J.J. Hickle at Knoxville Raceway. (Paul Arch Photo)
J.J. Hickle at Knoxville Raceway. (Paul Arch Photo)

J.J. Hickle: Seizing The Opportunity

Hickle’s final ASCS National Tour triumph of the season occurred during 48th annual Devil’s Bowl Winter Nationals in October. 

“It’s been crazy,” he said. “I would say that one of the best things that’s happened to me is the streaming sites doing the broadcasts. You get so many eyes all over the country on you. Before people would read the magazines, look in National Speed Sport News for the results. Now, you get to see the highlight videos to see how you did each night and that’s been huge. 

“Getting to travel the country and audition, racing with different series and drivers … it’s been the best season of my life.”

Hickle’s runner-up effort in the ASCS National Tour championship standings is the best for a rookie since the American Sprint Car Series was formed in 1992. His five triumphs were tied for the second most out of the season’s 362 drivers to sign into at least one ASCS National Tour race. Hickle led the series with 25 top-five finishes and he ranked second in top-10 results with 32 in 38 feature starts. 

“I’m really proud of our season,” he said. “We had no necessarily paid help; it was more of a family deal. I was really happy with how we stacked up. To end up second against some really strong guys that have been out there for a long time was great. It was me and my crew chief’s first time at a lot of these tracks. We had to figure it out on our own for most of the year.”

That is also what Hickle credits as the biggest area in which he has grown as a race car driver. 

“Versatility, being able to go from sticky to slick to rough and just being good on all these tracks,” he said. “Pretty much all of these guys don’t have weaknesses. They can go to just about every track and be a top-three, top-five car.”

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J.J. Hickle in victory lane after one of several Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series wins last year. (ASCS photo)

Now that the dream season has concluded so has the opportunity for Hickle, who is trying to use his success as a springboard to the next opportunity. 

“I’ve just been talking to different owners and teams and trying to lock down a full schedule for next year,” he told SPEED SPORT. “Right now, I’m really close to having a ride. It’s like when you’re dating a chick and you don’t know if you are official. I have to talk to the guy and his sponsor one more time before I can tell anyone about it. 

“I’m trying to figure out the next step in making a living in sprint car racing. I really want to lean toward 410 sprint car racing.”

Hickle estimates he has competed in 20 to 30 410 winged sprint car races in his career.

“The absolute dream is to earn your way with the All Stars or Outlaws,” he said. “You work your way to keep progressing. If that wasn’t your goal, I don’t know if you’re doing the right things. 

“There seems to be a lot of subtle differences between the 360s and the 410s. I think the biggest thing for me is laps. We ran a 410 together here a couple of weeks ago,” Hickle continued. “The first night we won the B main and made the feature. The second night we ran second in the dash. We fell back to sixth (in the feature), but we were racing with some strong guys. By the end of the weekend, we felt we belong with those guys. It’s a matter of dialing in the car and me getting my timing down.”

If all else fails, Hickle has his family team as a backup option.

“A lot of my deal with the No. 63 car was I got paid in race car parts,” he said. “If there was a week or two when I was idle I’d take the family car out. That’s one of those deals where you get paid to do it, to now you’re paying to do it. I hope to not have to run my stuff because that means I didn’t do a good enough job finding rides.”

Time will tell how good Hickle is at finding the next break, but if he has proven anything in 2021 it’s that he knows how to seize an opportunity.

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