Two of IMSA’s finest international drivers took major steps in their private lives in recent weeks as Australia’s Ryan Briscoe and South Africa’s Stephen Simpson became American citizens.
“It was a very proud moment for me, and the motivation and inspiration to become a citizen was there from before I even came over,” Simpson told RACER. “Once I arrived here, it was even cooler than I imagined, then I met my wife about seven years ago, who was born and raised in Indianapolis, and between the two of us, I don’t want to live anywhere else. South Africa is a fantastic place for us to go on holiday, but I can’t see living back there again. America is home.”
The JDC-Miller Motorsports driver’s tale is similar to the one shared by Briscoe of the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team.
“I’m proud to be Australian, and that won’t change, but I’m also proud to have become an American citizen,” he said. “This is where I met my wife Nicole, where we’ve raised our family, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I got here. It was a natural decision. My kids are born in America, and the opportunity to become an American was a privilege and an honor.”
The effort required to prepare for the citizenship test made life rather complicated for Briscoe and Simpson as WeatherTech SportsCar Championship events and personal commitments left very little free time to study.
“I became obsessed with the test, in a good way,” Simpson said. “I was given a study book, and there’s 100 questions you have to learn. When you go in for the test, it’s verbal, not written, and out of the 100 you learn, they ask you 10. And it’s probably the most prepared for any test I’ve been in my life. More than any test in school or my driver’s license…
“I took the test just after Sebring this year. I had flown back to South Africa for my sister’s wedding between Daytona and Sebring and used that flight to be quizzed on the flight. I’d studied it every night for about six weeks before the test, and we got to the point where my wife could read aloud the answer and I could read back to her the exact question…”
Briscoe relied on a lawyer who also doubles as one of IMSA’s biggest fans to smooth his path toward citizenship.
“Dustin Hesseltine did all the applications for me; he was very good and thorough, and he’s doing a lot of visa work for drivers and mechanics now,” he said. “He sent me the 100 questions, and I had a link on my phone, so with any downtime, I’d pull it up and study. A lot of it’s easy, but some are very difficult – knowing the Constitutional amendments; how many Supreme Court justices there are, how many representatives there are in the House… It was really fun for me because growing up in Australia, you don’t learn about American government and politics. For me, it was a learning process.”
The gravity of the process left a lasting impression on the Ford GT factory driver.
“When you go in for the ceremony, it’s kind of emotional,” Briscoe added. “The judge gave us all a speech how we’re all immigrants and that’s what this country thrives on. It was moving.”