By Jamie Leary

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – A community is mourning the death of a young Longmont woman killed Saturday, at her apartment. Now, she is being remembered for the lives she changed while making her way to the top of the NASCAR world.

“She was a driver out here before she could drive out on the highway. She had a NASCAR license before she had a driver’s license,” Brian Laurence, the General Manager of the Colorado National Speedway in Dacono, said.

Makalya Grote (credit: Colorado National Speedway)

Makayla Grote celebrated her 20th birthday at the end of October. She was a full-time student at Aims Community College, waiting for her younger sister to graduate from high school. A family friend said the two planned to attend Arizona State University together once her sister finished her senior year at Green Mountain High School in Lakewood.

Makayla was doing it all. When she wasn’t working or at school, she had the pedal to the metal.

“It’s fair to say that Makayla was unbelievably dedicated to her sport and to everybody in it. When she was out here she was an incredibly fierce competitor, bumping and banging with the boys, trading paint. She’d get off the track and if she wasn’t fixing her car she’d be in the stall next to her fixing one of her competitor’s cars. Never ever backed away from a challenge.” Laurence said.

(credit: Colorado National Speedway)

Makayla grew up racing go-karts with her two younger siblings.

“At 9 years old believe it or not she was go-kart racing and won a rookie of the year title in her go-kart series here in Colorado. Raced nationals in Reno and it was a Natural move for her to come here and compete in the entry-level classes at Colorado National Speedway,” Laurence said.

She made waves in her rookie year at the speedway finishing 9th among 43 competitors. An unprecedented achievement for someone her age.

Makayla was determined to break the mold for female drivers. She submitted an application and video to be the driver named in the Drive for Diversity program. Laurence wrote her a letter of recommendation.

In the video, Makayla said, “Although being female, I have pushed through all the diversity both on and off the track by being told that I don’t belong or that I shouldn’t be on the track.”

“She was very talented and really didn’t have much fear.” Said Jim Nordhougen, Track Promoter for the Colorado National Speedway.

Makayla’s performance on the track combined with her big heart and infectious smile off the track twice landed her the prestigious Sportsman of the Year award. Laurence issued a statement on behalf of the Colorado National Speedway, writing in part:

“Her smile was infectious and blindingly bright, and even among her competitors and rivals, she was known for her compassion. The Sportsman of the Year award is generally given only to those in the racing community who demonstrate the very finest moral fiber in every aspect of the Sport. Such was her character that Makayla won it twice in her short racing career.”

Makayla was also actively trying to organize a fundraiser for Children’s Hospital, for the 2018 race season. Her goal was to get kids out to watch a race. An effort the Colorado National Speedway family hopes to continue pursuing in her honor.

Makayla was inspirational to many. Those who knew her are stunned.

“I don’t think it’s set in with everybody quite yet.”  Said Nordhougen. “There are close to 400 racers 120 employees, everybody knew her and liked her and will be deeply missed.”

A memorial run has been set up at the Colorado National Speedway, this Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

There is also a GoFundMe page to help her family cover funeral expenses.

Grief Counselors will be on hand at Green Mountain High School once students return from Thanksgiving break.

Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.