At every racetrack Gracie Trotter goes to with her dad, the two have a moment where they just sit back and ask “Did you ever think we’d be here today?”
The 2020 season was surreal to Trotter, and she said the success she saw still hadn’t hit her. Trotter won in the ARCA Menards Series West, and was the only driver in the series to finish in the top 10 in all 11 races this year. She also won another late model race at her home track, Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina.
Trotter was also this year’s recipient of the 2020 Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award, an annual award given to an outstanding minority or female driver in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series, as chosen by a committed and nominated by drivers, crew members, and track operators based on the driver’s finals standings in the top 500 drivers, as well as on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.
The 2020 Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award Winner is @gracietrotter11!
– NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) December 3, 2020
Trotter was just the second female to win a race in the West Series, and the fourth to win a late model race at Hickory. She has driven for Rev Racing and is part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program.
“That means a lot to me,” Trotter said of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award. “I’ve seen a couple of my teammates over the last few years win that award.
“Being a part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program has been awesome. They’ve helped me with my career on and off the track, building a family over at Rev Racing and part of the diversity program. It’s just a big family over there and everyone does everything to help you out. They’ve been a huge part of my journey in the racing world and I couldn’t be more grateful for that in NASCAR.”
The 19-year-old Trotter is a Toyota Racing Development driver, and has seen how much of an emphasis the company puts on finding diverse drivers.
“They’re trying to get more females and minorities into the sport which is really good,” she said. “What I’m hoping, and what everyone else is, is that eventually it’ll become a norm and it won’t be talked about, that it’s not normal for females to be in the sport.”
Trotter has been racing since she was eight years old, but this year, to her, was the turning point where the sport went from just a childhood hobby to a potential career. Her first year with TRD in 2016 felt like she was stepping into something bigger, but racing ARCA this year what when racing felt like it clicked.
The North Carolina resident raced on the west coast for the first time, running with Bill McAnally Racing, and started the season strong, coming away with fourth and third place finishes before the season was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.
H I S T O R Y@gracietrotter11 is first female winner in ARCA Racing
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) September 26, 2020
The season wasn’t all highs, though. The pandemic made it tough for Trotter to get comfortable in a new series with a new team. She didn’t get to the west coast for more than two months, spending most of her time iRacing, which was good practice but far from the real thing.
“Spending time away from the team, that kind of hurt a lot,” she said. “And going back only having 30 minutes to an hour in practice… Doing that in my rookie year definitely hurt me a lot, especially since none of these track I’d ever been to. So learning new tracks that quickly and trying to communicate with your crew chief and team, it’s hard to get to know each other and get to know these cars when you don’t have much practice time and you’re trying to rush.
“That definitely hurt a lot, but I felt like me and the team really executed as well as we could with what we were given.”
It was a second trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway where Trotter saw her luck turn. She first competed at Vegas in 2017 in a Legends car, so going back this year in ARCA made the track seem smaller and more manageable.
“In a legends car it felt like Daytona,” she said.
The first time racing at Vegas was a struggle, but fun nonetheless.
“I was like, ‘I really like this track in an ARCA car. Next time we come here we’re definitely going to go win,'” she said.
With other tracks canceling races, the ARCA Series returned to Vegas in late September. Trotter started the race ninth after struggling to find the right speed in practice.
She got together with her team and worked out the kinks, and in the end Trotter’s predictions came true, scoring a victory over her BMR teammates.
“It’s just special to me because I had my dad there with me and also my longtime crew chief that has crew chiefed me in super late models and late model stocks,” Trotter said. “He was there on the radio with me talking to me throughout the race, so it was really special to have both of them there because those are the two people who have helped me most with my career and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for those two.”
Even though Trotter raced across the country in new series with a new team, she learned how to deal with frustrations on and off the track.
“There was a lot of that this year with it being short practice and we’re having to rush trying to get the car better. It’s always going to get frustrating,” she said. “So that’s one thing you have to look for. Once you’re out on the track for a race everyone has what they have and you have to go out there and race with the best ability you can. I’ve got to go out there with the best me I can give to the team and everybody there.
“That’s my biggest thing, is even though you’re frustrated and it’s not going good, you’ll have more bad days than good. You have to go out there with a clear mind and give yourself the best you.”
Trotter’s family connection to the track was also solidified on September 17 when she won at Hickory, the place her dad raced when he first moved to North Carolina. Winning at Hickory gave her a chance to get to victory lane in front of family who has been there from the beginning.
WINNERS at @hickoryspeedway I can’t thank my team of guys enough, Bond Suss, Gary Huffman, Joe Cipriano, my dad for making this happen and everyone at Toyota and @RevRacin who have believed in me, @jackirvingjr , Trent Rodriguez, David Wilson, Tyler Gibbs, Matt Bucher, Mark Green pic.twitter.com/RrjjZmH67i
– Gracie Trotter (@gracietrotter11) September 14, 2020
It also helped her win at the track where it all started for her, and proved she’s where she needs to be, but there is still work to be done.
“My dad told me, ‘If you want to make racing a career, I can get you to the front gates of Hickory Motor Speedway and you can race my old late model and we can race that once a month or so. That’s all I can do for you, but if you want to go racing for your career you’re going to have to work for the rest of it.'” she said.
“TRD has given me a really great opportunity every year, so I just have to keep performing my best and they keep having me on the team.”
Finishing 2020 with two wins boosted Trotter’s confidence as she continues to move through the second phase of her racing career.
While she can relish in the victories and accolades, this season was also a reminder of why she started racing in the first place.
“It makes you realize why you do it,” she said. “Because the feeling of winning is like no other feeling that I’ve ever experienced. Just winning, the competition, the challenge of the racing, when you go out there you have to be the best you can and it all comes down to the talent, and also what you have in your car too. But once you put your mind to it, the challenges. That’s what I love about it.”