Driver Profile: JJ Hickle

Driver Profile: JJ Hickle
Friday, May 27, 2022
By Joanne Cram

31-year-old Quilcene, Washington’s JJ Hickle is making Knoxville Raceway his home for the 2022 season. He has swapped zip codes several times to chase his dreams of being a full-time sprint car driver. For 2022 he has partnered with Brandon Ikenberry and is currently residing in Des Moines to complete a forty to fifty race season. He will also fill his openings in his schedule with other races as they pop up.

The always witty and hilarious Hickle has quickly made a name for himself by turning a lot of heads the last two seasons thanks to successful campaigns with the National ASCS tour. Landing a full-time-ride at the famed half-mile oval of Knoxville Raceway will be a change in routine for JJ after an insane travel schedule his previous few seasons.

Hickle grew up on the peninsula of Washington State. For those of you who were glued to the Twilight saga; the teen heart throb books and movies about the vampire diaries of the love story and drama of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson took place just across the forest from JJ’s hometown town of Quilcene, WA. The town is just 70 miles from Elma, which so happened to be the home of Gray’s Harbor Speedway, where Fred Brownfield revived sprint car racing back in the early 1990’s, just in time for JJ Hickle to grow up and take to slinging dirt at his local dirt track.

JJ started in quarter midgets when he was five. He grew up with a dad who raced stock cars on pavement, so when he was old enough to get behind the wheel of something with speed, JJ’s dad, Joe, put him in the quarter midget. JJ started at Little Wheels, a track in Puyallup, Washington initially, because it was close, and he could get some experience. He then began traveling all over the Pacific Northwest to compete. His dad gave up his racing days to fully support his up-and-coming driver, as JJ was showing quite a bit of promise behind the wheel. They raced all over the northwest at tracks like Langley, British Columbia; Portland, Oregon; Monroe and Puyallup in Washington. Hickle won The Grand in 1999 in Langley, and The Dirt Grand Nationals in Hagerstown in 2004 during his seasons behind the wheel of the quarter midget.

When JJ was age 14, he skipped over the traditional classes of cage karts, flat karts, as well as micros and jumped straight into a 360 sprint car. For him, the choice was simple. He chose a 360 because there were more racing opportunities in the PNW. There are not a lot of tracks in the Northwest, and tracks that do exist are quite spread out making for a lot of windshield time to get to them and gain much needed experience. JJ’s home dirt track was Gray’s Harbor Raceway, where he fell in love with sprint cars and making the transition into a 360 an easier decision.

Hickle knew he wanted to race full-time for a career from an early age. He had lot of success in his first year on the track with a lot of heat race wins, but no feature wins. JJ raced his family car, “it was a modest operation.” Said Hickle. “We had one car, an open trailer, no spare parts.” The third through sixth years, Vern Rengen, a very well-known veteran around sprint car racing in the Pacific Northwest, hired JJ to race for him. This was a great boost to JJ’s career as a driver and sprint car mechanic, as he was able to learn from Vern. He picked up his first feature win with the 7 car in 2007, racing weekly at Elma and traveling with the NST (The Northern Sprint Tour ASCS Division). JJ recalls looking up to Roger Crockett, Jayme Barnes and Jason Solwold as some of the drivers who came before him and made names for themselves coming out of the PNW.

2021 Season Recap: Previous car owners and good friends, Jane and Ivan Worden out of Cotati, CA, needed a driver one weekend back in 2019. After a phone call and an impromptu visit to California, the team was established, and they spent the next two years racing as much as possible. The Wordens were eager to travel and hit the road racing. However, when Covid struck in 2020, the season plans had to be adjusted. Originally the plan was to run the ASCS Northwest Tour through the Brownfield Classic, however they scrapped those plans and decided to make as much of a season as possible with whatever racing was available during the strange times of shutdowns, mask mandates, and inconsistently enforced policies between state lines.

After a successful 2020 season on the road, the team decided to do the full season of the National ASCS Tour in 2021. Hickle won the Brownfield Classic, won the race at Hanford against 55 cars in March, Swept ASCS opening weekend of spring nationals at Devil’s Bowl Speedway, won the Winter Nationals once again at Devil’s Bowl (making that a season sweep of events at Devil’s Bowl), and won the Jesse Hockett Memorial race in Missouri. When asked about the one race highlight of last season, JJ says the Brownfield Classic is the only race he wanted to win before he was done racing. “I loved Fred (Brownfield). I was a huge fan of him. He took care of me, was always nice to me. He was a supportive promoter and I have always respected what he was doing for sprint car racing.”

JJ Hickle’s future is wide open, just like he races. “I hope to race full-time for as long as possible, then to own a successful race team,” said JJ. “I would love to run an Outlaw season, but not sure if that will work out.” This season he is excited to partner with Brandon Ikenberry racing the 25 car at Knoxville weekly and select big races in the area like the King’s Royal and possibly trips to Jackson or Huset’s.

In JJ’s down time, he is a self-proclaimed food connoisseur, and enjoys finding all of the downtown Des Moines fun food finds. Italian restaurants are a favorite, with Mexican as a close P2. He likes to golf, swim, hike, and do anything to stay active. He is also an exceptional scrabble player. Later in the season, he hopes his girlfriend, Shaina Barnes and her daughter, Cambria are able to join him for part of the season.

If you would like to support JJ, he has merchandise to buy at the trailer after each race night. Brandon Ikenberry would like to thank all his sponsors for helping out and keeping their season going as well: Dirty Air, Ikenberry Performance, Windsor Construction Company, Herz Precision Parts, Do Good Always, The Lumber Lounge and Garage, and Rengen Earthworks.