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MRTI: Oliver Askew’s two-month, two-scholarship wild ride

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It’s no secret in racing circles that if you are selected as a Team USA Scholarship recipient, odds are good you’re going places. It’s easier to pick out the list of young American drivers who haven’t gone onto bigger and better things in their careers.

So when Oliver Askew and Kyle Kirkwood were selected as this year’s winners, revealed at Petit Le Mans in early October, few could have foreseen what would come next – particularly for Askew, who’s since embarked on a whirlwind tour of events en route to turning 20 on Monday.

Askew began his karting career at age 8 in his hometown of Jupiter, Fla., and became something of a karting star over the last decade or so. His shift into cars has come swiftly and quickly, and what’s followed since Petit has been a bit crazy.

Askew tested at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the old/existing Van Diemen chassis for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, which was a precursor to going off to Europe and participating in the Formula Ford Festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy.

This gave Askew and Kirkwood a chance to prove themselves in the battlefield of young international talent from around the world (Askew’s and Kirkwood’s driver blogs for Team USA Scholarship are linked here). Askew considers Kirkwood, a fellow Jupiter native, a “brother” because throughout their growth and development they kept “one-upping each other.”

In the Formula Ford Festival, Askew ran as high as third before retiring from a puncture, while Kirkwood finished seventh. Fortunes changed a bit in the Hayes, as Askew won his heat race and finished second in the final, while Kirkwood rallied from several poor starting positions after earlier struggles to eventually come home fourth in the final.

While both trailed Irish winner Niall Murray, these two stood out for their progression and performance in the Cliff Dempsey Racing-prepared Ray Formula Ford cars.

For Askew, who had even less formula car experience than Kirkwood, an F4 U.S. Championship regular this year, the European trip was a chance to prove himself the next level up after karting well there.

“I’ve been to Europe before. I spent the season there last year racing karts,” Askew told NBC Sports at last week’s PRI Show. “The culture wasn’t really too different than what I was used to. The biggest thing is the racing over there was a bit of a shock. But I adapted to it, I prepared myself as much as I could, I learned a tremendous amount and definitely used that knowledge going into the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout the past week.

“To come in second at the Walter Hayes, that was my first rain race. I didn’t really know what to expect, I just kind of had adapt and learn as the race went on. But what a way to cap off a month there.”

Full field of contenders.
Full field of contenders.

Askew and Kirkwood were then two of the 18 championship drivers eligible – following more than 400 who raced in 20 open-wheel series worldwide – for Mazda’s $200,000 scholarship shootout to gain an entry into the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in 2017. The showdown took place last week at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, featuring Ray GR-RSC open-wheel cars on Cooper Tires from the Lucas Oil School of Racing (more on them to come in another piece this month).

Left to right: Scott Goodyear, Joel Miller, Spencer Pigot, Oliver Askew, Jonathan Bomarito, Andrew Carbonell.
Left to right: Scott Goodyear, Joel Miller, Spencer Pigot, Oliver Askew, Jonathan Bomarito, Andrew Carbonell.

The shootout was a mix of on and off-track performance, with this field of winners needing to impress the seven-man judging panel of factory Mazda drivers Joel Miller, Spencer Pigot, Jonathan Bomarito and Andrew Carbonell, former IndyCar race driver turned ABC/ESPN color analyst Scott Goodyear, Kimball and Jim Bowie, owner of Brandrenaline, Mazda Motorsports’ Agency of Record in the U.S. and Canada.

The Formula Ford Festival with similar Ray chassis helped, but was not directly comparable to the Lucas Oil cars. Askew explained the difference when it came to stepping into the Lucas cars at Mazda Raceway.

The Lucas Oil School of Racing Ray formula cars.
The Lucas Oil School of Racing Ray formula cars.

“It was very similar to the car I drove in England actually, the Ray chassis,” Askew explained. “The ride height was a bit higher, less horsepower and a little bit less grip in the tires maybe, but very similar driving style and I definitely took my knowledge into that, also.

“Coming from karts, I spent so much time in a race car the past three months or so, I just feel like every time I get into the car, I feel more comfortable and it’s a great thing.”

From left to right: Oliver White, Will Brown, Oliver Askew, Trenton Estep, Niall Murray, Kyle Kirkwood.
From left to right: Oliver White, Will Brown, Oliver Askew, Trenton Estep, Niall Murray, Kyle Kirkwood.

Of the 18 drivers eligible, the field was trimmed to six finalists who’d participate in the final race. Askew, Kirkwood and Murray made it in along with Will Brown (Australia), Oliver White (England) and Trenton Estep (San Antonio, Texas).

The final race saw each driver switch cars from where they had been. From those who were there, the final was an epic battle between the pair of Olivers – Askew and White – with Askew edging ahead for the win in the race and the scholarship (full report from shootout here, via USF2000 website).

Askew was almost speechless in the moments afterwards and probably was still in a bit of shock when he arrived at PRI, given everything he’s been through over the last couple months.

“Oliver White and I have a lot of respect for each other and I think that showed during the race. We were side-by-side and interlocked wheels for like six corners coming down to the end of the race. I had a great time, one of the best races I’ve ever had. I could have raced him all day. It was really fun,” he said.

“Two months ago, I would have never guessed this was all going to happen, before the Team USA thing. I have to thank Jeremy Shaw for giving me all of these opportunities. He’s the reason why we got a chance to go to the Shootout in the first place. Hats off to him, for sure, and I really still can’t believe it.”

The next step for Askew, now that he’s set in USF2000 for 2017, is determining his team of choice. The new Tatuus USF-17 chassis should level the playing field after Cape has won the last six series championships.

IndyCar’s Scott Dixon staying fit with new training regimen during layoff

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During a regular racing schedule, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing would spend much of his time between races at PitFit in Indianapolis.

The highly advanced workout facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis is run by noted sports trainer Jim Leo. His clientele includes IndyCar Series drivers and other athletes in the area.

In addition to the array of workout machines, Leo’s facility also has advanced equipment to test a driver’s reaction time. These range from a board with lights that rapidly flash, and a driver has to hit the board to turn them off. There are other tests drivers do to keep their skills sharp and reaction time focused.

Times have changed, though.

Indiana is under a statewide lockdown with the exception of essential services only. Instead of going to PitFit, Dixon is working out at his home on the north side of Indianapolis.

RELATED: How is Sabres’ star Jack Eichel staying fit?

His reaction time is being tested by his wife, Emma, throwing a tennis ball at him, changing the direction with each toss.

“I’ve gone back to old school, like tennis balls and Emma can drop them or throw them,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “As long as you keep up with basic cardio and lift weights and work on the neck muscles, that’s the harder part to get ready for.

“I had already stopped going into Pit Fit last week. We had not been doing that for a while. Haven’t left the house for 13 days, now. We went to the grocery store once. The rest of the stuff has been delivered.

“We’re locked down, man, trying to do our best for everyone else.”


Dixon’s home has an impressive array of workout equipment. That allows the 39-year-old racing legend to stay fit during this extended time off that won’t end until the last week of May at the earliest.

“I have most of the stuff I need at home,” Dixon explained. “Some of the reaction stuff, the D-2s and Synaptic machines plus some of the upper-body machines, are pretty unique machines. Those are the machines that Jim Leo has at PitFit.

“As far as cycling, running, general weights, skiers and rollers, I have that at home.”

It seems like a lifetime ago when the world was normal. That was before the dreaded novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic literally sent society underground and locked in while awaiting a solution to this fatal virus.

Photo by Chris Graythen, Getty Images

Before this unexpected shutdown, Dixon would go into PitFit to work on specialized equipment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He would do the rest of his physical workout at home.

“I started skipping that when we got home before the lockdown,” Dixon said. “Before the lockdown, Jim could have stayed open because he never has more than 10 people at once.

“Typically, he would have the drivers spaced out where Tony Kanaan and I would go in at 8 in the morning, and Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe would go in at 9:30, and then Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot and Charlie Kimball would go in around 11. There were only about five of us going in at once.”

Two weeks ago, Leo dropped off some equipment at Dixon’s house along with more instructions to focus on his workouts during the layoff.

Sacrifices are being made all throughout the world, including racing.

“You can’t be selfish,” Dixon said. “It sucks for the drivers, but it sucks a lot worse for a lot of other people. Luckily, the school the girls go to has e-learning. It’s school as usual on the computer from 8:30 to 3 and that has been seamless on that front.

“On a personal note, it’s nice to be home with the baby and bonding as well, and that is great. But all of us wish everything was back to normal as soon as possible.”

RELATED: Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph adjusting to ‘new normal’ for training

Dixon is the father of three, including young daughters Poppy (10), Tilly (8) and infant son, Kit.

This is a time to keep his family safe.

“You hear mixed messages about who is more at risk,” Dixon said. “Obviously, older people with underlying conditions. We’re a fairly healthy family, but still it sounds like something can trigger a pretty bad situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry so we are limiting our contact as fast as possible. The quicker everybody locks down, the quicker we will get through the situation. If we stay home, we will see a decline and hopefully get back to normal pretty quickly.

“It’s a new thing for everybody.”


For now, Dixon works out at home, while the girls continue their classes on the computer. Emma spends time with her infant son, Kit, while taking care of the family.

These days of working out at home will be important because once racing is scheduled to return, tentatively set for May 30 at Detroit, it will be flat-out, racing nearly every weekend.

There won’t be time off inbetween races.

“No, but everybody is having plenty of rest right now,” Dixon quipped. “It’s not what anybody wants. We all keep hoping everybody remains safe and healthy. It’s a difficult time for a lot of people and we’ve been very lucky that we don’t know anybody that has had an issue so far. Hopefully, that remains the same.

“Everybody is ready to go. We were ready to go at St. Pete. This will be welcomed greatly.

“Nothing is normal these days. I think what IndyCar and IMS did was probably the best of the situations. You never want to move the dates of the 500, but you always want the people to be relaxed enough they are going to come to the race, too.

“The way they have done the schedule is pretty cool. It gives them enough wiggle room now with Detroit being the kickoff. What is also fun is the July 4 doubleheader weekend at Indianapolis and St. Pete finishing the season.”

Once life returns to normal, depending on what the new normal will look like, race drivers and athletes will once again be in an area they know.

The difficult part of this, however, is nobody knows when the COVID-19 outbreak will end.

“The hard part right now is there are so many unknowns,” Dixon said. “That is what people hate. They could wrap their hands around two weeks, but it could be another six weeks. People will go crazy.

“That is what we are going through right now. The unknown. Nobody knows what the next step is.”

That is why Dixon has a message for all race fans to take these orders seriously.

“Stay safe. Stay away from people. Lock down. Get this period done with,” Dixon said. “Once we do that, hopefully we can crack on like normal, and people can find fixes and therapies. As soon as everybody bunkers down, we will get through this sooner instead of later.

“Let’s get back to normal as quick as possible and get back to racing when we can.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500