DENVER – Born into a family of stock car racers, including a dad who moved to North Carolina from Texas to pursue his dreams behind the wheel, Gracie Trotter knew her way around the track long before she could drive.
“I actually grew up going to the race track with my dad because he owned his own race team,” Trotter said. “I’ve been following him around at the track since I was a little baby, and through those experiences I just fell in love with the sport. I used to beg and beg my dad to let me race when I was little.”
Her father, Tracy, was hesitant to give into her demands at first.
“I was hoping neither one of my kids would want to race because I know how hard and expensive it is,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to make it as a race car driver.”
That hesitancy subsided when he put her behind the wheel and saw how she responded to competitive racing.
“When I was around seven he took me out to the Carolina Motorsports Park (in Kershaw, S.C.) and rented a couple of go-karts,” she said. “We went out there and practiced together and he actually spun me out one time to see if I could handle it. There was a bunch of dust and dirt flying everywhere, and he actually thought he hurt me, so he came running over and I told him that it was fun and I wanted to do it again.” About a year later he bought Trotter a go-kart.
Trotter, now 17, has risen from the ranks of go-kart racing to become a member of the Toyota Racing Driver Development program.
“Toyota kind of sought me out,” Trotter explained. “This guy named James Bickford, who’s actually Jeff Gordon’s cousin, he used to help me out by working on my Legends car. He knew somebody that was connected with Toyota, and that guy told him that they were looking for a female driver. He was impressed by my driving and made some phone calls, and then all of a sudden a couple weeks later I get a call from Toyota wanting me to come out to California to test one of their Late Model cars.”
Toyota Racing put Trotter behind the wheel of her own Late Model car the following year.
The move turned Trotter’s life upside down. She had to leave her Denver home behind and opt for online classes rather than finishing her final years at Lincoln Charter School.
“It’s been hard,” she said. “It was just two years ago when racing really started to pick up for me, and with that I’ve had to spend more time at the shop and more weekends at the race track throughout the year. Because of that I was missing a lot of days and having to attend Saturday school, so after 10th grade we decided that I should enroll in online classes, which are actually a little harder, I think.”
While it’s been a whirlwind, and the transition has been difficult at times, she said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I enjoy it because I get to spend more time around the guys at the shop learning about race cars,” Trotter continued. “I’m here almost every day. I train in the morning over at the Toyota performance gym, and then I come to the shop to get my schoolwork done and help wherever I’m needed.”
The transition wasn’t limited to her personal life, however. Trotter also had to adjust to driving a different style of race car. She graduated from go-karts to racing Bandoleros, and then she moved up to racing Legends cars, which she still does when she’s not racing her Super Late Model Toyota Camry.
“Transitioning to driving Super Late Model cars was actually very difficult at first,” she said. “Moving from my little tiny Legends car with 155 horsepower to a big Super Late Model with almost 700 horsepower, it was very hard feeling out the car to know where my nose and rear bumper are, and I’m still learning today.”
Trotter’s also all too familiar with the challenges of being a female driver in a male-dominated sport.
“Usually the boys don’t like getting beat by a girl,” she said. “I get a lot of crap from the guys sometimes, and it’s tough, but it’s not so bad at the same time because none of that stuff matters when we put our helmets on and get out there on the race track.”
And she has won five times since joining the Late Model ranks.
For Trotter, who is just a year removed from receiving her driver’s license, the next step in her progression would likely be the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, which has featured household names like Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. in the past.
Regardless of where her career takes her, Trotter’s love for the sport will always harken back to the weekends spent at the race track as a child by her father’s side.
“I just love the adrenaline that comes with being at the track for a race weekend,” she said. “Racing has always been my favorite thing ever since I was little.”