Veach Takes Lessons Learned from Mazda Road to Indy to Graduation
 May 17, 2017| 
  • Series News
PALMETTO, Fla. – When the green flag flew at Barber Motorsports Park last month, it was the realization of a dream for Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Zach Veach. Taking the lessons honed over six years on the prestigious developmental ladder system, Veach made good on the promise he first envisioned as a child, when the 4-year-old Veach declared to his parents that he wanted to be a race car driver.

As a 10-year-old, he made a trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that prompted a second declaration: that he would one day race there. The young Ohioan gets that chance this month, driving for A.J. Foyt Racing in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500.

“I’m just relieved, more than anything, to be here,” said Veach. “Every driver dreams of this and to finally have it – well, it’s hard to sum it up. It’s a feeling of nervousness and excitement. I had a great time at Barber and I’m so ready to go to my first Indy 500.”

Only 15 years old when he joined the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in 2009, Veach proved to be a quick study, finishing fifth in the standings in 2010 and winning the preseason Cooper Tires Winterfest in 2011. He moved up to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires then to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2013. He traded Indy Lights pole positions and victories with good friend (and eventual champion) Gabby Chaves to start the 2014 season, finishing third in the title chase. Sitting out 2015 due to hand surgery, Veach returned to Indy Lights last year, scoring three wins including victories in two of the last three races. 

But it was Veach’s IndyCar test – as part of a series rule allowing extra test days for teams using Indy Lights drivers – with Ed Carpenter Racing in early September that jump-started his graduation process. Impressing the ECR team with his patience and pace, Veach remained on their radar as seats were filled in the off-season. But a sponsorship deal with the Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim opened the door to AJ Foyt Racing and soon Veach secured the long-awaited ride for his first Indianapolis 500. 

The day after the announcement was made, ECR’s JR Hildebrand (the 2009 Indy Lights champion) suffered a broken hand in an incident at Long Beach and, suddenly, Veach’s IndyCar debut had arrived earlier than expected. He performed admirably in the 90-lap event, bringing the car home in 19th position.

“Overall, I was pretty happy with my first IndyCar race,” said Veach. “For what it was – going in on short notice and a limited amount of time to get familiar with the car – I was really happy with the progress that we made. I couldn't have done it without the help of JR and the entire crew at Ed Carpenter Racing. Everyone there was so open to helping get me up to speed. It was the longest race I've ever done in my life and part of that was learning how to save fuel and doing my first real race pit stops.

“Looking back, it just really shows how quickly six or seven years can go by. It seems like yesterday that I was 15 years old, not really knowing what to do in a USF2000 car. But getting the chance to race an Indy car at Barber was just another justification of what the Mazda Road to Indy does for drivers. When I talked to AJ Foyt Racing, one of the first things they mentioned was my drive at Road America last year, when I won with a car that wasn’t handling that great, and my dominant win at Watkins Glen. I think that showed them a spark of what I can do and that’s what the Mazda Road to Indy has made easy. You have the confidence to walk up to teams because they’re familiar with your past and your lifestyle.” 

With three Indianapolis Motor Speedway starts and a third-place finish in the 2014 Freedom 100 under his belt, Veach hopes to capitalize on that experience when it comes time to take to the legendary 2.5-mile oval on race day.

“The progression through the Mazda Road to Indy was a phenomenal help,” added Veach. “Everything leads into the next and that’s the great thing about the ladder system: driving in USF2000 made me feel confident in Pro Mazda, that experience made me feel confident in an Indy Lights car and, after my success in Indy Lights, that made me feel confident to step into an Indy car with Ed Carpenter Racing and show what speed I had. You level up with each jump in experience that you have and I felt more than ready to make this move, both at Barber Motorsports Park and now here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I have three years of experience here and my past has me feeling totally prepared.”

While Veach is ready for the final step up the ladder, he notes the contributions to his career by longtime partners Mazda and Cooper Tire, including the “Summits” which offer media, social media, sponsor and business training. 

“I have to thank Mazda and Cooper Tires – I ran on Cooper Tires my entire Mazda Road to Indy career which got me to this point. It’s sad, in a way, to be leaving for new partners, but hopefully I’ll be working with these new partners for the rest of my career.

“I learned so much during my time here. Like the Summits – they do teach you how to present yourself; on television, on radio and in front of teams. It made me just that much more prepared. When I talk to people on the phone now, they think I’m 25 or 30 years old and they’re always shocked when I tell them my real age. I think a lot of that is due to the Mazda Road to Indy, because it prepares us and makes us mature in a way that other series wouldn’t.” 
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