The seeds for Gracie Trotter’s historic ARCA Menards Series West victory Saturday at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway were planted long ago, when the third-generation racer began competing in go karts at the age of 8.
But it was February of this year when the 19-year-old from Denver, North Carolina, realized the desired results.
"I really, really like this track," Trotter recalled thinking after she finished fourth in the series’ season-opener at The Bullring, her first ARCA Menards Series West start. "And I was like, ‘I want to go win it next year.’"
Little did Trotter know she would not need to wait for 2021 to return to the .375-mile paved oval track in Vegas. As part of the series’ schedule changes amid COVID-19, the General Tire 150 at The Bullring was added to the September slate.
Trotter accomplished her stated goal for Vegas ahead of schedule and, in doing so, became the first female to win an ARCA Menards Series sanctioned race. The victory came a couple weeks after Trotter took her first Late Model checkered flag driving for Rev Racing as part of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity driver development program.
And it immediately changed her life.
RELATED: What We Learned at The Bullring
"My social media’s been going crazy," said Trotter regarding the aftermath of her ARCA win. "I’ve never seen that before, ever. It kind of all happened overnight — not even overnight; it happened within like 30 minutes of everything. So it’s been pretty crazy, surreal to me. But I’m trying to take it all in as much as I can.
"Jimmie Johnson commented on my picture on Instagram, telling me congrats. So, I thought that was pretty dang cool to see that."
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WE DID IT!!! I can’t believe it, it still hasn’t hit me yet. First year in ARCA, after 8 starts we got it done in Las Vegas! Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who believed in me and supports me, @jackirvingjr and everyone at TRD and Toyota, Bill McAnally and the whole @bmr_nascar team, @eneosusa for coming on board the 99 this year , and several more!! We are on a winning streak, let’s keep it up!
Trotter’s confidence heading into Saturday’s race at The Bullring was the product of her fourth-place finish at the same track in February and subsequent strong finishes in the West Series. Through seven events, she had finished no worse than seventh and had earned five top fives.
She deflects credit for her first ARCA win, though, to those who helped make it possible.
Trotter said her #99 ENEOS Toyota was "on the tighter side" in practice, and her Bill McAnally Racing team was struggling to determine what the car needed for improvement. A complicating factor was the fact that the February race at The Bullring took place at night, and the daytime Las Vegas heat in September made for slicker track conditions.
"Whatever (crew chief) Roger (Bracken) did, he worked his magic, and that car was stout." Trotter said. "Not too often in your whole lifetime you have a perfect race car, and I can say I had a perfect race car in that race. I’ve never had one before, and I hope we can continue that. I hope we get a couple more.
"I wish we could have a perfect race car every race; it was like I didn’t even have to drive it."
RELATED: Photos from Trotter’s first ARCA win
Trotter did have to navigate her car through much of the field, of course, after she started the race ninth. She reached the lead on Lap 54 when a battle between Jesse Love and Blaine Perkins gave her an opening she might not have taken without the help of spotter Frank Deiny Jr.
"(Love and Perkins) kind of got into it coming out of the corner, and I feel like the hole opened for me. So my spotter said, ‘Go Go Go!’
"So I was like, ‘OK, I’ll just make it stick. Hopefully Jesse and Blaine can figure out what they need to figure out going three-wide, and I’ll just keep on trucking.’ So that’s what I did."
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) September 26, 2020
Trotter went on to lead 95 of 150 laps en route to her victory after leading zero through the seven prior West races. She did so while battling to retain the lead on five restarts over the last 90 laps.
"I felt like it was my worst nightmare, all those cautions when I was leading," Trotter joked.
But she executed those restarts flawlessly despite the fact that she considers green flags her biggest challenge in ARCA, where the cars are heavier and produce more horsepower than the Late Models in which she has more experience.
Trotter said Deiny helped her navigate the late-race restarts in terms of when to fire off, essentially playing a game with the second-place car at each green flag. She also leaned on the advice she had recently received from former stock car driver Bradley Riethmeyer, who raced for her dad Tracy in the mid-2000s.
"I’m really happy about that, having good people around me to help me on those things," said Trotter. "Those were the best restarts I’ve had all year."
On a more general level, Trotter also expressed gratitude toward Rev Racing and the Drive for Diversity program that led eventually led to an invite to join McAnally’s top-notch ARCA team. She said that program, as well as her involvement in the Toyota Racing Development program, has been vital for her development both on and off the track.
And the significance of Saturday’s historic win is not lost on Trotter.
"Being the first female to win in the ARCA Series, and just winning in general, I really think it means a lot," she said. "I’m hoping that it’ll encourage other female drivers wanting to get into the sport, to show them that they can do it, too."
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– Toyota Racing (@ToyotaRacing) September 26, 2020
Trotter admitted she did not enter the 2020 season expecting to be where she is in September. Now that she’s an ARCA Menards Series West winner, though, Trotter’s new goal is simple: win the last three races on the schedule.
That trio to close the year includes races at All American Speedway in Roseville, California (Oct. 25), Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California (Oct. 25), and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 7).
Trotter will enter all three events with newfound confidence and more ambitious expectations now that she has realized her and her team’s potential. As they say in racing, and as Trotter noted, "the first win comes with many more."
Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion who made a point to congratulate Trotter on Instagram, can tell her all about it.
Gracie Trotter joins The Pace Lap to break down her historic ARCA win and becoming the first female to win in ARCA racing history.