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13-year-old gets her first taste of auto racing

By Cody Thorn
The Examiner
Ashlyn Piburn made a splash at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley this season, finishing 11th in the E-Mod division as a 13-year-old rookie driver. Her late mother and father have both been race car drivers.

Ashlyn Piburn is just one of many female drivers who compete at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley each Saturday night.

However, there is one big difference between her and, well, most every other driver out there, regardless of gender: it’s her age.

The yellow No. 97 car competed in the E-Mods division and finished 11th in the points in her first full season driving. She missed the last two races of the year, but prior to that, she was sitting in ninth place. 

Not too shabby for someone who just turned 13 years old back in May.

“Pretty much you either have what it takes or you don’t,” said veteran racer and family friend Greg Spillman, who has been a mentor to Ashlyn. “It’s her rookie year and she’s got a lot of learning to do, but the best part is you start them early and they develop. She is getting a little taller all the time, that is helping.”

Racing, in a sense, is in Piburn’s blood and that is part of the background that has driven her to get on the track.

Ashlyn Piburn (yellow 97) competes at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley this season. The 13-year-old Jackson County resident is following in her family's footsteps as a driver and hopes to one day race on the NASCAR circuit.

Her mom, Lisa, started driving cars when she was her youngest daughter’s age at Lakeside Speedway, moving her way from driving trucks, street modifieds and then late model cars. Her father, Jason, has also driven cars.

Spillman, who was a local racer himself, met Lisa – then known as Lisa Loftis – at the old I-70 Speedway in Odessa.

“I helped build her car and sponsored her and just became really close to the family,” Spillman said.

Loftis was a natural on the track, Spillman recalls. She won several races on asphalt tracks and was second in points her first year on a dirt track – five points out of first.

Lisa stepped away from racing when she married Jason Piburn and they had two daughters, Alaina and Ashlyn. Tragedy struck in 2011 when Lisa died of a heart attack at the age of 32.

Both of Lisa’s daughters have ventured into racing, first Alaina driving junior sprint cars at the Sweet Swings Motorsports Complex. However, allergies proved to be a hurdle she couldn’t overcome for the now 14-year-old.

But, Ashlyn begged her grandpa, Phil Loftis, to drive a car. Her grandfather and grandmother, Lois, help raise the two girls.

The Spillmans are also part of the big “village” that is helping raise two teenage girls.

“Ashlyn begged me and her grandpa to let her try it,” Spillman said. “When I raced with her mom there wasn’t too many girls that raced then. Now, there is more and more.”

After a couple of years of junior sprint car racing against kids her own age, she moved up to racing modifieds.

“No bigger than she is, that is a lot of car for her little arms,” said Spillman of Ashlyn, a tall, skinny blonde. “She has gone from racing kids her own age to mostly adult guys. It makes a difference.”

Piburn is holding her own and has placed as high as eighth at Valley Speedway. She also races at I-35 Speedway in Winston.

“My mom was a race car driver and I wanted to follow in her footsteps,” said Piburn, who is an eighth grader at Lone Jack Middle School. “I moved to mods a year ago. It was a big change. It is way different than sprint cars.”

Piburn, who turned 13 on May 25, often goes with her grandfather to the track in Grain Valley to practice.

She admits each time she gets in the car there is a mix of excitement and nerves. She is still working on handling the car when it drifts on the corner, something she didn’t worry about in sprint cars.

While she also plays basketball and softball, the sport she loves most is racing. She aspires to be a NASCAR driver.

There is one small parallel already to former NASCAR driver Danica Patrick. She started racing as a young age too and had a sister herself that used to race but gave the sport up.

“I don’t mind racing along her because she has shown she’s able to keep a line around the track, something a lot of grown men struggle with,” said fellow Valley Speedway racer Dalton Krysa. “I see her out practicing when the track is available, so I admire her drive to improve as a racer.”