Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Oliver Askew: A Diamond in the Rough

By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer

Oliver Askew is no ordinary teenager.

The 19-year-old Floridian represented Team USA at the Formula Ford Festival in England, finishing second at the prestigious Walter Hayes Trophy Race at Silverstone and won the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. With that win, he earned a $200,000 Mazda Racing scholarship to fund a drive in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda for 2017.

The craziest part of this whole situation is that before going over to race in England in November, Askew had only three race weekends of experience racing in cars.

Three.

Askew had years of experience in karting, but usually a driver doesn’t have so much success so quickly.  However, Askew isn’t your normal driver.

He drove for Absolute Racing in his first two race weekends in Formula Masters in China, finishing seventh and eleventh with one retirement in his first car racing weekend.

“Then we went to Shanghai which was the second round and we actually were able to test a bit before that weekend for some open laps and I really felt more comfortable with the car,” Askew told Motorsports Tribune.

“Everything felt more natural for me after some more seat time and [we] went into the weekend and qualified second to my teammate, finished third and second over the weekend so my first podiums in cars were on my second weekend.”

Following that weekend, Askew did a round of the Skip Barber championship at Road America.

“I put it on pole [and] actually won the first race, but got a penalty for track limits and after that Jeremy [Shaw, President of Team USA Scholarship] invited me to go do the Team USA Scholarship process with the interviews at Mid-Ohio. So it all started there.”

The Team USA Scholarship is a program that brings a select group of young drivers to a shootout in order to select a couple to go to England for the Formula Ford Festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy Race, two of the most prestigious Formula Ford race weekends in the world.

“I met a lot of people [at the shootout], that was at my home track at Palm Beach. The Lucas Oil [School] cars were the same cars that I would run the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. So those were very fun to drive, very similar to the cars I drove in England, that was just the start of it.”

After the two weekends in England, Askew came home and was selected to run in the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca against several top drivers from different development series around the world.

“Coming from the Team USA Shootout and learning what I needed to do to get into the Team USA scholarship definitely helped me at the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. Then going to race those cars over there definitely helped me in the race at Laguna Seca. I was racing against the same guys that I raced in England and driving those cars is nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. To be fast you have to be completely sideways through the corners. I caught on. Cliff Dempsey Racing definitely helped me through that steep learning curve into those cars. I was involved with the right people and it paid dividends.”

There were 18 drivers in the shootout and there was a final cut of six drivers for the mock race held in the afternoon.  After the mock race, the final six drivers were brought out onto the main straight and Askew was announced as the winner of the shootout.

His father was waiting to hear the news and Askew gave him the news about the way you would expect a teenager to do so.

“I sent him a text message.”

When asked for his Dad’s response, he simply said, “It’s a huge weight off our shoulders.”

Askew’s father took him out to Palm Beach to drive the rental karts for his eighth birthday and was picked up by a major kart team and ran in karting for several years before making the jump to cars.

After winning the shootout, however, is there a ton of pressure to perform in 2017 with the Soul Red Mazda livery?

“It’s not so much added pressure,” replied Askew.

“I know I’m involved with the right people and that has been huge in my racing career so far – just being involved with the right people, being at the right place at the right time and people like Spencer Pigot, have gone through this program and has become a professional racing driver. “I think I can make it happen. I have to thank Cooper Tires, Mazda, obviously, John Doonan and those guys for the opportunity.”

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.

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