Out Of This World

MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. – To start, even being considered for the Team USA Scholarship is outstanding. The prestige and pedigree the scholarship holds is amazing. A good example, Team USA Alumni were recently crowned champions in all three rungs of the ladder series, the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires – congrats to Braden Eves (USF2000), Kyle Kirkwood (Indy Pro 2000) and Oliver Askew (Indy Lights) for each of their well deserved successes – and Josef Newgarden took home the NTT IndyCar Series championship. All four being past alumni of the scholarship proves the strength of the drivers that get picked, and to win a scholarship myself this year was completely out of my realm of imagination for this season.

My career began three short years ago, and since then I have run a mix of regional and national karting events with Mike Doty Racing. Chris Bogart, my mechanic throughout the majority of that time, prepared me very well for car racing in the processes of how to prepare for and work throughout the weekend. Even so, my original plan for this year was to continue in karting…until Geoff Bushor from Team Pelfrey reached out to me. This was like a dream come true; I never thought that in this short a time I would find my way behind the wheel of a race car.

After a really good test at Roebling Road Raceway, we decided to enter the first round of the FRP F1600 Championship Series at Road Atlanta, just to see how it would go. A dry qualifying set me up to start fourth in my first ever car race, and we arrived at a very wet track early Saturday morning which definitely had me worried. But it proved to be a good omen, and coming out of Turn One I stole the lead from Misha Goikhberg and led through three safety car restarts to win. We finished out that weekend with another second place and a fifth, making it two podiums out of three. We eventually decided to continue the series with Team Pelfrey, and we ended up with 18 podiums out of 21 races, including eight wins, and second place in the points behind former Team USA Scholarship winner Jonathan Kotyk.

In the midst of the season, Jay Howard reached out to me to make an appearance at Portland International Raceway for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship race weekend with IndyCar. Without even having a proper seat made, my first time in the car was for a pre-weekend test day on Thursday morning. I was quickly humbled. Learning a new car, completely different to the F1600 Mygale, gave me a huge learning curve and left me looking for large chunks of time session to session. Jay and Louis D’Agostino, the engineer for the team, were extremely helpful in making the transition into the new car, but as the Indy cars began their sessions, the track changed drastically and all that was familiar to me began to change. I slowly worked my way up to the challenge and we eventually cracked the top 10 in race two to end the weekend on a good note. I was quite happy with my improvements over the weekend and felt that I learned a lot of valuable information for a possible USF2000 season next year.

The other high point of my season was being invited to take part in the selection process for the Team USA Scholarship. To be honest, I was honored that Mr. Jeremy Shaw had even heard of me, let alone invited me to be part of his program. After an incredible experience during the IndyCar event at Mid-Ohio, I was even more excited to get a phone call inviting me to take part in a shootout at Road America.

Mike McGill/Les Tension Photography

A few weeks later, I found myself on a (delayed) flight to Chicago, then drove with Kelly Jones, of RaceCraft1, to Elkhart Lake for the first time. Before long I had met fellow drivers Michael Myers, Scott Huffaker, Alex Scaler, Prescott Campbell and Spike Kohlbecker, and quickly realized this was going to be a very fun experience. We all had deeply varied backgrounds and it was invigorating learning about each of their experiences. It was immediately clear that this experience, whether or not I won, would be huge for me in my future racing career. Everyone involved in the scholarship shootout, though, had one thing in common; they were genuinely nice people. Everyone was there to help us drivers learn as much as we could and provide the facilities to show who we really were in and out of the car. As well, every driver had the best interest of each other in mind. Though we were all “competing” we all collaborated throughout the two days. The entire environment was very impressive; we all connected very well and it made the experience that much better.

Mike McGill/Les Tension Photography

Over the course of the two days, I (as well as the other drivers) continued to understand and learn more and more. One thing we all agreed with after the first session was that these Lucas Oil School cars on the Cooper street tires were lively and loads of fun. The car danced around a lot at the limit with very little input needed to get the car rotated. It was great to have such a great group of knowledgeable people around us to help us learn and adapt to the new style and car. It’s an experience I will never forget, and there are some lessons and new philosophies I’ll take with me throughout my career.

Long story short, the entire experience has been something of dreams and completely out of my realm of thought coming into this year. I have to say thank you again to Mr. Shaw for making any of this possible; it truly has been insane. I really cannot wait to get over the pond and begin to learn as much as possible in my month there. So until next time, see you in England!