Katie Hettinger Eyeing CARS Tour Victory at Hickory

Katie Hettinger has an 11-point lead over Caden Kvapil in the CARS Pro Late Model Tour title chase.


hero image for Katie Hettinger Eyeing CARS Tour Victory at Hickory

A month ago, fresh off her 16th birthday, Katie Hettinger earned her Michigan driver’s license. Unbeknownst to the DMV official riding shotgun in her car, Hettinger was atop the CARS Pro Late Model Tour championship standings by leading the series in top-fives, top-10s, laps completed, average start and average finish.

If there ever was a teenager ready for the road, it was Hettinger. The Dryden native is the only CARS Pro Late Model Tour racer to have a lap completion rate of 100 percent in the eight races run this season, and she is the only driver to have finished among the top-10 in every race. As a result, Hettinger has an 11-point lead over Caden Kvapil in the title chase and a stout 71-point advantage in the rookie-of-the-year standings with five races remaining.

The only thing missing from Hettinger’s CARS Pro Late Model Tour resume is a win, but with the series slated to compete Saturday night at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, that could very well change. Hettinger is the winningest female racer in Hickory’s 73-year history.

“I think it’s just from working with Matt Piercy the last three years,” said Hettinger about her success at Hickory. “That was his track. He won the championship there in 2015 and he knows it really well. I just have a ton of laps around there with him. Hickory is a fun place with a ton of history. It’s pretty rough, but it’s one of the things that makes the racing fun.”

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 on 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, further burnishing Hickory’s moniker as the Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars. Hettinger then won four more Late Model races at Hickory in 2022.

She committed to the full CARS Pro Late Model Tour in 2023 knowing that running up front in deep fields would yield a few more upward rungs on the racing ladder.

“We’ve had a really good season so far. We’ve had a lot of second places and third places, and I feel like we should’ve had a win already,” Hettinger said. “We’ve had decent qualifying efforts, but I need to get a pole here to advance that points lead and, of course, get that win.

“Everyone always says consistency wins championships, and I think that’s true, but winning is why we race. I think we’re super close, especially going to Hickory.”

Hettinger is racing for Anthony Campi Racing, driving the No. 81 Chevrolet. In preparation for her first full season on the CARS Pro Late Model Tour, Hettinger spent February in Florida with Campi competing in the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway. On Feb. 17 – night seven of the acclaimed event – Hettinger won with a late-race pass, 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.

“Driving for Anthony Campi has helped me a bunch since he was a driver himself,” Hettinger said. “He knows a lot of the tracks. And my teammates, Casey Roderick and William Byron, they’ve helped me a bunch this year. And Matt Piercy too.”

That collective guidance has proven incredibly valuable, as the competitiveness of the CARS Pro Late Model Tour is as high as it has ever been.

“The CARS Tour has upped its game this year,” Hettinger said. “We’re doing more races in conjunction with the Late Model Stock, just on different tracks, and there’s just more competition among drivers, some younger, some older, and it’s definitely helped me build. I feel that in every race we compete, I learn more and more, and each time out I’m a better driver than I was the last time.

“Hickory will be a pretty big race for the Late Model Stocks, and some guys who don’t have Late Model Stocks but have Pro Late Models that race in Florida or Alabama, they usually come over to race at Hickory. The car counts have been up pretty good this year, and I’d say at Hickory this weekend we’ll have over 20 Pro Late Models.

“It’s definitely going to be a big race, so winning it would mean even more. And Hickory is kind of my adopted home track.”

Since turning 14 in June 2021 and getting her NASCAR license, Hettinger began commuting from Michigan to race in the southeastern hotbed of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series, with the .363-mile Hickory oval being one of Hettinger’s more frequented tracks.

“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish at Hickory, but I didn’t go there to become the winningest female racer. I went there to win races, just like all the other guys,” said Hettinger, who as a 13-year-old won the 2020 Champion Racing Association (CRA) Junior Late Model Series title, spurring her to scrap the “Junior” tag from her Late Model and race in and around the Carolinas.

No matter what happens Saturday night at Hickory, four races still remain on CARS Pro Late Model Tour – Aug. 19 at Tri-County Speedway in Granite Falls, North Carolina, Oct. 7 at South Boston (Va.) Speedway, Oct. 21 at Tri-County, and the season finale Nov. 4 at Caraway Speedway in Sophia, North Carolina.

“I’ve just got to keep staying smart and using my head,” Hettinger said. “The last race at Wake County got a little crazy and it did get aggravating a couple of times because we can’t afford to wreck a racecar or spin or have a bad finish. So we just have to be smart.

“Everyone respects each other out on the racetrack, but we race hard, too. I’m giving it my best every time we go out. I know I have a good racecar from Anthony Campi with a great team preparing it, and it’s up to me to make the most of it.”

The CARS Pro Late Model Tour race at Hickory begins with three practice sessions on Friday. Qualifying is at 4:15 p.m. EDT on Saturday and the 100-lap feature gets underway at 7 p.m. The race will be streamed live on FloRacing and sign up is HERE. FloRacing is also available on Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast and Apple TV.

-True Speed Communication Press Release
-Photo credit: Will Bellamy/Racing America