MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 13, 2023) – Katie Hettinger scored another win this past Saturday at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway and earned another first in a career full of firsts.
When the 16-year-old racer from Dryden, Michigan, crossed the finish line in first place, .453 of a second ahead of runner-up Max Reaves in the Nov. 11 Cook Out 100, Hettinger had her first victory in the Carolina Pro Late Model Series and became the series’ first female winner.
The victory was Hettinger’s record-extending seventh career win at Hickory, the .363-mile oval known as the Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars were she is the winningest female racer in the track’s 73-year history.
“Going into the race I knew I just had to be patient and smart,” said Hettinger, who clocked her fastest lap on the penultimate lap of the 100-lap feature. “I was able to get a good jump on the last restart and then I used all of the track going into (turn) one and all the way into (turn) three to get around a car on my outside. I just had to focus on my laps and hit my marks. My crew was talking me through those last few laps and we were able to bring it home.”
As Hettinger blazes her own racing trail with an eye on the upper divisions of NASCAR, she simultaneously serves as a pioneer, smashing glass ceilings and creating opportunities for others. When it comes to firsts, Hettinger has earned many since she began racing quarter midgets at age 5.
Won the 2020 Champion Racing Association (CRA) Junior Late Model Series title to become the first and only female champion in CRA history.
In the span of two weeks in September 2021, Hettinger became the youngest female race winner at Hickory when she won the 50-lap Limited Late Model feature Sept. 4 as part of the Bobby Isaac Memorial event. She then became Hickory’s youngest female Late Model race winner on Sept. 18 when she won the track’s 75-lap feature.
Hettinger won four more Late Model races at Hickory in 2022 to become the track’s winningest female racer.
Kicked off 2023 by winning on night seven of the acclaimed World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway, becoming the first female to win a Pro Late Model feature during the World Series and the first driver from Michigan to win a Pro Late Model race.
“The Carolina Pro Late Model Series is a really good stepping-stone division before running the CARS Tour,” said Hettinger, who ran the full CARS Pro Late Model Tour this year. “It’s a good place to race, whether you’re male or female. I’m there to compete and win races, just like all the other guys.”
In June, fresh off her 16th birthday, Hettinger earned her driver’s license. Four months later, she secured rookie-of-the-year honors on the CARS Pro Late Model Tour by being one of the series’ most consistent drivers. She finished second in the championship standings and her 11 top-10 finishes tied that of series champion, Caden Kvapil.
“This win at Hickory was one I really needed,” Hettinger said. “We had a good, consistent season on the CARS Tour – had a bunch of second-place finishes, were pretty decent in qualifying, led the points for a good bit there during the summer – just couldn’t break through to get that win. But my Anthony Campi Racing team stayed with me all season long, and my guys there always gave me a really good car.
“Saturday was my first time driving a car with my new team and, hopefully, it showed a little preview of how next year will go.”
Hettinger will return to her family-run team, Hettinger Racing, in 2024, where a heavy slate of Pro Late Model and Late Model Stock races, across a variety of racing series, await.
“It’s definitely fun to be working with my dad and all the guys on the team,” Hettinger said. “Jason Stanley is my crew chief and he used to race Limited Late Model, so he’s a really good guy to work with because he knows so much and has a driver’s perspective. I feel like we understand each other really well, and this win at Hickory is proof of that.”
While plans are already in place for 2024, Hettinger isn’t done with 2023. She will be back in her race-winning No. 71 Chevrolet for the South Carolina 400 this Saturday at Florence Motor Speedway and again on Nov. 26 for the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park in Lucama, North Carolina. Both races will host a who’s who of racing talent based off the early entry list for the South Carolina 400, which features NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr., and soon-to-be 2024 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year title contender Josh Berry among a host of prominent Late Model champions and race winners.
“It’s a big deal on two fronts,” said Hettinger about the South Carolina 400 and Thanksgiving Classic. “There are guys who have a ton of experience who have obviously accomplished a lot, so you learn a lot just by being on the same track with them. And, of course, guys like Dale bring a ton of media exposure. It’s a good opportunity for short-track drivers to show their skills to a wider audience.”
The South Carolina 400 will be streamed live on FloRacing and sign up is HERE. FloRacing is also available on Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast and Apple TV. Streaming for the Thanksgiving Classic is in the midst of being finalized and once completed details will be available on Southern National’s website and Facebook page.
Content: True Speed Communication
Photo's: True Speed Communication