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June 8, 2022

Scott Heckert balances being engineer, race car driver as he sets sights on Sonoma

Meg Oliphant | Getty Images
Meg Oliphant
Getty Images

Over the past few years, road-course ringer Scott Heckert has figured out his path in racing. While it wasn’t ideal, he’s accepted the unexpected.

In 2014 and 2015, Heckert was on the list of potential drivers that could break out in NASCAR. Driving in the then-K&N Pro Series East for HScott Motorsports, the Connecticut native won four races, three of which were on road courses.

RELATED: Scott Heckert driver stats | Xfinity Series results

Although Heckert labels himself a road-course ringer, it’s a tad odd in a way.

“I’ve probably done more oval racing,” Heckert told ahead of the inaugural Xfinity Series race at Portland. “Growing up, the first few things I did was go-kart racing and it was all road-course racing. I just have a knack for it, and it’s what I feel I’m more akin to.”

After his final two K&N wins in 2015, Heckert’s racing career took a turn. At the time, he believed the strength of the series was dwindling. In 2016, he made three NASCAR starts total, in a partnership with BJ McLeod Motorsports and Rick Ware Racing.

At the same time, Heckert fully switched over to road racing, competing in IMSA. As part of the Pirelli World Challenge GTS Series, he picked up two wins. The following season, he raced overseas in the Blancpain GT Endurance Series in a Mercedes-AMG GT3. He returned to IMSA for the 2018 season with Lone Star Racing.

“Those came up because of the strong performances I had on road courses in a stock car,” Heckert said. “It’s been a little bit back and forth, finding the opportunities that present themselves.”

Also in 2018, Heckert competed in a trio of Xfinity races for BJMM, including his oval debut at Chicagoland. His relationship with BJ McLeod dates to the early 2010s, when McLeod was an instructor at FinishLine Racing School in Florida.

Admittedly, McLeod isn’t the best road-course racer, so when an opportunity arises to put Heckert in one of his cars, he’s all over it.

“It’s nice to have a winning driver get in your car and drive it for what it’s worth,” McLeod said, “and it allows us to see where we’re at as a team and try to get better because we know what he’s telling us is what we need to do to try to be successful.”

Heckert, who has never run more than three Xfinity races in a season, was ready for more. He approached McLeod last year and came up with a five-race schedule that would keep everybody happy.

“We picked these because it fit within my day job schedule. I’ve known BJ for a long time; he was my first foray into full-body stock car racing in a super late model. It’s one of those examples of being good to the people who are good to you.”

During the week, Heckert can be found inside the confines of JR III Racing’s shop in Mooresville, N.C. There, he is one of the team’s engineers for its LMP3 cars in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Series.

While competing in the K&N Pro Series, Heckert attended Miami University in Ohio to earn an engineering degree. He feels as though having additional information can help him on the racing front.

“I like the mechanical side of things and have always felt like it helps me as a driver,” Heckert said. “My driving helps me as an engineer because you can correlate the two and understand when you’re driving what the engineer is going through, and when you’re the engineer you can connect with what the driver is feeling.”

Two years ago, Heckert was an engineer on Hailie Deegan’s ARCA Menards car for David Gilliland Racing. The only issue was, he still wanted to race.

“If you’re a NASCAR engineer, it’s really hard to also take advantage of your racing because you’re gone so many weekends,” Heckert said. “I wear a lot of hats at the (JR III) shop. That keeps me super busy, and luckily the owner over there — Billy Glavin — he’s a racer through and through and worked for Hendrick at one point. He gets it, so he’s very understanding and flexible. If I need to come race Portland or Indy, he’s supportive. It’s been a cool combination.”

Last weekend at Portland, Heckert stayed out of trouble and tied his best career Xfinity finish of 13th. This weekend at Sonoma, he will pilot the No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports entry to make his first Cup start of the season.

“He’s been successful in cars that are somewhat similar (to the Next Gen), not as heavy, but have a lot of the same tools to work with,” McLeod added. “We’re excited to see what his feedback is and how he can help the team with and make the road course program better.”

As for the future, Heckert has hit a nice balance in his lifestyle of having a full-time engineering role while getting to play around in select NASCAR races.

“I like engineering a lot, and I would love to do just as much driving as I can possibly fit in,” he stated. “I try to live at the track and drive as much as I can and have fun with whatever I’m doing. I hope for the driving side, if I can impress the right people and show that I deserve to be here, then a little more driving wouldn’t hurt anything.”