Skip to Main Content
Piston Stories Scholarships

Off to the Races: Piston Scholar Ethan Heck Wants In On Everything Motorsports

While most of the recipients of the inaugural Piston Scholarships are focusing primarily on acquiring the skills to restore and/or work on classic and older cars, there is one student who, as he says, “stumbled across videos of stage rallying on the Internet,” at a young age, and instantly knew he wanted to be a racing mechanic.

At 21, Ethan Heck is now a student at Lanier Technical College in Gainesville, Georgia, enrolled in the Motorsports Vehicle Technology program, and interning at a local Jaguar E-Type restoration shop, among other activities. “It’s not necessarily a racing focus, but it still is something that interests me,” he says.

By Judy Stropus

May 15, 2023

Sparking A Motorsports Dream

But his true interest in motorsports began with the cars that run in the stage rallying and SCCA Rallycross competition. When he discovered the World Rally Championship videos on the internet, he was immediately drawn to driver Colin McRae’s Subaru Impreza WRX. “I loved the look of the car with the famous blue-and-gold color scheme, and the sounds of the car are unlike anything else I had ever heard,” Heck said in his application for the Piston Foundation Scholarship. “Since then, I have always had an appreciation for rallying and Subarus.”

In the summer of 2019, at 17 years old, with no prior experience as a mechanic, he worked at a repair shop for two years near his hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, specializing in Subarus. “I learned so much about working on cars in that time and was doing everything from oil changes to engine and transmission replacement and I know Subarus like the back of my hand,” he said. “Through this job I was able to obtain early model Subaru Impreza project cars.”

The Perfect Fit at Lanier Tech

The first Impreza Heck purchased was a 1997 coupe, on which he did all the maintenance and raced in his first SCCA Rallycross event in 2020. After completing a full Rallycross racing season, he sold the car to a gentleman in Ireland, where it underwent chassis preparation for use in stage rally competition. “It made me happy to know that my old car was getting the attention it deserves,” he said.

While hoping to get a job at a new racing school in Lynchburg, Tennessee, Heck learned they were working with students from Lanier Tech and decided to check out the college in late 2021. “After touring the school,” he said, “I knew that’s where I wanted to go.” In his first semester in 2022, he took general education courses online, and eventually moved to Oakwood, Georgia, to begin on-campus classes. “Lanier’s been great so far. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

He is currently taking motorsport composite classes and a machine tool class, learning to fabricate CNC components for race cars.

A Motorsports Future on the Horizon

While he’s not currently entering any Rallycross series, where cars compete one at a time against the clock, he’s not discounting that racing against other cars is in his future. “I think it’s every kid’s dream who’s into cars to want to be a racing driver,” he said. “I would love to race in the future, but, for now, I think the best way into the motorsports industry is just to work on the cars themselves. Yeah, I really would love to race at a professional level, but I think I would just like to be on a team, not necessarily behind the wheel.”

Lanier students are required to complete two internship classes in the motorsports program. As mentioned, Heck has been working at a local Jaguar E-Type repair shop. “But there are many opportunities given to us through the school and through the instructors to work on race teams,” he explained. “I’m actually taking an internship in June at the racing school led by driving instructor Keith Watts that I originally was interested in working for in Tennessee. They need help preparing the cars and making sure they’re ready for the students to drive. I’m really excited for that. It’s going to be a lot of fun and a good learning experience.”

Twin Subarus

He has a true affinity for Japanese cars. “At the moment I have two Subarus. One is a 1997 Impreza Wagon, which is my cheap daily driver, and the other is a 1996 Impreza sedan, which is my race-car project,” he said. “I’ve owned lots of Japanese cars over the years. Currently my other two other cars are a 1999 Mazda Miata, which is set up for autocross driving, and a 1987 Toyota Corolla coupe, my weekend driver to car shows.”

Motorsports Hurdles

As for any hurdles he’s encountered on his journey, Heck said, “There haven’t been too many hurdles so far. Growing up I was the only one in my family who has an interest in cars and racing. But my parents have always supported me. It’s been a long process to end up where I am now, like getting through school and trying to figure out what exactly I want to do out of school. That’s pretty much the only hurdle.”

Walking the Piston Path

Heck is grateful for the Piston Scholarship he earned in 2022. “The Piston Foundation has helped me a lot,” he said. “Mainly because in order to go to school to do what I want to do I had to relocate, and school is expensive. The Piston Foundation has made it easier, and I’m really grateful for that.

“I’m definitely glad that the Piston Foundation exists because for people like me it’s very helpful and it’s good to know that there are people who are interested in supporting my generation when it comes to working on classic cars. It’s a good affirmation.”

Loving the Work Takes No Work At All

After graduation, Heck would like to continue working with rally cars, in particular historic rally cars. “A lot of these series are in Europe, so I’ve actually been looking in England and Ireland for a few race shops that maintain and restore the historic race or rally cars.

“I’ve found a really strong liking for developing composite parts for race teams, whether it be Formula 1 or IndyCar or rally cars. I think it would be interesting to develop, help develop and manufacture the carbon and composite components for those cars.”

His advice to young people considering a similar path is, “Go for it. If you’re passionate about cars and race cars, and you can wake up and be passionate about it every single day, it’s not really a job.”

Support skilled trade education for future auto restoration technicians.


Sign up for our monthly email with stories, updates, and volunteer opportunities.