Blending his visual expression and competitive fervor, Myles Rowe had the perfect shot while straddling the worlds of art and speed he simultaneously strives to master.
Stationed just outside the exit of Turn 4 at Texas Motor Speedway, Rowe was wearing a photo vest (instead of his usual firesuit) and wielding a Sony A7S (“a simple DSLR with great video capabilities”).
As cars from the NTT IndyCar Series whizzed by at over 220 mph, Rowe captured their sound and fury for digital content.
And he naturally wondered what it was like behind the wheel on the other side of the catchfence – as disparate as those pursuits might seem.
“I was having this conversation recently where I told someone about my film and then told them I was a race car driver, and they didn’t believe me,” Rowe told NBC Sports in an interview at Texas two hours before the green flag for the March 20 race. “Because how could you do that and race cars?
“I don’t understand the question, ‘How could you just do that?’ I’m not going to say they were wrong, but for people like me with multiple interests, especially if you’re really creative and like to do a lot of things and connect with a lot of people, you need different things to balance you. And you need different things to work on to focus on a real distant future that you can see yourself getting to in two or three decades.”
Rowe’s immediate future is being shaped in two distinct directions. He is scheduled to graduate this summer with a film and screen studies degree from Pace University in New York, and he has ambitions of becoming an influential photographer (or perhaps filmmaker).
But the Georgia native also has a burgeoning career as a highly regarded open-wheel racing prospect. Last year, he became the first Black driver to win in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, making a last-lap pass to win for Force Indy (a team formed to promote diversity initiatives in IndyCar).
After Force Indy hired Ernie Francis Jr. in elevating to Indy Lights, Rowe moved to Pabst Racing in USF2000. He opened the season with a Round 2 victory Feb. 27 in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (with a car rebuilt after he crashed while challenging for the lead on the last lap in Round 1 the previous day).
He is fourth in the USF2000 points standings heading into this weekend’s races at Barber Motorsports Park – which currently is the last confirmed race on his 2022 schedule because of financial restrictions. Rowe, 21, is hopeful that strong results could secure sponsorship for a trio of rounds next month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
He got off to a great start at Barber by winning the April 30 race from the pole position.
How are you feeling, @OceanbyMR 🎤
— USF2000 Series (@USF2000) April 30, 2022
Though the St. Pete win helped “ethereally,” Rowe said he is mostly focused on trying for an Indy Pro ride in 2023 with a long-term eye on Indy Lights and possibly the NTT IndyCar Series.
“I think the word is out there,” he said. “Really, the struggle is closing the deal. It’s a lot more than a handshake now. It’s really about getting to a contract. I’ve had several contracts in my hands, and then people are like, ‘We’re going to pass on this for now.’ That’s the situation currently, but I still have hope. I think we can still get to the end of the season, but it’s not up to me anymore. I’m fine with that. I’m doing my best.
“If I don’t complete the season, I’m also not too worried. I think I have the experience now. The speed is there. You can see my adaptability is there.”
In the meantime, Rowe is staying connected to racing. He has worked the past two IndyCar races at Texas and Long Beach as a video intern for CoForce, a digital media production agency that works with race teams, manufacturers and sponsors.
“You can tell he wants to get (to IndyCar) and be a successful driver, and I think he has a great opportunity to be a really good example that anyone from any background has the opportunity to do this,” CoForce CEO and co-founder Jonny Baker told NBC Sports. “They always joke the fastest racing driver in the world works at Publix. It’s a sport that unfortunately has high barriers to entry due mainly to the financial, and there are so many talented kids on the Road to Indy now. But he’s definitely got the opportunity.”
Baker hired Rowe after learning about his film school background during their chance meeting at an offseason event. His background in racing and natural aptitude for the camera made him a good fit as CoForce’s video team entrusted Rowe with a variety of new equipment.
“He’s doing a great job and is a fast learner,” Baker said during the Grand Prix of Long Beach. “You can tell he’s got a background in (motorsports) and knows what he is doing. You work in racing, and the timelines are shorter. You’ve got to get things done quickly. And obviously tracking race cars, especially Indy cars, is difficult.
“If he wants to expand with us, that would be great, but ultimately, this is an experience that hopefully stands him in good stead with whatever he wants to do. Ultimately, he wants to be a race car driver, and I think he can do that. But if it can help him in his pursuit of film school, that’s great, too. If he decides that motorsports is an arena he wants to do more, I’d love to help facilitate that. I think it’s good for his racing career to be at events like this and meet various IndyCar teams, manufacturers and sponsors. It’s good exposure, and I’ve definitely told him when the time is right to take advantage of that.”
While Rowe appreciates being able to leverage the connections for his racing career, he also appreciates the freedom and responsibility he’s been given while handling shot lists for big-money corporations (at Texas, he was helping gather content for Arrow, which sponsors McLaren drivers Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist).
Though also a photographer, Rowe exclusively shoots video for CoForce (with a mix of on-track action and candids in the paddock and pits) and enjoys moving pictures over stills though it’s much different from the urban shoots he often does with lights and set composition.
Sports photography and videography is tricky because of the rapid motion (“if your shutter speed is wrong, you’ll screw up the whole session”), but Rowe has gained valuable experience working with CoForce’s veteran filmmakers while also being given “a lot of creative control.
“They don’t tell you what to do; it’s like you’re filming for yourself almost,” Rowe said. “And that’s a really cool thing. They let you be really independent and have confidence in you. I’m very, very new, and they’re just like, ‘Shoot it, let’s see what you have.’ That’s really awesome.”
While studying at Pace, Rowe does a lot of photography on the side, mostly with fashion models and some portrait work.
In a recent shoot, he described exploring a “purity” motif with an ankle-length white dress and also has delved into playing with the dynamics of an urban rooftop vs. an open field in the country.
He often uses accessories and makeup while sometimes combining stills and videos (“stills capture the moment in that world; the video brings the moments together”) to provide “a sense of the world you’re trying to create, whether closer to reality or fiction.”
Rowe also likes that the collaborative process can include several photogs, stylists and makeup artists.
“It’s cool when all those people come together to create a vision,” he said. “I like shooting projects that portray a certain type of character without speaking many words.”
The biggest influence on his work? Quentin Tarantino (notably for the “Kill Bill” movies) because of a distinctive aspect of the award-winning director’s oeuvre that Rowe aims to emulate.
“He has these small details where you see a film and are like, ‘That’s him, that’s his thing,’ ” Rowe said. “That’s what I want to pursue is to develop that kind of style. It’s all in the small details that make your work really influential. I just love going into details.
“Being a good filmmaker is understanding what you don’t know and trying to get to that point you can understand it. Quentin does a great job of hiding things. I find it fun to watch films from different filmmakers and try to understand what I don’t see and break it down and understand how that developed.”
Rowe applied only at New York-based schools so he could take advantage of the bustling and vibrant arts scene (he originally planned on studying cinematography, but it would have required being outside the city). He would like to try being a designated photographer for a clothing designer and is interested in more studio work to help further his auteur’s reputation. To build his brand, he also dabbles in some modeling.
He has dabbled in using “radical” looks to create characters.
“Those are things that maybe I don’t post too much and keep toward people who really want to see that,” said Rowe, whose Instagram account features many samples and a link to one of his short films. “I think in the future, I’ll post more radical things because I’m still perfecting my craft as we speak. School is in the way, especially with racing again. It makes it hard to really go deep into what I want to creatively pursue in terms of those projects. There are so many things I want to do. You need time and ideas, so when your schedule is packed all the time, it makes it harder for those ideas to come.
“I do set time to get ideas, but it’s hard when you’re doing an internship, school and racing. There’s only so many hours in a day. And this sort of work and industry relies a lot on who you know – sort of like racing. That was my point of going to New York because I knew I needed to be in an appropriate place in a fairly quick manner. That’s who I am. I like doing things but don’t like wasting time.”
That invariably raises a question that Rowe admits he hears a lot.
Should he just pick one interest – either racing or art — rather than try to balance it all?
The conventional wisdom of pursuing a dream in motorsports is simple: Plunge in head-first (which typically involves a relocation to Indianapolis or Charlotte) and remain fully committed until realizing the goal.
Rowe has heard that advice from both the artistic and racing circles in his life. The CoForce internship has worked well to bridge those worlds, allowing him to stay immersed in the IndyCar community without being uprooted from New York.
“I really feel like I’m around a lot of those people now,” he said. “The people I’d see in Indy if I moved there, I already see (at the track). So moving to Indy doesn’t make any sense right now besides less living costs. It seems reasonable if a team wants me to be there and closer to the crew and come to the shop. But in terms of (chasing sponsors), I can take a flight or car and be right there. It’s not that hard to get to Indianapolis.”
Though he has been in discussion about racing other series — Superstar Racing Experience, where Francis excelled last year, would seem an obvious option – Rowe demurs on naming any because “I feel I’d be calling out people who aren’t committed, and I feel like that’s wrong.”
But he does still have help from Roger Penske, who spearheaded the Race for Equality and Change program that aligned Rowe and Force Indy last season.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s the only reason why I’m racing right now,” Rowe said. “Mr. Penske is a great individual, and he’s the only reason why you’re talking to me right now and why I’m not in New York focused on a film. And it’s wonderful to have someone like him believe in me for sure. It’s just going to take more consistency, which we’ll have at Barber.
“It’s just all up to the fates at this point. And whatever happens is supposed to happen. If no one wants to support me or doesn’t think it’s reasonable for whatever their budget is, it’s fine by me. I’ve done my best and showed I’m competitive. If the people who support the industry don’t think I belong, then that’s fine.”
He has the support of another big name in IndyCar –2018 Indy 500 winner and 2014 series champ Will Power, who initially noticed the impressive go-kart lap times posted by a 14-year-old Rowe at GroPro Motorplex in Mooresville, North Carolina.
“Will’s my guy; he’s my mentor and still supporting me,” Rowe said. “I saw him after St. Pete, and he congratulated me and was awesome. We talked a little bit (at Texas). Will is an amazing guy.”
The Penske driver surely will be keeping an eye this weekend at Barber as Rowe races in one of the Road to Indy support series at the track in Leeds, Alabama.
— Pabst Racing (@PabstRacing) February 24, 2022
Pabst Racing has a good track record at Barber, winning last year’s USF2000 opener there and also had two podiums in 2017 with IndyCar driver Rinus VeeKay on the road course.
Baker, who raced the Road to Indy before starting CoForce, believes Rowe has the ability and proper methodology to be successful. But he also likes that Rowe is committed to a driving career while having “a bit of an insurance policy” – even if pursuing his art might be viewed as unorthodox by some racing lifers.
“A lot of people give you the ‘This is how you need to do it, this is what you need to do,’ and if you’re a young, inexperienced guy, it’s ‘OK, yeah, I’ll do that,’ ” Baker said. “I probably figured it out too late from a driving perspective. But I think the best way to go about this is when people give you advice, definitely absorb and listen to it, but ultimately, you have to find what works best for you and piece it together.
“That’s what Myles is doing a really good job of; I can tell he asks good questions. Ultimately, no one knows you and is more passionate about your career and ambitions than you yourself.”
— USF2000 Series (@USF2000) February 27, 2022
Rowe, who was fastest in the third of four sessions during a March 21 test at Barber, has been passionate about racing since he became a Fernando Alonso fan in the mid-2000s (after stumbling across a Formula One broadcast while watching golf with his father). That led him to Hot Wheels, racing video games and eventually go-karting.
The goal always has been IndyCar (as he said when entering USF2000 last year), but Rowe still is hoping to achieve it while (literally) looking at life through a different lens.
“It’s good to have multiple interests, because it just balances you and helps you work harder and helps you work smarter, too,” Rowe said. “You’re exercising multiple areas of your brain, so it’s benefiting you in life, too. You see multiple areas of perspectives in different industries, and you see multiple kinds of people everywhere the more things you do, and it leaves you more options open for your future – and the future is never set in stone.”