It’s Never Too Late to Make a Change, Part II

December 7, 2023

By: Heather Hadley

In case you missed it, I’ve been reflecting on my first season in the Mazda MX-5 Cup series, and you can check out Part I here to get caught up!

Rounds 5 & 6: WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca holds a special place in my heart because it was the first place I ever collaborated with Mazda. Back in 2014, when I was 12 years old and racing go- karts, Mazda invited me to speak at the SCCA Runoffs banquet held at Laguna Seca.

I spent the weekend meeting people with Mazda Motorsports, exploring the paddock, and even did a lap in the MX-5 pace car! Seeing Laguna Seca on the schedule this year meant that my journey with Mazda had come full circle. And with it being so close to home, my family and friends could come out to watch!

As happy as I was to race at Laguna Seca this year, the track did not welcome me very nicely. I struggled all weekend, in practice, qualifying and both races. But I won’t become a better racing driver without finding those points of weakness and working on them, so I’m glad it was something that I could practice this year. Most importantly, I improved over the weekend, finishing 21st in race one and 17th in race two.

Rounds 7 & 8: Watkins Glen International

Watkins Glen is another track I am so grateful we visited this year. Filled with undulations, distinct corners, and a beautiful surrounding landscape, I knew the experience would be hard to forget. Because Watkins Glen is a very fast track without many hard-braking corners, making a mistake anywhere guarantees the loss of a few seconds, heightened even more if you fall out of a draft. I struggled with learning this in race one, but progressed over the weekend, and ended up with my second top-15 finish of the year in race two.

Rounds 9 & 10: Road America

Road America was easily my favorite weekend of the year. The track had recently been repaved which seemed to create an even playing field because nobody had previous data for reference. I really enjoyed the layout of the racetrack and adapted quickly. By this point in the year, I also felt much more comfortable in the car and as a result, I was able to be more aggressive. I finished up the weekend with two top-15 finishes, including my second top-10. Plus, I earned my sixth and seventh Top-Finishing Female Awards of the year.

Rounds 11 & 12: VIRginia International Raceway

VIRginia International Raceway was one of the tracks I was almost certain I was going to struggle with this year. With the extreme heat and the narrowness of the track, success at VIR is no easy feat. Thankfully the team and I tested there a few weeks prior to race weekend, which allowed me some track time. Nonetheless, the race weekend still presented its challenges. There is still lots of room for improvement, but I was happy to have stood on the podium both days with the Top-Finishing Female Award!

Rounds 13 & 14: Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta

The season finale this year was held at Road Atlanta, which has been tradition for the Mazda MX-5 Cup series since 2021. The weekend started out well with my fifth top-15 finish of the year and my tenth Top-Finishing Female Award. I was happy with this result but hungry for more. I knew I had the pace to be in the top 10 but had fallen out of my drafting pack after I misjudged another car entering the track and lifted.

Unfortunately, an incident only a few laps into race two meant the potential I believe I had didn’t come to fruition after. I made an aggressive but risky move in turn 12, and found myself four tires off into the dirt. Luckily, the other driver and I walked away unharmed, but it was a disappointing way to end the season.

As much as I wish the season had a different ending, I still have a lot to be proud of from this year. My rookie season in the Mazda MX-5 Cup Series was some of the most exciting and challenging racing I have ever had the privilege to be a part of. Racing with a sanctioning body like IMSA and competing at tracks that I previously had only ever experienced from home, is a dream come true.

Although I am proud of my efforts from this year and my decision to change to road racing, none of this would have been possible without the generosity and kindness of Mazda, the partners of the MX-5 Cup series, and Shift Up Now. I am so appreciative of Mazda awarding me the Women’s Initiative Scholarship last year and providing continuous support all year long. I also want to thank Shift Up Now for awarding me one of the first grants from the Shift Up Now Foundation for our final event at Road Atlanta. It was so special to have an organization which I have admired for years on the car, and I hope to continue working together in the future!

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