A dozen years ago, I was announcing the Outlaw Kart races at Silver State Raceway when I was informed that I was mispronouncing the name of a 10-year-old beginner in the Box Stock class. The youngster was Mackena Bell, and in the next few years I watched her progress to race wins and championships in bigger and faster karts, and then become the first female Legends division champion at Champion Speedway before advancing into late model stock cars. Four years ago, Mackena was selected to participate in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and was featured in a reality TV show about the program’s combine. Revolution Racing, D4D’s racing operation, dropped her into the deep end with a ride in the K&N Pro Series East. She struggled that year, and voluntarily stepped back to D4D’s Whelen Late Model program. After three years of learning and maturing, Mackena will once again be behind the wheel of a K&N Pro Series East car this season. She is on the radar screen of industry experts, as shown in her inclusion in FOX Sports’ 25 NASCAR Drivers under 25 to watch list for 2013.I had a long phone conversation with her last week, and she shared with me her successes of the past season and her aspirations for 2013 and beyond. The 2012 season was a very good season for Mackena with five top 5s, 15 top 10s, a pole position, and a best finish of third place against some very tough competition, all men.“It was my best year ever,” Bell said. “Having good people behind me was the key. I have worked much harder this year than I ever have. I spent time learning more about the car, setup, and strategy. I have a notebook and I write down everything that is done to the car.”Besides learning more about the mechanical aspects of the car, Mackena says she has gotten tougher mentally. “The driving part is easy. But it took me time to get to the point where I don’t let comments and attitudes of others bother me. I had to develop alligator skin. There are still some guys who can’t deal with having a woman beat them.” That mental toughness has led to a new-found confidence. “I am much more ready for the K&N Pro Series than I was before,” she said. “My goal is to finish races and to learn. I want to show that I can be competitive and that I deserve the spot. It’s also exciting to be running for Rookie of the Year.” Her goals sound very much like those of her role model, Danica Patrick, in Sprint Cup.There have been other changes too. She recently moved to Concord, N.C. to be closer to the race shop and the local tracks. She has also changed her hair color from blonde to brunette. She told me that she has finally made a home for herself in Carolina, although she still misses her family.Her first K&N start will be at Bristol on March 16, and her parents will be there to watch her race. But first she will race her Late Model at Daytona in the inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach on Feb. 18. The race will take place on a 0.4 mile oval located on Daytona’s Superstretch, and there will be four heat races to determine the grid for the 150-lap feature. With 2012 race winners and series champions having guaranteed starts in the feature, Mackena will have to battle for one of the remaining 34 spots.Although sponsorship for 2013 has not yet been finalized, Bell told me that it is almost certain that Toyota will be back on board. Her compensation package consists mostly of a share of purse money, so she is still working as a waitress to make ends meet. But given her drive, determination, and talent, I’m sure that it won’t be long before she is making a good living at what she loves, driving race cars.