When they start playing a sport, most young athletes have a similar goal: To become good enough to play in the pros.
Those dreams are usually fleeting, as the young athletes come to understand just how difficult and rare it is to reach the highest levels. By the time they are college age, the majority of people have stopped playing sports competitively and are focused on other more realistic career paths.
Not Scott Heckert. His pro sports dreams are just beginning.
Heckert, a 2011 Ridgefield High graduate, is entering his junior year at Miami of Ohio, where he is studying engineering. But he also has another passion, racing cars, that requires weekend travel and understanding professors.
The 20-year-old Heckert is in his first season competing in the K&N Pro Series East, a regional stock car racing series owned and operated by NASCAR. In NASCAR’s ladder system, the K&N Pro Series is in the fourth rung from the top, behind the Sprint Cup Series, the Nationwide Series, and the Camping World Cup Series.
Several former Pro Series drivers, including Joey Logano, Ricky Craven and Martin Truex, Jr., have gone on to compete at the highest level, and Heckert is hoping to follow their path.
“That’s the dream,” said Heckert. “It may take about five years, but I want to get there.”
Heckert has been behind the wheel since age eight, when he began racing go-karts at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk.
“My dad did some amateur racing himself, and right from the start I loved it,” said Heckert. “I’ve always been really passionate about racing. The thrill of speed and competition has kept me hooked.”
“One interesting fact about Scott is that since he was very little, all he wanted to be was a race car driver and he played constantly with Matchbox cars,” said his mom, Kathy. “So he has been thinking about this for a really long time.”
Heckert continued racing go-karts while a student at Ridgefield High before transitioning to open-wheel school cars in the Skip Barber regional and national road racing series. In 2012, he moved up to full-bodied stock cars, partnering with BJ McLeod Motorsports and winning the Bright House Challenge Series Rookie of the Year award with a number of top-five finishes.
The latest jump came earlier this year, when Heckert advanced into the NASCAR ranks with BJ McLeod Motorsports in the K&N Pro Series East. Heckert’s best finish in the K&N Pro Series came on June 22, when he placed 15th at the Langley Speedway in Virginia.
“It’s been exciting,” said Heckert, who has raced on several Sprint Cup Series tracks. “It’s an adjustment, but everything is going well.”
Heckert, whose main sponsor is Project Lifesaver International, has six races left this year, including trips to the Iowa Speedway, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and the Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
“I sometimes race two or three weekends per month, so it becomes like a full-time job,” said Heckert. “The team I race for (BJ Motorsports) is constantly investing time to improve the cars and equipment.”
Although he is among the few college students competing in the K&N Pro Series, which generally ranges from ages 16-21, Heckert doesn’t mind the challenge.
“It’s a lot of time and work, but I’m enjoying it,” he said. “I’m doing something I love.”