Myles Rowe: trailblazing championship leader with one race to save his career – at Indianapolis

Indycar Racing News

Myles Rowe, the first-ever black person to win an IndyCar-sanctioned event, is leading the USF2000 championship – but his career could all be over in one race

Myles Rowe USF2000 driver

Myles Rowe leads the USF2000 championship, but is fighting to keep his career alive

USF2000

The moment Myles Rowe hit the concrete wall at over 100mph in St Petersburg, the heavy blow felt was not only physical, but also psychological.

The young USF2000 driver (three tiers below IndyCar) had told Motor Sport pre-race that he quite literally couldn’t afford to crash, so limited was his crowdfunded budget, and now he had – whilst vying for the lead in a risky last-lap manoeuvre.

“I thought ‘Oh my gosh, is my career really going to end like this?'” he said afterwards. “It was so mentally stressful.”

Rowe is calling for better support to be given to junior drivers with obvious talent but no wealthy backer. He is perhaps the most high-profile of them all, currently competing (and winning) on a race to race basis while relying on the generosity of strangers.

Myles Rowe holds the US flag after winning USF2000 in New Jersey

Rowe became the first ever black person to win an IndyCar-sanctioned race last year

Road to Indy

The Atlanta-native’s career cannot have been more of a rollercoaster if he tried: discovered by IndyCar champion Will Power at a North Carolina karting track as a 14-year-old, then having to prematurely end his career (with a race win) three years later when the money ran out, before being picked up by Force Indy for 2021 – the USF2000 team funded by Roger Penske’s Drive for Equality and Change programme, which gives motor sport opportunities to those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Rowe won for the fledgling squad in his first season after three years out of racing, becoming the first black person to win an IndyCar-sanctioned race, but was then unceremoniously dropped as the team raised eyebrows by moving up to Indy Lights (IndyCar’s second tier) for 2022.

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He set up a crowdfunding page to keep his resurrected career alive, and managed to secure a seat with top USF2000 team Pabst racing – but with only enough money for the first two events of the championship.

Despite his St Petersburg shunt, Rowe has won two of the season’s four races and leads the championship, but the money is about to run out. After this weekend’s event in Indianapolis, he could well be in the extraordinary position of heading the standings, but having no seat in which to continue his campaign – and keep the dream of reaching the Indy 500 alive.

Recalling heading into February’s St Petersburg season-opener, Rowe emphasises the tension he has had to deal with at each race so far.

“The main difficulty was realising, ‘Even if I execute, if things go weird – like they can in racing – I could just lose my whole career,” he says.

“It was less pressure and more just stressful – you know how racing is, it can go any way. Every session is like: “I just need to get through this.’

“It sucks – weekend to weekend, you know your career could be done.”

Myles Rowe USF2000 driver

Dicing for the win with Sam Sikes (car 19) at Barber this year

USF2000

Drivers are often seen fighting for their career on a race-by-race basis but its rare to see a championship leader with such an uncertain future.

After that misdemeanour with Thomas Nepveu in the first Florida race, Rowe’s Pabst team put in the rapid and painstaking work to rebuild his almost completely destroyed car.

He duly repaid them by brilliantly winning the second race that weekend, and articulates an emotion that was more relief than joy after the extraordinary series of events.

“Crashing out from the lead on the very last lap was like ‘Wow, come on?!'” says Rowe, still sounding in a state of disbelief. “I was so afraid that [the first race] was my last in general.”

“[In race two] I went from sixth to third in Turn 1 and after that, I thought ‘Alright, this is it’. I really warmed up those tyres well to properly to attack on the restarts and it all fell into place after that.”

Rowe romped home to win, and did the same in Barber a few weeks later. A fourth place in the second race there means he now makes him the USF2000 championship leader, but needs the results to keep his head above water.

His GoFundMe page has raised over $213,000 so far, but that won’t even get him halfway through the season, illustrating the huge costs of racing in single-seater junior categories.

“It’s great to get back to messages and express my gratitude to them, because it really is very humbling,” he says of his crowdfunding supporters. “And it’s just really nice to see people just wanting to see you perform, see you go out there and represent.”

Myles Rowe II

A brilliant year so far – but can it continue?

USF2000

An anonymous donor, widely thought to be Roger Penske, donated $200,000 of his total, but Rowe still needs to be getting the very best results to continue.

“If Indy goes well, we should be making it to Lucas Oil Raceway [also based in Indianapolis], especially since it’s the ‘Month of May’,” he says.

“To get to Lucas Oil we need another $40k, and to really have a safe full season, we’re looking for $250k more.”

The support from Penske is not just limited to its legendary leader. Along with Will Power, the other IndyCar drivers from Roger’s team appear to have taken a shine to Rowe.

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“Josef [Newgarden] messaged me just last weekend, telling me “Great job, keep it going”,” says Rowe. “He’ll keep me motivated, he’s so high energy.

“It’s really cool to see someone like that support you – same thing with Scott [McLaughlin], all the Penske boys. Will Power will call me just to check in. He’s been a good mentor for me, mentality-wise.”

Willy T Ribbs, the first black person to qualify for an Indy 500 and now F1’s ambassador for diversity and inclusion, has also been banging the drum on Rowe’s behalf, telling him he would “knock some heads together” in the grand prix paddock.

With all this support, you’d be forgiven think Rowe couldn’t lose, but the reality is he’s still a long way from being able to make it to the second or even third tier of the IndyCar racing ladder.

Rowe believes that both the work of Force Indy in supporting ethnic minorities, and the wider need for junior drivers to be financially supported, is now stronger than ever. He also emphasises that he does not believe there are issues of racism within motor sport itself.

STAFFORD SPRINGS, CONNECTICUT - JUNE 12: SRX driver Willy T. Ribbs waits on the grid during practice for the Inaugural Superstar Racing Experience Event at Stafford Motor Speedway on June 12, 2021 in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. (Photo by Elsa/SRX via Getty Images)

Willy T Ribbs amongst several others, has been lending his support to Rowe

Elsa/SRX via Getty Images

“The problem lies in history, it doesn’t lie in the present,” he says. “Ethnic minorities that were pushed down now lack of the same sort of financial status [as many white people in Western society].

“In a sport that requires so much financial support, we’re seeing the consequences of those actions in history really happen.

“It’s not even an issue of race at this point – there needs to be an unspoken law that does not require drivers to bring financial support – right now, if we don’t have the support, we cannot drive.

“What has already happened in history, we can’t change. It’s the present and the future that needs to be changed.”