September 9, 2019 By Maryann Jones Thompson
Senior year is an exciting time for most teens and Heather “The Heat” Hadley is no exception: The Corte Madera 17-year-old semi-pro driver is training for the U.S. Legends Cars International championships in Georgia in November.
“This year has been like no other,” says Hadley, who became the first female to win Las Vegas’ Silver State Winter Nationals in February. “It was the best day of my life, for sure.”
While driving up to 130 mph on a track with up to 60 other cars is not a problem for Hadley, making it to campus for all her classes at Redwood High School was more challenging.
“There are six or seven race tracks within an hour or so of here but lots of drivers end up moving to North Carolina or the Midwest because there is more racing available,” says Hadley, who switched to independent study at Tamiscal High School for her senior year. “But I started young so I’ve always had to balance racing and school.”
Hadley drove go-carts at a friend’s birthday party when she was 9. But she was good — really good — and quickly became on the fastest amateur racers around.
Though racing did not run in the family, Hadley’s mom Jenny Vance soon realized driving would not just be a hobby. Her daughter’s passion for speed led her to outdoor carting championships at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma and other regional tracks, before her move to “legend cars,” replicas of older American cars powered by a motorcycle engine.
She ultimately landed Benicia’s Phil Joy as a sponsor and Robert Gayton as a coach, and she now leads the world in semi-pro road course and touring points.
“I was a nervous wreck when Heather first started racing at Sonoma but she told me, ‘Mom, I got this,’” Vance said.
Vance later rode with Hadley on the race track, witnessed her skill first hand and became less nervous. “Now I worry more about her on the streets than on the track, with all the texting and driving.”
While local families are no strangers to the demands of youth sports and hobbies, legend car driving is rare. “Living in Marin, it can be hard to explain the ‘other world’ of racing because it is so vast and different,” says Hadley, who is grateful for her family and friends who have supported her over the years and continue to cheer her on.
“You can take so many paths in racing. I’m open to anything but my ultimate goal would be NASCAR,” says Hadley, who plans to go pro next year, race late-model cars in two years and then move to the NASCAR K&N stock car circuit. “But really, I just want to be in racing for the rest of my life and make a career out of it.”