Oliver Askew is just beginning his career as a race car driver. But if the last few months are any indication, the 19-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., is on a fast track to success.
This summer, Askew – one of the country’s top go-kart drivers – had just a handful of races behind the wheel of a car. Still, he was selected as one recipients of the coveted Team USA Scholarship program which takes young drivers to England to compete against the top racing talent from around the world.
There he excelled, contending for a podium finish at the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch before finishing second in the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone. The selection also gave Askew one of 18 spots in the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship Shootout, which would award the winner a ride in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda.
“It’s been a crazy couple of months,” Askew said Friday at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Indianapolis, two days after being declared the winner of the shootout with its $200,000 prize. “Three months ago, I would have never thought this was going to happen.”
Askew was selected from a pool of 18 drivers representing nine different countries who came to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for a tough two days of competition. After the field was whittled to six finalists, he qualified third for the final race and found himself in a dual with England’s Oliver White for the top spot.
The pair then took part in a breathtaking battle, passing and repassing each other several times over the course of the next handful of laps – including one memorable moment when they battled side-by-side through Turn 4 – before Askew was able to assert himself and edge away to victory.
“(Askew) really made it a not difficult decision,” said Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot, who was on the seven-man judging panel that picked the scholarship winner. “His performance on track was consistently the best the whole shootout. He never made a mistake. That was impressive that he was able to have speed and always be in control. Off the track, he was equally professional and what Mazda was looking for was the total package, and we think we found the right guy.”
Askew, who has tested the new Tatuus USF-17 car with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, hasn’t yet decided where he will race his Soul Red livery in 2017. He’s hopeful of following in the footsteps of Pigot, who like Askew is a Florida-based driver who has used Mazda scholarships to rise from karting to the Verizon IndyCar Series via the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires.
“Spencer is definitely my idol,” Askew said. “I look up to him and I want to do what he did, move up the ladder and get where he is.”
But he was also quick to give credit to Team USA Scholarship founder Jeremy Shaw, who has also helped launch the career of Indy car drivers such as Jimmy Vasser, Bryan Herta, JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden through his program.
“He gave me the chance to be here and attend the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout,” Askew said. “I’ve met so many people through him – including Gil de Ferran, who has given me a lot of advice. (Jeremy) kick-started all of this. I learned something new every day at the racetrack and the past few months have been exceptional.
“I’ve had an absolute blast and looking forward to the future. It’s a dream come true. To have a lot of momentum coming into (2017) is very special.”