Special from NASCAR: The 2022 season saw Katie Hettinger emerge as one of the brightest young starts in short-track racing.
A third-generation racer from Dryden. Michigan, Hettinger showcased her talent in late model stocks this year. At just 15 years of age, she became the all-time winningest female driver in Hickory Motor Speedway’s storied history, an accomplishment that contributed to her earning the 2022 Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award.
Receiving the award came as a major surprise for Hettinger, who said the environment created by everyone at Matt Piercy Racing is what allowed her to take in vital information and find consistency on the track.
“This is definitely a huge accomplishment,” Hettinger said. “Wendell Scott broke so many barriers, and I’m really honored to receive this award. I’m really proud of my team for helping me accomplish so much this year.”
Hettinger said becoming the newest recipient of Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award is a great feeling that reminds her of how far NASCAR has progressed when it comes to diversity.
Named after Hall of Famer Wendell Scott, who became the first African-American to win a NASCAR Cup Series event in 1963, the award is presented to a driver based on his or her on-track performance in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series, as well as other qualities like sportsmanship and community service.
Among those who have received the Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award in recent years include Ryan Vargas, Rajah Caruth and 2022 ARCA Menards Series champion Nick Sanchez, all of whom made at least one start in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions this year.
Hettinger is determined to one day follow in the footsteps of past Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award winners and is optimistic the progress she made both on and off the track in 2022 alone has guided her closer to that goal.
Along with getting an opportunity to participate in the Drive For Diversity Combine, Hettinger ran the final two races of the ARCA Menards Series West schedule with Young’s Motorsports, with her best finish being 19th in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Hettinger anticipated a learning curve in transitioning over to the much heavier cars utilized by ARCA, but she came away from her two starts at Phoenix and The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway much more confident in her ability to perform in any situation.
“We did ARCA just for an experience standpoint,” Hettinger said. “I wanted to get my feet wet, and it was a lot of fun. The Young’s Motorsports guys worked hard on the cars, and I definitely learned a lot. Hopefully if there’s more ARCA races planned in the future, we’ll be a lot more prepared.”
Hettinger said her entire season could be best summarized by stepping out of her established comfort zone.
From getting comfortable with go-karts to venturing out to the West Coast for the first time, Hettinger acclimated herself with several prominent figures who all passed down valuable knowledge regarding setups and approaching different tracks.
While there are plenty of moments Hettinger would love to do over, she said building off both the positives and negatives from 2022 are only going to make her stronger as she moves up the developmental ladder.
“I really felt like we improved by working with a lot of different people,” Hettinger said. “Although we mostly worked with Matt Piercy, I got to drive so many different cars, which included a go-kart at [the GoPro Motorplex] with Josh Wise and Scott Speed. Hopefully in 2023, we’ll be really good everywhere.”
Hettinger is currently trying to figure out where exactly she will be racing in 2023, but she does intend to make frequent stops at Hickory so she can maintain her status as the track’s most successful female driver.
Outside of Hickory, Hettinger plans to compete in a full late model stock and pro late model schedule across the East Coast. But she admitted her outline for 2023 could change if she earns a ride in the ARCA Menards Series East through the Drive for Diversity Combine.
Regardless of those plans, Hettinger knows many aspiring female drivers see her as an inspiration, and she hopes her story becomes the status quo in NASCAR as more women earn opportunities to showcase their skills on a larger stage.
“If you can see it, you can be it,” Hettinger said. “Working hard is always the most important thing, and that’s what we’re going to do over the offseason. If you want to put the work in and are ready to do so, you can do anything.”
A busy winter is ahead for Hettinger, who is eager to get back on track and keep embodying the qualities of a Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award winner.
Story - NASCAR.com
Photo - Katie Hettinger Racing