By Phil Whipple,
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By: LAD Photography
KEMP, Texas — A great deal has been written about the need to have young racers fall in love with short track racing. Every one of us now getting a little gray in the beard or long in the tooth realize without a next generation of racers, our sport comes to a screeching halt within a matter of years.
Up in north Texas, there's a young man who exemplifies how young athletes can not only get involved in our sport, they can excel, as well. For 12-year-old Jett Hefti, the USRA Tuner division is his training ground. It's where he's honing his skills for tomorrow, and he's put in an absolutely amazing season.
In 37 starts, this naturally-talented young man has earned 13 wins, 32 top-five and 35 top-10 finishes. He's leading the point standings at Superbowl Speedway in Greenville while competing against some of the best 4-cylinder drivers in his area. It's tough to grasp when you consider his age.
“My Dad works on my car every week to make sure it's fast and safe, so I can go out and just focus on my driving,” Hefti said. “With no worries about the car, I just try to pass other cars and not make any mistakes. This season has been pretty good for us, thanks to my Dad and everybody who helps us out.”
This young man has already learned to appreciate what he has. He's a friend to most everybody in the pit areas where he competes, and just like the adults, he enjoys mingling with other drivers.
“I like to talk to folks in the pits on race nights, yes sir,” Hefti quickly said when asked about his race day routine. “I'll hang out and chat until it's time for Hot Laps, but then I have a job to do. With Dad working so hard to prepare every week, I want to do the best I can out there. And I just love to race.”
Jackie Hefti, Jett's Dad, is a lifelong racer with a ton of pride in his son's achievements, and rightfully so. Jackie raced for 20 years himself, and will compete with his son at some point in the future.
“I'm a lifelong racer, so my kids have all grown up exposed to it,” the elder Hefti said. “When I drove back in the day it was Bomber cars, then Street Stocks, followed by a stint in Factory Stock. I've won seven or eight championships, and I'm only eight races away from earning my 100th career feature win.
“When Jett was nine years old, he took an interest in racing. I had started an entry-level Tuner class over at 85 Speedway, or what's now called Big O. I bought him a cheap car, and right out of the box, he won five or six races but tore up a lot of stuff. When he turned 10, I built him a little nicer car.”
From there, the progression to what Jett is achieving today has been mercuric, to say the least.
“When Jett started driving that improved second car, he won about every time out,” Jackie continued. “About halfway through that year, he became very bored with it and told me he'd lost interest. That hit me pretty hard, because I'm going to race until I draw my last breath. To think Jett was done really hurt.
“He didn't know how to say it, but I finally got it out of him that he was tired of winning. So we sat out a few weeks, and I told him I was going to take him out and let him compete against the adults. I wanted to see what he felt about racing after doing that. Last year, he ran at Buffalo Creek and RPM.”
Here's where folks started to notice the kid's oval prowess, and from there – it was off to the races.
“I registered him with the USRA, who unlike IMCA will allow kids his age a chance to compete,” Jackie continued. “He raced six weeks last year, won a Heat race, and never finished out of the top four. So I sold that car, and called my buddy Frank Lackey that races at Kennedale Speedway.
“I told him how Jett would be going for USRA Tuner Rookie-of-the-Year this year, and that I needed a real nice car. Frank built me a very solid, safe car. I had no clue on these cars; it's been a learn-as-you-go process for us. I was racing with Jett at first, but parked my car when I saw where this was going.”
You may read the statistics above and immediately think the level of competition in this class is weak. How can a kid that age rack up those kind of numbers at multiple tracks and win a National title? The answer is right in front of our eyes. Yes, the competition is stiff, but Jett has what it takes to prevail.
“My son is very determined when he gets in a race car,” Jackie added. And not all of he adults he races against are thrilled by how often he wins. So we hear allegations of cheating a lot. I assure you, I would never put my son in a situation like that. He got DQ'd on a simple thing, then had to learn to move on.”
Jett has his feelings on the tracks where he races, and says some present a different challenge to drive.
“Buffalo Creek is kind of small, and usually a little rough,” he said. “But it's the same for everybody, so I just deal with it and race. I have a great time at RPM, that's a fun track with a smooth racing surface.”
Along with his immense natural talent behind the wheel and a super-supportive family, Jett also has a few other supporters who make his program so consistently competitive and incredibly successful.
“We need to thank some people for supporting Jett in his efforts this year,” Jackie said. “We would like to thank my entire family, my Mom and my Dad, for all they do; his Mom, for allowing him to do all of this; Kaine Buckmeyer, with Buckmeyer Motorsports; Jammin'; Jimmy at Culver Motorsports; Shane Priddy, with Priddy Farms in Abilene; East Texas Towing; Hjn Freight, LLC, out of Terrell; Jeff Moore at five1seven Designs; Superior Glass; Jeff Hammitt and family at Patriot Racing, and Frank Lackey.”
With this USRA National Rookie title about locked up, (final National points will be tallied after the big USRA Nationals on Oct. 7-9 at Lucas Oil Speedway, Jett will be there) it's time for his next move.
“Jett will be driving a Junior Limited in 2022,” Jackie concluded. “We're done with Tuners, now he needs to learn how to drive a rear-wheel-drive car. This was a great place to get him started, he sure learned a ton in this division. I'm just very proud of all he's accomplished, and excited for his future.”