Myles Rowe became the first Black driver to win in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, completing a thrilling last-lap pass for victory in the middle race of a series tripleheader Sunday at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey.
The Georgia native and New York resident, who drives for the new Force Indy team, overcame wet conditions on the 2.25-mile track to seize the lead from points leader Kiko Porto on the last of 20 laps after starting 10th.
With his first victory, Rowe validated the support of 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power, who has championed Rowe’s ability since racing against him in go-karts a few years ago.
“As I was coming to the finish, I had to radio my spotter (Jon Bouslog) and ask him, ‘Are we in the lead?’ He told me, ‘Keep going, keep going,’ ” Rowe said in a release Sunday. “I knew I was in second, but looking at my first win, I just didn’t believe it. Once I took the checkered, my first thought was, ‘I’m here.’ I can’t thank my parents so much for all the love, support and patience. Rod Reid, Jon, the whole team, Stu, Derrick, Zach I can’t thank them all enough. And of course, Roger Penske and Will Power. So many people who put me where I am, where Force Indy is today.”
Enjoy this moment @mylesroweracing @forceindy99!♥️🤩#RoadToIndy | #TeamCooperTire | #ThunderGP pic.twitter.com/jLZs3C9U8g
— USF2000 Series (@USF2000) August 29, 2021
As part of IndyCar’s Race for Equality and Change, Force Indy was formed last year in a technical support alliance with Team Penske.
Force Indy is led by African-American team principal Rod Reid, who has put an emphasis on hiring Black American men and women in all departments of the team (from office staff to mechanics to drivers such as Rowe, who was hired in February).
USF2000 is the first rung on the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system that helps cultivate and promote talent to the NTT IndyCar Series.
“Until you actually win one of these, you don’t know what you’re going to feel,” Reid said. “For us, the early part of that battle was reminiscent of St. Pete, when we were in fourth and going for third until we made a mistake. I was right there in Turn Eight and saw him battling for third and then for the lead, and I thought ‘can we do this, is this real?’
But this is why we do this, it’s a great feeling. The entire team did great – the crew in setting up the car, and Myles, managing tire wear. We’re so excited for everyone who worked so hard to be in this position.”
Said Rowe: “There’s been pressure, but it’s just about focusing on the present. There’s been a lot of attention, but also a lot of support. For me as a driver, all I can worry about is what I can do. It’s helped me control my emotions, control my actions and really be able to plot this path, and help plot the path for Force Indy. We’re going to keep going from here.”
Rowe’s victory came on what would have been the 100th birthday of NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott, the only Black driver to win in the premier Cup series.
Porto, from Recife, Brazil, finished second for DEForce Racing, and teammate Nolan Siegel, from Palo Alto, Calif., took third. Click here for the race results.
Series officials decreed a wet start, requiring the 23-car grid to begin on grooved Cooper tires. Several cars switched to slick tires as the course began to dry after the green.
Rowe patiently worked his way through the field, picking up the last three spots in the final four laps, including the winning pass in Turn 9.
@mylesroweracing became the first Black driver to win an @indycar-sanctioned event, when the @forceindy99 pilot made a last-lap pass in the wet to win the @USF2000 race in New Jersey. pic.twitter.com/YSJ4JiWQYp
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) August 30, 2021
“I haven’t had that many sessions in the wet, but for some reason, I seem to excel in these conditions,” Rowe said.
“I think it’s just extra confidence. We were aiming for a top-10 finish this weekend and our plan today was just to hit our marks, let other people make mistakes and see what could happen. I was able to pick people off like a chess game. I was able to be in guys’ mirrors and take advantage on the exit of corners. I knew Kiko was thinking championship so he was very respectful. I appreciate that.”