us and we won the race. It took us back to the old days. A lot of people don’t know, they think we have this million dollar operation, but my dad works hard every day to be able to race and have fun with me and my mom. We do it as a family. I grew up at the race track; I can’t remember a time of my life when it wasn’t a part of it. Winning that race showed me and my family that we have people behind us supporting us. When I think about the most memorable things in 2019, winning comes up a lot, but I think all the people we have met along the way is even more memorable than any win we could have won. We always hang out and have a good time after the races are over, we always cook and invite people over. When we were at Bandimere this year, we had a full bar and pretty much cooked enough for the entire track. It was a lot of fun.

We saw female drivers like Lizzy Musi and Kayla Morton have a lot of success last year. Joining this group as an already accomplished driver, how do you think it impacts growing the sport? Do you see yourself as a role model for young girls that want to get into drag racing?

I’ve looked up to Lizzy. She’s a good racer, and I’m a fan of hers. As a young kid, I was that girl that wanted to be a racer and I wanted to be like them. I think coming in so young to it – I mean, I’m only 22 years old – little girls think, “Oh wow, she’s only 22 years old and she’s doing this. I can do it too.” As far as that goes, I want to be that person to show younger generations that yeah, it’s fun to do this, it’s cool to hang out with your parents. Because me and my dad have done it together, kind of like Lizzy and Pat, and Kayla and Stan. I think it’s important to show not only the racing aspect side of it, but also the family side; that it’s okay to do stuff with your family. And the people along the way that you meet, things like that.

What are some specific events you plan to run this season, and do you have any specific personal goals?

We haven’t really set a specific schedule. We’ll have to know what races fall when and where. We’ll probably hit the Dirty South No Prep series, and do Outlaw Armageddon. As far as goals and things for this year, I just want to do my best. If that means go out and win, that means go out and win. And if that means we go out and have a hard year, I just know that I’m gonna do my best and do whatever I can to get the car down the track. I don’t want to say we’re gonna win everything, but I don’t think we’re going to be taken lightly.

Have you been contacted about the Invitational class for season 4 of No Prep Kings?

No, I haven’t really heard anything. We’ll probably go to the first few, and then if we don’t get invited, we’ll probably not chase it as much. The schedule’s kind of crazy, and my dad owns his own business. The whole surgery deal kind of set us back. He’s downsized his business a lot, and it’s just me, my mom, him and one other guy that works on the car. So it’s not like we have a big team, where so-and-so can drive the rig and we’re gonna fly in, it’s not like that. So I think we’re gonna go to the first three for sure, and then see what they want to do. We’re not really at the point right now where we can travel all the way up to Washington. So we’ll see what we can do. I’m sure we’ll be back to normal in no time. We loved racing the No Prep Kings series last year. It was a lot of fun, the people are great, so we’ll have to see.

Photos provided by Kallee Mills