It’s Never Too Late to Make a Change, Part 1: Heather Hadley Reflects on First Mazda MX-5 Cup Season

By Heather Hadley


A little over a year ago, I had my sights set on NASCAR.

I wanted to go late-model racing at the biggest short track events of the year. I had already started calling teams to get an idea of pricing and when I could start. I gathered all the information I could and compared it to our budget.

Then I realized that my plan, the one I had moved to Charlotte, NC for, was not going to work. I knew I needed to make a change.

I began looking into other options I could pursue and drew inspiration from IMSA drivers at the PitFit Training facility in Cornelius, NC. I asked them how they started in IMSA to get to where they are now, and almost all of them gave the same answer: The Mazda MX-5 Cup series.

They explained how challenging the series is. And how it’s crucial to driver development to spend as much time with the series as possible.

After doing a fair bit of research on the Mazda MX-5 Cup series and on the car itself, I was ecstatic. It was everything I could want in a series.

I decided my next step would be to attend the MX-5 Cup shootout and contend for the Women’s Initiative Scholarship, an opportunity that could change the trajectory of my racing career entirely.

I showed up to the 2022 MX-5 Cup Shootout with one test session under my belt and with one major goal: to learn as much as I could and make progress over the course of the two days.

My background is primarily in Legend Cars, so my biggest hurdle would be adapting to an entirely different type of car and corresponding discipline. But the various coaching sessions we had over the two days – with industry professionals like Tom Long and Andrew Carbonell – proved to be extremely valuable. I was able to make significant progress and put down some strong laps times.

With the help of everyone at Mazda Motorsports and Flis Performance, I became the Women’s Initiative Scholarship recipient for the 2023 season in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup series presented by BFGoodrich Tires!

Suddenly my hard work was paying off, and my spontaneous decision to switch to road racing looked like it might have been a good one.

Rounds 1 & 2: Daytona International Speedway
The Mazda MX-5 season started out with the biggest event of the year, the highly-anticipated Rolex 24 at Daytona.

It was nothing like the test event we had just weeks before. This time, it was completely filled with spectators, eagerly awaiting IMSA’s biggest endurance race of the year on Sunday. This meant there were quite a few more cars joining us on track for practice of their own.

In race one, I had gotten up to pace, but quickly found out how important the draft is. I spent almost all of the 45-minute competition by myself after losing the cars ahead of me. So I knew I needed to switch things up for the second race.

In race two, I was immediately more aggressive and began making passes. But later in the race, after having made my way up to 17th (from 25th), I got collected in an accident. However, even with an unlucky end to the weekend, I was happy to have made my way onto the podium in my first professional race. I stood proudly with the Top-Finishing Female Award!

Rounds 3 & 4: The Streets of St. Petersburg, FL
The second race weekend was our only event of the year with the NTT IndyCar Series. Racing on a street course would be a new experience for me, but I made progress through the weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Starting the first race from 25th, my primary objective was to move up through the field. Because this course is so narrow, my plan was to remain patient and capitalize on any mistakes made by the drivers ahead of me. Thankfully my strategy seemed to pay off because, slowly but surely, I was able to make passes and fight my way up the field. I finished the race in 19th. It wasn’t where I wanted to be, but it put me in a better starting position for the second race.

After starting 21st in race two, I picked up my first top-ten finish! Overall, the weekend was one of my favorites of the year. There were so many excited fans, and the racetrack location was so beautiful and unique. I made lots of memories that I will cherish forever.


Ready to read more about the rest of my MX-5 Cup season? Stay tuned for Part II, coming

How Social Media Revved Up My Racing Career

by Sabré Cook

In the realm of motorsports, the pursuit of a professional career on the racetrack has always been synonymous with a relentless demand for financial backing. While not unlike traditional sports where dedication, consistency and perseverance can often propel individuals toward success, the world of racing requires additional financial resources that won’t allow for success without it.

For example, imagine you want to play basketball for your local team. You’ll need to practice and train as much as possible to ensure you will be at your best. Your goal is to make the team and help them win games. But what if the cost of acquiring a basketball and proper shoes, combined with the court rental fees, amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars just to practice?

And what if you couldn’t afford that substantial sum to practice, but other players did have enough financial resources? You could decide to work incredibly hard anyway, studying game footage, working out in the gym, completing mental and reaction training. You could do everything you could afford to and yet never get to actually practice the game of basketball. As a result, when tryouts come along, you don’t make the team.

No matter how much passion you have, how hard you worked off the court, you didn’t get to practice the game and therefore can’t become a great basketball player. So what happens if professional basketball is your dream and you want it more than you want to breathe?

You find a way to raise the money to practice.

Sponsorship Beginnings

Thankfully, I was blessed to have a family that helped me get started in karting and found creative business solutions to keep me advancing as I progressed.

Then at the age of 12, I started learning about sponsorship and how to
acquire it. My father is a former professional motocross and supercross rider, so he knew what it was like to canvas for sponsorships and partnerships. However, the differences in cost between motorcycle racing and car racing were substantial, and the sponsorship and technological resources were ever-changing.

Together, my father and I tried, failed, learned and tried again on how to navigate the process of getting and keeping sponsorship.

Slowly, I began to acquire product sponsorships, then smaller cash sponsorships, and hard-earned prize money from winning pro kart races. However, nothing was substantial enough for me to do a car race.

Through family and network connections, I was introduced to an amazing individual that had his own car and race team. He came to watch me in a karting race. When I won, that was it. He offered to put me into one of his race cars!

So in April 2017, I finally did my first car race at Summit Point Raceway in the Sports Car Club of America series.

Now that I had a taste of what had been my dream for so long, I knew I was going to have to find a way to stay in the driver’s seat and achieve my goals. So, that’s what I did. Through lots of trial and error, challenges, mentorship from amazing people, failing and trying again, I began to acquire larger and larger sponsorships, and understand how to bring substantial value to my partners.

As I look back though, there’s one key component that I wish I would’ve focused on much sooner: Social media.

Social Media – A Irreplaceable Tool in Today’s Sponsorship Landscape

When I was younger, social media just wasn’t the powerhouse it is today.

And aside from being a race car driver, I’m a mechanical engineer. Which means I’m a Type A, analytical, introverted person by nature. So the idea of consistently posting my life on social media had my skin crawling.

With complete transparency, I can say it’s still not an activity I particularly enjoy doing. But that’s life! Doing things that drag us out of our comfort zone, things we don’t like to do, are actions we must endure to achieve our goals.

I made every excuse in the book trying to get out of it.

”It’s a waste of time. I have more important steps to take to be successful. It’s so vain. It takes too much time. It feels so frivolous. It’s not serious work and I want people to take me seriously. I should use the time to focus on more important things.”

In this day and age though, social media is important. It’s vital to your brand, and it’s one of the most powerful and free tools you have. For those of you trying to raise money and making the excuse you don’t have the time or money to invest in it, you literally can’t afford not to.

Just start. You don’t need a fancy camera or a team of people to help posting and editing. You just have to start and be consistent, like any activity you want to get better at.

Think of your social media platforms as a magazine or portfolio that’s completely free for you to create. This portfolio can be seen globally by potential sponsors, partners and fans. It shows them the value you can bring and highlights your personality.

These are the top benefits I’ve discovered from utilizing social media as an athlete:

1. Build Your Brand.

The first step in sponsorship is understanding your brand and your brand values. That way you know which companies best match up. Then, by posting regularly on social media, you can give your personal brand true depth. Rather than just saying that one of your values is “hard work,” you can show fans and companies how hard you’re working through genuine content. As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.”

2. Expand Your Network.

Certain social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, create an unbelievable opportunity to connect to business professionals. Through your sponsorship research, you’ll decide on the companies you’d like to connect with. Then, use professional social media platforms to connect with some of the key decision-makers or C-suite employees. Work on starting the conversation and building the relationship until you’re in a position to discuss a partnership. One of my largest partnerships this season was sparked from a LinkedIn connection!

3. Grow Your Fanbase.

There are 4.9 billion social media users worldwide. There’s no other free resource where you can connect to that many people and share your story. Think about how many people you can inspire and include in your journey. The more fans and followers you have, the more value you bring to a potential sponsor. One of the first questions I get asked by potential sponsors is, “How many followers do you have?” Also, the bigger fan base you have, the more people will be excited to purchase your branded merchandise.

4. Drive Additional Income.

Influencer and brand ambassador roles are extremely common these days. As an athlete or driver, don’t be afraid to engage with brands that might be looking to do social media promotion with you, but not direct sponsorship on your racing program.

Social media can be a great “trial run” for them to see how you fit into their brand and how you bring value to them. Getting paid for social media promos is an additional source of income to help cover living expenses. The less you have to travel for work, or work typical 8-5 hours, the more time you have to find companies to partner with on your racing program. And the more time you have to test, practice and train to improve your on-track performance!

5. Analyze Consumer Insights.

Posting your own content and then observing how your followers respond to it is a

great way to learn what people like or what you can improve. It expands your understanding of how to connect with your audience. Many social media platforms have insight tools that let you collect valuable data for your partners and sponsors. This helps them understand how to better engage with their desired demographic, which is another selling point for your partnerships!

6. Express Yourself and Gain Media Practice.

Brainstorming and producing content is always a creative challenge. It teaches you to keep an open mind, and consider others’ perspectives and wants. Understanding how to optimize what would engage a consumer – and how a company wants to present their product – takes great creativity at times. Plus, being in front of a camera, learning to present, paying attention to the details on how to convey information are all key media skills you will need to be a successful professional in sport and business. Companies love well-spoken representatives!

7. Showcase Your Partnerships.

Your current partners love it when you promote them to your loyal followers and fans. Social media is the easiest and most effective way to do that. Plus, showing you have loyal partners that you actively work with instills confidence, and intrigues other brands that might want to work with you.

Use Your Resources – All of Them!

The marketing, business, media, and communication tools you learn from social media and sponsorship work are invaluable. Think of it as an all-encompassing business internship. These skills will transfer to so many other aspects of life after racing. It’s the best hands-on education you can get, all while pursuing your passion!

Our job as drivers and athletes is to adapt, and create the best result possible with whatever situation and resources we have. Social media is a resource. So why not use it?

The addition of focused social media efforts has proven to be a transformative force to generate partnerships in my professional racing career. Social media has challenged me to innovate, and taught me the power of strategic growth and promotion. This tool that I was initially so resistant to has become a medium through which I inspire, engage, and propel my racing aspirations forward.

Loni Unser’s Pikes Peak Blog

The Pikes Peak Hill Climb is one of the most iconic and challenging races in the world. The 12.42-mile course climbs 4,720 feet to the summit of Pikes Peak, testing the limits of both man and machine. The race consists of 156 turns, narrow switchbacks, and treacherous drops, making it one of the most demanding challenges any driver can face.

Despite the difficulty, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb draws thousands of fans from around the world who come to cheer on their favorite drivers and soak up the atmosphere. There’s an energy at the race that’s hard to describe – a mix of excitement, adrenaline and camaraderie. The fans are as passionate as they come, camping overnight in the freezing-cold mountain temperatures to cheer everyone to the top.

Back in early 2023, during the off-season, I knew I wanted to race the Pikes Peak Hill Climb for a second year in a row, but I was unsure about what car to compete in. Honestly, the winter months are stressful for many drivers, as it’s the time of year that we’re trying to figure out what we will drive in the coming season.

One day during my winter break, I was contemplating what to do. While sitting in my childhood home and watching the snow fall, I got a call that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Acura wanted me to drive for them in at the 2023 Pikes Peak Hill Climb!

They wanted to make their very popular anime series called Chiaki’s Journey, created and produced by Acura, come to life. And they wanted me to be the real-life Chiaki! Of course, I immediately said yes. From that day on I had one job to do: Make it to the top of Pikes Peak, successfully and very quickly.

Preparations for the Hill Climb began immediately, and I now had the honor of racing and helping develop the new Acura Integra Type S for the first time ever, and let me tell you, I did not take that job lightly. I was so proud to be representing Acura and HPD Racing.

As you may know, I come from a long line of racing legends, including my grandfather, Jerry, and my great uncles, Bobby and Al, who are all in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb Hall of Fame. I was grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to continue the Unser family legacy, and in my first ever, factory-supported race.

I knew I had big shoes to fill.

The entire month of June became dedicated to the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, and it all went on without a hitch. The only battles we had were with mother nature, when the final round of qualifying was delayed by fog.

In the end, I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face. The car performed flawlessly and so did my team of engineers at HPD. I’m very proud of what I accomplished and I’m ready to compete at the Pikes Peak Hill climb for many more years to come.

To all the fans who came out to support me and all the other drivers at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb this year, thank you. You made this a race to remember.

I also want to thank my amazing sponsors: Yokohama Tire, Mobil 1, Hagerty and Speedway Motors. Their support and expertise were instrumental in helping me perform at my best and achieve my goals. I couldn’t have done it without them and am grateful for their ongoing commitment to my racing journey.

I’m looking to break records on the mountain in years to come, with the ultimate hope of becoming the second-ever Queen of the Mountain. Until then, keep shifting up!