Race car driver in Sask. carving out place for women in the sport
Destiny Klym first Sask. and Indigenous woman to compete in Nascar-sanctioned race
Destiny and Stefan Klym unload matching race cars from identical grey trailers pulled by twin silver trucks into the middle of a small-town track.
The father-daughter duo trades off tasks in near-silence. They rev up a generator to charge the vehicles' batteries; check the tire pressure and torque them; make sure the cars are filled with antifreeze and that no bolts are loose. It's a rhythm perfected over a decade of racing together.
Within an hour, they're zipping around the parched oval, churning up choking clouds of dust on the 27-degree dry July day.
Although she has roots in Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba, Destiny calls Saskatchewan home. She is the first Saskatchewan and Indigenous woman to compete in a Nascar-sanctioned race. She has competed in hobby stock, street stock and modified cars across the Prairies and in several states, taking home multiple championship trophies.
As accomplished as she is, this isn't a story about Destiny's accolades or her need for speed. It's about how a mutual love of racing brought a father and daughter together.
The thrill of the race
Stefan taught Destiny how to drive at a young age around the rural area near Carlyle, Sask. She grew up there, in the southeast part of the province, some 60 kilometres from the Manitoba border.
Neither anticipated she'd be racing before she (legally) hit the highway.
Stefan began racing in the early 1990s, and it didn't take long for his daughter, now 25, to tag along. When Stefan would haul his semi-trailer truck to races in the United States, he'd prop Destiny up on a briefcase on the seat beside him. They'd sing George Jones and Alan Jackson all the way to Nebraska and back.
Still, it wasn't Destiny who Stefan thought of first when he planned to show another family member the ropes. One day he brought home a race car to surprise his son, who responded with indifference.
But Destiny pounced at the opportunity to have her own wheels. They've been racing together ever since.
You can't teach someone how to drive these cars like you can the family sedan. Many of them are built without doors and with pits for drivers' seats. You have to hoist yourself into the space through the opening where a window would typically be. You're surrounded by sheet metal. There's no space for dad to ride shotgun and grab the wheel in a pinch.
So, Stefan talked her through it.
When Destiny began racing, she wasn't tall enough to reach the gas pedal — she needed a block. She also couldn't stretch her hand to the ignition button, meaning she had to cross her fingers that she wouldn't stall.
The rural racetrack in Outlook, Sask., where Destiny and her dad were zipping around on that July day was the same one where she had her first race at 13 years old.
The events for young girls are called powder puff races and the participants are behind the wheel of slingshots, essentially smaller, slower versions of what the adults pilot.
Destiny giggles, recalling that first race. She spun out on her first lap, then another driver hit her head on. Destiny got stuck under her steering wheel, while the other contestant chipped her tooth.
Her father remembers being scared.
"I ran toward the car, and I thought to myself that she would never, ever get into a race car again."
She was back at it the following week.
"I'm not really scared of being behind the wheel after an accident," says Destiny. "I never really get nervous. I kind of have a need for speed — have to go more and more and do better."
And that's exactly what she did.
From hobby to stock to modified
When Destiny started out, she was racing hobby stock cars. They have eight cylinders and push about 300 horsepower. They're based on stock production cars and aren't modified much, so they're pretty cheap to build.
Destiny didn't have her own car at first, so she had to pad the ill-fitting driver's seat with pillows. She described herself as a turtle: afraid of passing anyone or going very fast.
A few years in, she got fitted for her own vehicle and promptly cleaned up at a tournament in Swift Current, Sask.
"It was such a cool experience," Destiny recalls. "I was smiling ear to ear."
Three years later, both father and daughter competed in the southwestern Saskatchewan city, winning the street stock and hobby stock championships, respectively.
"That was a pretty remarkable moment for me," says Stefan.
Destiny followed in her dad's tire treads, adopting street stock racing next, which uses street vehicles the general public can purchase.
In 2017, Destiny participated in the NASCAR Pinty's Series, the organization's Canadian circuit.
Now, she races International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) modified cars. Destiny describes them as a load of tin built around a chassis and a 500-horsepower motor.
She would also return to Nebraska — with stops in Iowa and North Dakota — with her father, this time for her own racing tours.
The two haven't gone head-to-head much. Both describe themselves as competitive but caring: they want to win but also hate the idea of wrecking the other's car.
"I don't measure it so much [by] what we've won and what we haven't won," says Stefan, "but just the quality time that we spent together."
Inspiring women to race
Not all men have reacted as enthusiastically to Destiny's success. She says male competitors will occasionally get angry about her beating them, but generally she finds the sport to be a supportive and welcoming environment.
Destiny recalls female drivers being rare when she started racing. That's not the case anymore, and Destiny has happily picked up the role model torch.
During that NASCAR Pinty's Series, a young, terminally ill girl attended one race. She had the chance to choose her favourite driver with whom to spend the day. She picked Destiny.
"It was heartbreaking for me, but one of the best feelings I've ever had around the racetrack," says Stefan.
Destiny now works in Edmonton as a welder, another field dominated by men. She likes being able to fix her own race car.
"It's such a cool trade," she says.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on racing, but Destiny hopes to head to the U.S. again soon.
As for Stefan, he says, "I'm in the twilight years of my racing career, but I still want to go and help Des and see her do well."