Karsyn Elledge was born into the Earnhardt dynasty, but the 15-year-old wants to make her own name for herself.
Elledge is the daughter of Kelley Earnhardt Miller and NASCAR crew chief Jimmy Elledge as well as the niece of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Most notably, however, she is the granddaughter of the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr., a seven-time champion and an icon who was larger than life.
She has been racing Dirt Karts for many years. Now, she’s ready to make the jump from racing Dirt Karts to racing in a Limited Late Model at Hickory Motor Speedway. The plan is for her to make her debut as early as Saturday night and, when she does make her debut, she will have a good mentor to learn from in Josh Berry, a former champion at the legendary track in Newton, North Carolina.
“I’m a little bit nervous,” Elledge said in an interview with Short Track Scene. “Josh [Berry] has had a lot of success there. There are good cars at JR Motorsports. I’m looking to perform well with them. I’m excited because that’s where a lot of my family began racing so I’m looking to see what I can do to carry on the family name at Hickory.”
Coming from the Earnhardt family, Elledge has a strong set of expectations to live up to. It’s no pressure at all for her though. She wouldn’t want it any other way.
“You could say it’s pressure,” Elledge remarked. “I forget about it sometimes honestly. I’m just another competitor out there trying to get wins and get laps. Having the name means I’m held to a different standard, good and bad. I wouldn’t want to be part of any other family.”
Racing is obviously in her blood. Her great grandfather raced, her grandfather raced and her mother raced. It has been noted by many who have been in the short track scene for decades that Kelly Earnhardt Miller was the most talented of Dale Earnhardt’s three children and that talent has been passed on to Karsyn Elledge.
“I have heard that my mom was probably the more, I don’t want to say more talented, she apparently beat up on the boys often so I hope I can be like my mom,” Elledge commented.
Elledge is not old enough to have ever seen her grandfather race in person. She was only an infant when the seven-time champion lost his life in an accident on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Elledge says she’s heard countless stories from longtime Earnhardt fans who approach her at the track. Those stories often motivate her watch some of Earnhardt’s career highlights on YouTube.
“I was only just born when he passed away so I never really got to see him race,” Elledge explained. “I never got to meet him. I don’t have a memory of it. I have before, I don’t often. When I hear stories and telling me all this stuff about the grass pass and stuff, I definitely watch it.
“It’s unfortunate I didn’t get to see that because I hear so many stories about how crazy and insanely good he was. I have to go look some of those up and see it for myself.”
Elledge inherited the family talents. She had success throughout the early years of her career, winning races and championships at Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury, North Carolina. Now, Elledge is racing against much older, much more mature drivers and she hopes to beat them, but also learn from their experience.
“I don’t like to brag on myself but I had a lot of early success when I raced box stocks. I moved up to the open division, this is my third year, it’s been a humbling thing for me because I won a lot in box stocks and two championships, moved up to opens and it’s so much different and more competitive and more of a challenge. I’ve been trying to learn because I race with, I don’t want to say older men, but I race against my dad and people his age so it’s a learning experience for me.”
Entering Late Models, Elledge has not set sky high expectations. While she may well have the talent and the equipment to win in her Limited Late Model debut, she just wants to get seat time and experience.
“The June 4th race, I just hope to get seat time, log a lot of laps and learn from everyone around me. I’m racing Limited so I won’t race Josh. I just want to learn. I just hope to be able to keep the car in one piece and drive it in the trailer. I’ve got great help with sponsors and at the race shop. I don’t think I could have a better teacher than Josh when it comes to racing Late Models. Definitely want to have fun.”
Elledge has tested several times at Hickory and has already picked up on some of the more obvious differences between a Kart on dirt and a Late Model on asphalt.
“It’s definitely a lot different,” Elledge confirmed. “Going from dirt to asphalt, driving a box stock out of Millbridge did help when it came to learning a Late Model. The dirt definitely has helped me when it comes to asphalt. Testing has been good so far, getting better every time. Josh is helping so it can’t get better in that department. Been learning a lot, going out every couple weeks.”
While her goal this season is to gain seat time and experience, she hopes she can one day win at Hickory and enjoy the same success much of her family has had there.
“I’m hoping to because Hickory is a historic racetrack and a lot of my family has raced and won at Hickory,” Elledge commented. “One has a championship. I definitely want to try to get a win. I’m not sure if I’ll get it as early as June 4th.”
Hickory Motor Speedway has been a track that has been kind to NASCAR families, and daughters of NASCAR racers in particular. Chrissy Wallace, daughter of Mike Wallace, won a Late Model race in 2007 and Kate Dallenbach, daughter of Wally Dallenbach, Jr. and Robin McCall Dallenbach, won a race at Hickory earlier this year.
“I’ve watched Kate race and seeing her go from dirt to asphalt and win is pretty cool because I like to see other girls win,” Elledge stated. “We have each other’s back. It’s cool to see Kate out there. I want to keep the family thing going at Hickory.”
Elledge has also developed a bond with another woman who was successful in Late Model racing, Natalie Sather. Sather competed at South Boston Speedway where she scored a career best second place finish in 2011 and became a regular contender to win races.
“Me and Natalie, I met her in 2013 when we hosted a charity event together and we’ve been really close since then,” Elledge elaborated. “We dealt with the same things being a woman in racing and trying to make a name for ourselves in a male dominated sport. I don’t know why we’re not sisters to be honest.
“Having her as a really close friend, she’s been helpful too. It’s frightening how similar we are. I need Natalie to help me as we take on TV and racing, having her next to me has been helpful. She doesn’t give me much racing advice, just advice on how to be a girl out there and that type of stuff.”
Elledge’s routine consists of more than just the average life of a teenage girl and the average life of a teenage racecar driver. She is also the host of a television program on Nicktooons called NASCAR Hammer Down. The television show is one the 15-year-old is making her own name for her own self.
“The show on Nickelodeon, they just picked it up for another season, it’s definitely important to me. I don’t want to be known as Dale Jr’s niece or Kelley Miller’s daughter, I want to be known as Karsyn Elledge. That’s big being in the family I’m in. I’ve been doing what I can to make my own name for myself and so far, I guess it’s going pretty well.”
Like most people her age, Elledge has dreams, but she has not yet decided what her career path will be. As much fun as she has behind the wheel of the racecar, she has outside of the car on her television show as well. Right now, Elledge is simply having fun.
“I don’t know what I want to do yet. I really enjoy the Nickelodeon thing and being on TV and have a ton of fun with that, but racing is something I love and have always loved. I’m just having fun right now, not taking everything too serious.
“I’ll see what happens and see where I end up.”