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FOCUS DRIVEN | Heather Hadley

Heather Hadley, Daytona International Speedway (2023), Photo by Ignite Media

Heather is a race car driver from Vallejo, CA who started her racing career in go-karts. She later moved to Legend Cars at the age of 14 and raced Asphalt Sportsman Cars at the age of 19. Her recent race in 2024 was in her MX-5 Cup car at Daytona. While qualifying, which is a 15-minute green flag run where everyone is attempting to run a fast lap to position themselves for the race, she ended up qualifying 8th out of 29 cars her best qualifying in MX-5 Cup to date. Her determination, focus and courage have kept her in the race. We are honored to bring this very personal profile to our readers at Withitgirl.

Hi Heather! Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a 22-year-old race car driver currently living in Sherrills Ford, NC, originally from northern California. I am a college student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where I am pursuing my bachelor’s degree in business, double majoring in accounting and finance. I am not currently involved in any other sports, but I enjoy all outdoor activities as hobbies, such as hiking, running, swimming, and spending time in nature. 

How did this all get started? Were there some other girls/women/ people who have inspired your car racing career? How are girls and women moving the sport forward? What inclusion?

I was introduced to racing at the age of nine when my father and I decided to start visiting our local indoor go-karting facility. I remember at the time that I started racing, I looked up to Danica Patrick who was the only woman racing in the NASCAR Cup series. Now because I have pivoted to sports car racing from short track racing, I am personally very inspired by Katherine Legge, who has paved the way for women in sports car and open-wheel racing and continues to do so every year.

Over the last 12 years I have been involved in motorsports, I have noticed a significant amount of progress when it comes to more women being in the racing paddock, whether behind the wheel or behind the wall. There is still lots of progress to be made as motorsports will probably always be male-dominated, but I see improvements that are made every year and that makes me excited for the future! 

Heather and other racers competing at the Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout, Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC (Nov 2022) Photo by Ignite Media

What does it take to be a car racer?

If one wishes to be a race car driver one day, my best advice would be to start asking questions! Every person is different, and where you live surely will affect the resources and opportunities available, so visit your local race track and ask as many questions as possible. There are lots of different types of racing, whether it be on dirt, asphalt, snow, road course, circle track, open-wheel, or closed-wheel, the opportunities are endless! Don’t be afraid to try different forms of racing until you find what works for you! 

As a female in a male-dominated sport, there are more challenges you will inevitably have to face. Thankfully, there are more and more opportunities presenting themselves each year for women in motorsports, so my advice would be to seek out those opportunities applicable to you! Something that changed my life and career trajectory was winning Mazda’s Women’s Initiative Scholarship at the MX-5 Cup Shootout in November of 2022. That scholarship is just one example of opportunities available for women in racing, which can potentially give you that break that you need! 

Racing is also a very demanding sport in many aspects. You will have to work on maintaining and improving your physical state, as well as your mental state. One thing which many drivers, including myself, underestimate when first entering the sport, is the mental focus which is required of you for thirty minutes up to 24 hours of racing! If you are thinking of going into endurance racing, my first recommendation would be to learn how to improve your mental focus and maintain mental stamina, because it will be the most challenging part of it. 

It’s no secret that motorsports is one of the most expensive sports you can compete in. To stay in the race, you will have to invest in yourself. Think of yourself as a brand looking to align with other brands. Like all brands, you have to have core values that you truly believe in and stand by, and you have to have a vision. Draw up a car racing career plan and set personal milestones, and then present that to potential sponsors who share the same core values as you. If there’s a will, there’s a way! 

Heather talking with teammate, Road America in Plymouth, WI, (Aug 2023) Photo by Ignite Media

Any close calls, crashes, and risks?

I have been involved in many crashes throughout my 12 years of racing, but luckily have never been too seriously injured. I have on two separate occasions broken bones due to being involved in an accident. One of those accidents was when I was 10 years old and racing go-karts. I remember I had turned a corner and another go-kart had spun around and looked as though he had stopped in the middle of the track, so I went to the bottom of the race track thinking I had plenty of space to get around him. He started slowly rolling backwards down the track just enough for my tire to make contact with his tire, flipping my go-kart over and throwing me out onto the track with my arms out to protect my fall. I ended up breaking my wrist upon impact and walked over to the side of the track holding my wrist with my other hand. 

The other incident where I broke a bone was only a few years ago back in 2021. I was racing a legend car at Anderson Speedway in South Carolina. I was involved in an accident with another car and we both had made contact with the inside wall. I remember upon impact with the wall the steering wheel had snapped which caught on my thumb. It broke a tiny piece of a bone in my thumb which later required surgery. Lesson learned: Leave your thumb outside of the steering wheel! 

Heather racing a legend car, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, (Jan 2023), Photo by Roger Seymour
Heather in the Shootout race car, Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC, (Nov 2022) Photo by Ignite Media
Heather in the race car, Road Atlanta at Braselton, GA (Oct 2023), photo by Trevor Lee
Heather racing Daytona (2024) Photo by Trevor Media

Tell us more about the cars you are racing or have raced. What about electric car racing any women in the field? 

I raced go-karts for five years and then moved up into legend cars at the age of 14. Legend Cars are very small cars with a very short wheelbase. They have a motorcycle engine with 125 horsepower and race on Hoosier Racing Tires. I now race in the Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup series presented by Michelin Tires. The MX-5 Cup race cars start as complete MX-5 road cars from the Mazda Hiroshima Japan factory before being transported to engineering development partner Flis Performance where they are produced into a race car. There are a few other cars I had one-off races in, including a Spec Miata, a Sportsman Asphalt Late Model, and a BMW 125i, but I have not yet had any experience in electric car racing. 

Other women racers that have inspired you? What about inclusion in women’s racing? 

It’s hard to narrow it down to only a few, but some of my absolute favorites are Katherine Legge, Jamie Chadwick, and Lyn St. James

Heather with Shea Holbrook. She is the only female MX-5 Cup team owner! Photo by Trevor Media

Some achievements and awards?

I am the recent winner of the Women’s Initiative Scholarship at the 2022 Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout. This scholarship awarded me $75,000 to go towards a season of competition in the Mazda MX-5 Cup series! I competed in the series as a rookie in 2023, obtaining 10 Top Finishing Female Awards, two top-10’s, and five top-15’s. Outside of the Mazda MX-5 Cup series, I have five championships in Legend Cars and five championships in go-kart competition. I am the first female to win the Silver State Winter Series Championship in Las Vegas, NV, winning the championship in 2019 and again in 2022. I also hold the track record in a Legend Car at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit. 

Here are some of her favorite songs:


Additional Information

Legend Cars are a "spec" series, meaning all cars are mechanically identical, except three styles of car available with 10 types of body styles. Here is a quote from Wikipedia, "Legend Car racing is a style of auto racing designed primarily to promote exciting racing and to keep costs down. The race car bodyshells are 5/8-scale replicas of American automobiles from the 1930s and 1940s, powered by Yamaha XJ1250, FJ1200 (both air-cooled) or, starting in 2018, FZ09 (water-cooled) engines. The worldwide sanctioning body for legends car racing is INEX." 

Open-wheel racing means that the tires are exposed and not covered by part of the car. For example, Formula 1 racing and INDYCAR racing are open-wheel since their tires are completely exposed. When they make contact with each other they are often making tire-to-tire contact which causes them to spin out or wreck. NASCAR is an example of closed-wheel racing, since the tires are not exposed, they are covered by the rear quarter panels. 

Hoosier is the brand of racing tire that is most commonly used on a Legend Car. They make tires for other cars and forms of racing as well. Here is a link to their website for better understanding. 

Heather Hadley website + @heatherhadley_

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