As we move into February, it’s getting fairly close to the beginning of race season! In 2019, I will continue karting as my schedule and budget allows. And, for the first time, I’ll race formula cars.
We decided to gamble on getting a head start on funding some of the transition to cars by entering the Cooper Tires Karting Scholarship Shootout with the Lucas Oil School of Racing. The top prize would be a fully-funded ride in the 2019 Lucas Oil Formula Car Series with awards also given through 5th place. The value of the scholarships ranged from $6,000 for 5th to $75,000 to the winner. Those outside of the top five would receive valuable training and experience, but no monetary value. With so much on the line, all of the drivers felt the pressure.
The shootout was last December at Sebring International Raceway with 30 drivers who had been selected after applying. Most of the drivers had significant national karting experience and success and many came from factory programs. Quite a few also had car racing experience. All had participated in at least one previous racing school, but the rules allowed race participation as long as it wasn’t with a level higher than the Lucas Oil series. So, I wasn’t quite sure what kind of realistic chance I would have.
Once I got in the car, I felt better and more confident. This was the most comfortable I have ever been in a race car. I’ve felt more confident each time, but had only spent one day in a car in the previous 15 months. I was able to push the car to its limit and avoid significant mistakes throughout.
On day one, we did the autocross (a small temporary track in the parking lot), simulator training with RaceCraft1, seminars with PitFit Training and earEverything and interviews with Brian Till (Broadcaster & former IndyCar driver). While there wasn’t a lot of on-track activity on day one, I still learned a lot. At the autocross, I was able to feel out the car and get a feeling to how it will react. In the simulators we did a similar car to the Lucas Oil Formula cars, but we ran on a different track. We were forced to adapt to a new track and try to go quick in a short amount of time.
On the second day, we got the most on track experience with a full day of track time. We ran on the radial (harder street tire). Times weren’t posted, but word got around with drivers sharing their times and I was able to stay between 3rd to 5th quick throughout the day. At the end of the day, the group of 30 was to be cut to 12 for the final day. Judging was based on more than lap times, so it was impossible to be certain who would be chosen. The interview session, how you present yourself, potential, experience and more were all considered. They ended up keeping 14 for the final day because the judges had difficulty separating the final few. Mine was the last name called to add to my anxiety. Brian Till said the finalists names were mixed up and it was random, they weren’t picking on me – but it was still nerve racking. So, at that point, we felt the experience had been a success. I would at least get the maximum amount of track time and coaching, and also showed I could compete.
For the final day, we would get to run on the Cooper Tire slicks that they use in the race series. They had a lot more grip and lap times dropped by 2 and a half seconds. We only got two sessions on track, but I was able to make the most of them and really show what I can do. I remained in the top 3 or 4 on pace and kept the car on the track and pointed in the right direction.
Then the waiting began and it seemed to take forever for the judges to return to the tent…I was awarded 4th! That meant my first race weekend will be free, which includes three races and a test day. That’s a $10,900 value. But even if I didn’t win anything, I still became a much better driver and took the final step to be race ready in a car. I am the most confident I have ever been in a car and I know that when I do my first race, I’ll be able to compete for the win. The Lucas Oil Formula Car Series schedule includes six weekends at well-known tracks throughout the country. We are hoping to be able to fund at least three or four weekends while continuing to work on race craft (& having fun) while karting.
Stay tuned for my 2019 racing schedule and thanks for your support!