Most people don’t get behind the wheel until they are 16. But for freshman Heather “The Heat” Hadley, that was not the case. When Heather was nine years old, she raced in a go-kart for the first time, not knowing just how far it would take her.
It all started when a friend of Heather’s dad took her to a raceway in Sonoma, where she first experienced the thrill of karting. One year later, Heather had a kart to call her own. As time passed, trophies began to decorate her house, her smiling face appeared in Mazda magazine ads and sponsors began calling her name. As she excelled in go-karting, she looked to move to the next level. Last year, she bought her first racing car, classified as a legend car. Heather plans to start competing with the car in the upcoming season.
“She fights and battles and she gets quite a lot of respect from parents and racers at the track,” Damon Hadley, Heather’s father, said.
Right from the start, Heather held an astonishing record, winning 104 out of her 107 races in 2011. In 2014, she collected an impressive 27 trophies, and a year of dedication paid off when she was recognized by Mazda.
In 2014, 13-year-old Heather was invited to Mazda raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas. She spoke in front of more than 250 people at a banquet and received prizes recognizing her effort. After that, Heather’s grinning face in full racing gear was featured in a Mazda ad in two magazine back covers, “Racer” and “Sports Car Magazine,” for more than six months.
Although Heather now has an astonishing record and achievements, getting there wasn’t always easy.
“The first race I finished last and had no idea how to control a go-kart. The gas and brake was a challenge to remember but I stayed back and watched everyone pass me. I didn’t like the feeling; I like winning. My dad convinced me to go another time, and I got first. From then on, I got first,” Heather said.
After that, despite minimal knowledge of the sport, Heather and her parents embarked on regular treks to the track to participate in competitions.
“We just started going slowly into races. We did a lot more practices before we started racing. It was an overall challenge to start because my dad is not a mechanic and I had no idea of basics of karting. I didn’t even know it existed professionally,” Heather said.
Although Heather has made friends along the way, the harsh environment has been tough to adjust to.
“Everybody acts differently when they are racing and it’s hard to get to know them, because they all act as though I’m competetion and not a friend,” Heather said.
Besides a few classes at a karting school in Sonoma, Heather learned the techniques and how to approach every straight-away and turn on her own. With no official coach, Heather Hadley raced the Driven Raceway in Sonoma, holding No. 1 spot there until recently, and she now holds the No. 2 rank. Heather uses online racing sites to find and choose races in which she wants to participate.
During the season— Feb. to Sept.— Heather travels to races and attends a practice day before the race day to become comfortable with the tracks. This year, Heather has her schedule full, racing with two different type of legend cards, a sedan and coupe. Heather races road courses with her sedan car and circle tracks with her coupe car. She hopes to hit the tracks every weekend when she isn’t competing, either with her car or kart.
Heather always had the drive in her to achieve even more. Not only does she race two different types of cars, she races in two different karts and categories, Comer Junior 1 and Clone Junior 1 respectively.
“In 2014, Heather was the only kid in California with two different karts with two different types of engines,” Damon said.
At the 2015 KPX Karting Championships, she placed first and second, one in each type kart.
“[Racing] is very exhilaration and there’s a lot of adrenaline. For me, as soon as I enter the track, I go more into focus mode instead of my heart racing. My parents are probably more excited then me on on a raceway,” Heather said. “My mom and dad are always screaming.”
Participating in a sport that attracts prominently boys, Heather remains a minority in the racing community. According to Damon, boys will cut in front of Heather and push her kart off the course while she’s in the lead, resulting in her fair share of bruises.
“I am very proud of Heather,” Damon said. “She has been taken out quite a bit.”
In 2011, Heather flipped her go-kart and broke her arm. According to her dad, Heather handled it with maturity, calmly walking off the track and taking a knee. Unfortunately, as soon as Heather got her cast off, she was T-boned by another cart. Deciding that she needed to take a step back, she took an eight-month break from
“The boys are not mature enough to handle the speeds that they are going,” Damon said.
Along the way, her work began to be acknowledged by people beyond the raceway, receiving support from sponsors. She currently has two sponsors, Phil Joy House Moving Company, which stores her vehicles, and In Motion, a screen printing company.
With the unconditional support of her parents, Heather was the first in her family to pursue karting.
The support of her parents hasn’t escaped Heather, and she is very grateful of how much they do for her.
“[My parents] pretty much provided everything. My dad has made the commitment to racing since I’ve started because he really wants me to make a career out of racing. He pushes all of his money and stuff towards racing,” Heather said.
This year, Heather competed in her first legend car race, at Buttonwillow, on Jan 28. and 29.