“In the Pits” sat down with Heather Hadley, who finished 3rd in the 2022 INEX Semi-Pro Road Course Championship and recipient of the Women’s Initiative Scholarship. She’ll continue to race Legend Cars on road courses in 2023, but will focus on her new drive in the Mazda MX-5 Cup this season. And spoiler alert, it’s not NASCAR she has her eyes on!

Hometown: Vallejo, CA
Division: Pro
Car Number: 54
Team: 860 Motorsports
Favorite Vacation Spot: Santa Cruz, CA
Favorite Color: Black, it's what I always pick for the car
Favorite TV Show: New Girl
Favorite Food: Pasta

1. What sparked your interest in racing? What made you want to start driving?

Well, I tried it out for fun when I was nine with my dad. We just went to our local indoor go-karting facility in Northern California. I just tried it out for fun, and I really liked it. We started going back every weekend. I went for a good six months before we bought my first go-kart. That's how I got into it. It wasn’t any prior family, or being passed down in the family or anything like that. A bit spontaneous, but that's pretty much how it worked out.

2. What forms of racing have you competed in?

In go-karts, I jumped back and forth between a 2-stroke and a 4-stroke engine. Then when I moved up to cars. I started in Legend Cars when I was 14. I've dabbled in a few other things. I raced an endurance race in a BMW one time, raced a Miata race one time, and I raced a sportsman asphalt late model at Speedweeks. I’ve tried a few other things, but the majority of my car racing has been in Legend Cars. I recently got into MX-5 Cup this year.

3. How is an MX-5 Cup Car different from Driving a Legend Car?

Very different, a Legend Car doesn’t have any of the fancy stuff. No [Anti-lock Braking System], no power steering, the wheelbase is very short, it's got a motorcycle engine. So, the driving styles are completely different because of that. Your racing Miata is known for being completely momentum based, at least the driving style. I would say those are definitely the primary, or biggest, differences between the two. In the Legend Car, you can kind of be more aggressive, and drive it harder. Whereas the Miata, you really have to be careful about overslowing the car too much. You just really have to be concerned about maintaining a good speed through every single corner, and not losing any momentum.

4. What is your favorite racing memory?

Recently, when I won the Women’s Initiative Scholarship at the MX-5 Cup Shootout. It was originally supposed to be at Sebring, Florida (Sebring International Raceway), but because of weather, it was moved to Carolina Motorsports Park in South Carolina. It was essentially a two-day shootout. They evaluated all 12 of us on both on-track and off-track capabilities. One of the main aspects of it was to see improvement over the course of the two days based on your talks with the coaches and your debriefs after each session. The primary reason is to go towards the season this year. It contributes a lot, $75,000 in total. Some of it is a lump sum cash amount, and some of it is for tires, fuel, entry fees, stuff like that. It was definitely one of the best days in my life!

5. What are your 2023 racing goals? What do you hope to achieve?

I am pretty much only doing MX-5 Cup, doing a little bit of Legend Car stuff. I still plan to go to Road Course World Finals. But besides that, my primary focus has been on MX-5 Cup and doing well there, improving at every race. I want to win Rookie of the Year, but we’ll see. It’s a really stiff competition. Just improvement, I want to finish consistently in the top 10 as the year progresses. That's definitely one of my big goals right now.

6. What is your ultimate racing dream?

I would love to make it as a race car driver, for sure. In road racing, in particular, it would be amazing, but if I just made it in racing I would be more than happy. If I could eventually make it to the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship or to IndyCar, that would be like a dream to me. But also working behind the scenes would definitely be an option that I’m not completely leaving out. That's kind of why I’m also in school. That's why I am also putting a lot of my time towards something like this. I know it is still a possibility, and one I don’t want to leave behind in case something happens and I don’t have any backup plans. If I had to work behind the scenes, that's totally fine with me too. It would be in Finance.

7. What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome with being a woman in the racing world?

It doesn’t really change with age, I’ve noticed. And it's still happening. I just try my hardest, on and off track, to be professional and treat everyone with respect. I just hope that I am going to get that in return. That will always be there, some people just not being able to handle it. I think for the majority, if you’re just treating people with respect and you’re positive, and you give that to your other competitors. You’re professional and show that you really want to be there and you want to win just like everyone else. I think over time you can gain that respect. It does take a little bit of time.

8. Who is your biggest inspiration?

Right now, Katherine Legge is a really big inspiration for me because I have been talking to her a lot recently over the past year. She's really been helping me with this transition to IMSA, she's got tons of experience in IMSA. She knows everything there is to know about it, so she's very, very helpful, and super nice.

9. Do you have any pre-race “rituals” or things you always have to do on race day?

I am not super superstitious about this kind of stuff, I just like to listen to music. That's pretty much the only thing. Some people just want to do their specific routine every time before they get in the car, I just like to listen to music. If I don’t listen to music, sometimes I just won’t be in the right headspace. Any kind of pump up music. I’ve had problems where I’ve been too amped up.

10. Outside of racing, what do you like to do in your free time?

Not much, I like iRacing and fitness. Those are the two things I do on a weekly basis. Besides that, if I have time, I will read.

11. How is balancing school and racing difficult?

I’ve done it for a long time, I’ve been racing for 11, almost 12 years. So, I am kind of used to it. I have always been fine with being busy, I actually prefer being busy. I am better at handling it now. Before, I was not so good at time management and being able to balance things. I’ve kind of learned a better way of handling everything. I try to allot a certain amount of time every week to each obligation, so that way I don’t leave one behind and have to pick up the rest later.

12. What race or track are you most looking forward to this season?

Oh, so many. We were just at Daytona, which I think is so cool that I was able to go there. It was definitely high on the list. But we get to go to Laguna Seca this year, which I am very excited about because it's in California, that's where I'm from. My family will get to be there, and that's one I am really looking forward to.

13. Do you have any advice to younger kids who are looking into getting started in racing?

The answer always changes every time I get asked this question. I think when you know you’re really passionate about something, you just know. Especially with racing, and being a girl in racing, you just get so much thrown at you constantly. Just knowing that there's going to be a lot you have to overcome. Also, being realistic is really important, having a realistic plan based on where you and your family are at. A lot of conversations you have to have with your family, just realistic conversations, were very vital to everything that followed that. That is something that I would say is important to have. If you’re passionate about something, you’ll definitely achieve it. You just need to not give in to the things that get thrown your way and be realistic.

14. Asphalt Oval, Dirt, or Road Course?

Road Course, easy.

15. What is something many people don’t know about you?

I love animals. It's not that interesting, but I do have a dog. Also, I am an only child.

16. If you could describe your racing style in one word, what would you say?

That’s hard, I don’t know. I would definitely say clean, I’ve never been a dirty driver. I want to say something like analytical, or strategic. I’ve also always tried to be a smooth driver, ever since even go karting. Which isn’t always the best, surprisingly. You just kind of are the driver you are, you can’t really help it.