Kyler Staley during Stadium Stock Practice. (Eric Hylton Photography photo)

Escaping Death, Defying Odds and Chasing Dreams

Many drivers that races at Bowman Gray Stadium have taken different paths to get to where they’re at in their life. Kyler Staley’s path has led him through some dark times and bad places in his relatively short 14 years of being alive. The Bowman Gray rookie driver has and is currently defying the odds and playing the cards he’s been dealt with.

Kyler Staley was born on July 18, 2002, and he seemed to be a pretty healthy baby boy. Kyler grew up being raised by his grandparents, his Dad and his Aunt Maranda Hayes. He was a happy young boy that seemed to have a normal happy life up until 2010. He started getting sick, more often than usual, then he stayed sick off and on for over a year and a half and the doctors kept passing it off as the Flu or some kind of Bug or maybe even a Virus. On March 9, 2011, a doctor based at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, gave Kyler and his family some heartbreaking and jaw dropping news that changed his life forever.

On his diagnosis Staley recalls, “One day in Old Navy, we were just walking around and I had not drank a lot of water, so I was craving water. I laid down on a shelf and I got really sick, my family had to pick me up and carry me out to the car. The following day, my aunt took me to the doctor’s office and my sugar maxed the doctor’s machine out, so he sent us to Lexington hospital to use their machine and my sugar was 725.”

Staley further elaborated on his stay in the hospital.

“I was rushed to Brenner’s Children Hospital and I was in there for a week. During that week my doctor Dr. Walsh, a Pediatric Endocrinologist who specializes in juvenile diabetes, diagnosed me with Type 1 Diabetes. I had to start taking shots of insulin, it took me a few days to learn and adapt to the shots.”

Staley followed that by giving me a devastating confession.

“I really wanted to enlist in the Armed Forces, but I couldn’t due to my diabetes, so I guess I’ll follow along my dad and papa’s footsteps and get into racing.”

Kyler’s newfound dream was fueled by his dad and “Nana & Papa’s” racing success at Bowman Gray and Caraway. His dad Zack and grandpa Junior are fellow Bowman Gray Stadium Stock drivers and former winners of the division, while his grandma Marti is a former winner and driver at Caraway in the now defunct Lady U-Car & U-Car Division. One other thing that helped him was NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Reed, who also has Type 1 Diabetes, Staley looked up to him as a hero and a person who knows what it’s like to go through life dealing with diabetes. So he wanted to follow in his racing family’s footsteps in hopes of winning some races. Staley’s future goal is to move up and race a late model one day .

Marti Smith, Kyler’s grandma and a former race car driver herself, told me when she got the news that he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

“It crushed me, I hated that my grandson couldn’t achieve his dreams, but after he decided to take up racing, me, my husband Junior and my son Zack decided we’re going to help him accomplish this dream. So I’m gonna do everything in my power and as long as the good Lord provides, we’re going to help him to achieve his dream. You never know when you’re going to get down and not be able to strive and make your dreams come true.”

Kyler and his family are huge supporters of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, in hopes that the JDRF can find a cure to this disease.

Staley’s first taste of racing came in 2014 & 2015, as he ran go karts on and off at Woodleaf Speedway just south of his hometown Reedy Creek, his best finish was 3rd place. His kart racing career was cut short due to repeatedly staying sick. Which really was affecting his life in all aspects, some days he wouldn’t go to school because he was so sick or his sugar was so sporadic.

In 2016, Staley had been in and out the hospital very frequently due to his sugar levels and being sick and it came to a breaking point in late August. He went into Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA is caused by reduced insulin levels, decreased glucose usage and increased gluconeogenesis from elevated counter regulatory hormones) Kyler went into DKA twice, once at home in the bathroom and the other time was at NICU at Brenner’s Hospital. The doctors worked with him using IV’s and equipment throughout the night and brought him out of the DKA even though his eyes were set. Through the power of prayer, Kyler woke up and that’s when his life was changed once again.

If Staley wanted to race full time in 2017, he had to “cut threw a lot of red tape”. Dr. Walsh said, “He needs to start taking better care of himself, by eating right, counting carbs and to make sure he’s taken enough insulin to cover his carbs.” Another thing was Kyler and his grandparents talked to a modified driver last year and he said, “I wouldn’t advise letting him race at Bowman Gray due to the heat and his diabetes.”

After working on his body and losing weight and counting calories, Dr. Walsh cleared Kyler to race in the latter part of 2016.

So in preparation of his first full season, he first raced at Caraway Speedway last November. He did a pretty good job for his first time ever in a race car. In the 50 lap event he started out by qualifying 10th out of 18, but Kyler chose to start at the back of the 19 car field, when he took the green flag he started 17th.

Kyler’s dad radioed in and asked him, “If you don’t feel ok come in and drink water, you have proved enough to me just by keeping up and I love you. Do not over do anything​ to prove something you already proved.”

The battery started to die, so he came in under the red flag for a crash and his dad charged the battery. Staley would return to the track after the yellow came back out after the lengthy red flag period. After some timely cautions and cone restarts towards the end, he would wind up finishing 10th.

While Staley races, he has to wear his Tslim and a Dexcom sensor that will send a reading to the sensor that his friend Dominick Lumley is holding is the pits. The sensor is placed just left of his right hip, but Kyler can move it to either side. Previously, if the sensor read too high while he’s racing or during practice he would have to pull off of the track and drink water and let his blood level come back down, but thanks to fellow racer, sponsor and friend Tim Evans and his wife Tamara, they bought Kyler the water bottle that you can attach inside the car, which means he doesn’t have to pull into the pits now.

As the winter was fading and spring was on the horizon, Kyler and his family team were looking at cars to purchase for the young kid that was bound and determined to start his racing career. They found a perfect car in former Caraway Speedway Mini Stock winner Jimmy Crigger’s race car, as he was selling it to buy a newer car. The team put the necessary parts and pieces on the car and come April they were ready to shake the car down and get it ready to race. Staley didn’t have something that his dad and grandpa did and that was experience. Kyler has gotten tips, info and advice from his family and his other two family members former division champion Charlie Curry and former division top gun winner Mike Staley.

Ever since that first practice in early April, Staley has gotten faster and faster, it’s showing in a big way as he’s gained 3 top 10’s in 7 starts, with them coming in the last 3 out of 4 races. He further showed how good he’s progressed during last weekend’s annual 50 lap event, he qualified 15th and survived the marathon that was a 69 lap race and he finished right behind his dad in 6th to tie his best career finish. He’s currently sitting 17th in points and third in the division rookie standings.

Kyler would personally like to thank his crew, sponsors and all of the fans that’s supported him on this journey. They have helped him achieve a great dream. His crew is his dad Zack Staley, his brothers Braden & Tanner, Junior & Marti Smith, his best friend Dominick, his uncle Bruce Lawson, Tim Evans, Chris Miller and Matt Davis. Kyler’s sponsors are His Nana and Papa, Discount Car Depot, Royal’s Automotive, Clifford Thompson, Colby’s Home Repair and And H&C Utilities. If it wasn’t for family, friends, sponsors and most importantly doctors, this young gun wouldn’t have a chance at achieving his dreams.


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Justin Mincey