At 15 years old, Katie Hettinger has already found her way into the record books at Hickory Motor Speedway.
By taking home a checkered flag in the first of two Late Model Stock features July 23, she established herself as the winningest female in the history of the track with five victories.
With so much history encompassing Hickory‘s seven decades of operation, she considers herself honored to earn such a distinction and hopes to keep building on her success at the track before the 2022 season concludes.
“It still hasn‘t set in yet,” Katie said. “We never actually knew who we had to beat and how many wins it would take, but once they told us, it was such an awesome moment.”
The history and prestige of Hickory is what attracted Katie to the facility all the way from Dryden, Michigan.
Katie remembers how her father, Chris Hettinger, sought to compete at Hickory during his own career and admitted that turning laps around the complex feels like a full circle moment for her family knowing that her dad gets to see her win races there on a regular basis.
Chris was the one who helped Katie get connected with former NASCAR team owner Lorin Ranier when they first ventured to the Southeast. That eventually led to an opportunity for Katie to drive a Limited Late Model and Late Model Stock Car for Matt Piercy, who won the Late Model Stock Car track championship at Hickory in 2015.
When Katie started competing at Hickory, she was taken aback by its abrasive surface and initially struggled to find her comfort zone. Despite this, she remained determined to improve with every race and eventually broke through for her first Late Model Stock victory during the penultimate weekend of the 2021 season.
During the offseason, Katie turned as many laps as she could in Piercy‘s car to prepare herself for 2022. The additional track time ended up paying dividends, as Katie is now tied with Mitch Walker for the most wins in Hickory‘s Late Model Stock division this year with four.
“Every track is different, but Hickory is a little bit more bumpy compared to others we‘ve run at,” Katie said. “At the end of the day, Hickory is just another track for me to learn at. We were pretty successful near the end of last season and tested a lot over the winter, so I think that helped us a lot.”
The amount of success Katie has enjoyed at Hickory this year comes as no major surprise for track manager and Matt‘s father, Kevin Piercy.
Even though Kevin knew Katie displayed a tremendous amount of potential driving Matt‘s car in the Limited Late Model division, he was impressed by how quickly she started winning in Late Model Stock Cars over quality drivers that include Huffman, William Sawalich and current NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series points leader Layne Riggs.
Katie‘s efficiency has quickly made her a popular driver amongst the Hickory fanbase, but Kevin added that her maturity and composure outside of the car has earned her the respect of almost everyone in the infield.
“Katie is a hard racer, but she‘s a great sport off the track,” Kevin said. “She congratulates her fellow competitors and tries to be friendly with everybody. Even though Katie is still young, she‘s a very personable young lady off the track but a hard charger on race day.”
Kevin added that Katie‘s record-breaking victory highlights the ongoing mission of Hickory towards promoting a diverse racing environment.
Katie is one of several successful women who actively compete at Hickory nearly every weekend. Annabeth Barnes-Crum claimed a 40-lap feature at the beginning of the 2022 season, while Gracie Trotter and Isabella Robusto are expected to contend for the track championship in Hickory‘s new playoff format.
Outside of the women, Cuban American and current ARCA Menards Series points leader Rajah Caruth found Victory Lane at Hickory in 2021 while Akinori Ogata, who was born in Japan, is currently second in the Limited Late Model standings with four victories.
Kevin considers himself fortunate that Hickory remains an ideal destination for any driver to race at regardless of their background and is optimistic the status quo will remain in place even as the motorsports industry continues to evolve.
Kevin is confident that Katie will add more victories to her resume at Hickory over the next few weeks, which he hopes provides her the recognition needed to break into the developmental ranks of NASCAR.
“The sky is the limit for Katie,” Kevin said. “Like everyone else, Katie has to cover her bases as she moves forward, but she has the character, the personality and so many other things going for her that she can use to move up the ladder. I believe those doors are going to open for Katie.”
Katie has already started to ponder her future after Hickory.
Along with continuing to gain experience at different tracks around the United States in Late Model Stocks and Pro Late Models, Katie also plans to make her ARCA Menards Series West debut near the end of the season at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway.
Winning is something that Katie knows will only help separate herself from other drivers currently in the developmental pipeline, whether that is against the local competition at Hickory, in her home state of Michigan, or in a national touring series.
As Katie continues to gain more experience, she considers herself grateful to be in Hickory‘s record books as the track‘s most successful female driver and hopes her accomplishments during the past two years serves as an inspiration for other women looking to break into NASCAR.
“This is really important to me,” Katie said. “It‘d be so great to win a championship [at Hickory] and get my name up on the wall, but that‘s just not what we‘re going for this year. It‘s great that I was able to get some kind of record there because now there are other female drivers that are going to try and challenge me, which means that women are only getting better at racing.”
Katie plans to cherish her milestone at Hickory even if it does get eclipsed by another woman, but her focus remains on the next race in front of her so she can one day add her name to more motorsport record books.