For the first time in more than a quarter century, American drivers have swept all of the major open-wheel road racing championships in North America. Furthermore, all of this year’s champions — Josef Newgarden (Team Penske) in the NTT IndyCar Series, Oliver Askew (Andretti Autosport) in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Kyle Kirkwood (RP Motorsport USA) in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Braden Eves (Cape Motorsports) in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship — are former winners of the Team USA Scholarship.
Now in its 30th year, the Team USA Scholarship offers opportunities for young American race car drivers at an early stage in their careers.
Jimmy Vasser was the first Team USA Scholarship winner in 1990. Vasser went on to win the 1996 IndyCar Championship and is now a successful team owner in both IndyCar and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Other notable winners over the years include IndyCar race winner and two-time Indianapolis 500-winning car owner Bryan Herta, whose son Colton scored a memorable victory for Harding Steinbrenner Racing in last weekend’s IndyCar series finale; 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice; Indy 500 Rookies of the Year Phil Giebler and J.R. Hildebrand; IndyCar, NASCAR and Rolex 24 at Daytona race winner-turned NBC Sports television analyst A.J. Allmendinger; current IndyCar drivers Conor Daly, Charlie Kimball and Spencer Pigot; and sports car champions Dane Cameron, Andy Lally and Bryan Sellers among many others.
Newgarden, who on Sunday secured his second IndyCar championship in three years, won a Team USA Scholarship in 2008 and became the first American to win the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch. Daly also sported the patriotic Team USA colors in Victory Lane at that year’s Walter Hayes Trophy event at Silverstone.
Childhood friends and karting rivals Askew and Kirkwood, both of whom hail from Jupiter, Fla., traveled to England together as Team USA Scholarship recipients in 2016, at the beginning of their Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires careers. Just three years later, both have a pair of championships to their name. Askew, 22, has won titles in both USF2000 and Indy Lights and is headed to IndyCar in 2020, while Kirkwood, 19, will graduate to Indy Lights next year after winning back-to-back titles in USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000. Kirkwood also won last year’s F3 Americas Championship Powered by Honda.
Eves, 20, from New Albany, Ohio, was awarded a Team USA Scholarship last year but was unable to make the trip to England due to a medical condition that required surgery. But he has bounced back in style, scoring a spectacular victory in Sunday’s final race of the season to claim the USF2000 title and another scholarship to move up to Indy Pro 2000 in 2020.
“It has been an incredible season for our graduates,” said Team USA Scholarship founder and racing writer and broadcaster Jeremy Shaw. “I could not be more proud of their accomplishments. It seems astonishing that in addition to Josef, Oliver, Kyle and Braden sweeping the one-wheel titles, fellow Team USA alum Dakota Dickerson (2015) has added the F3 crown to the F4 United States Championship Powered by Honda he won last year and Jonathan Kotyk (2017) recently clinched the F1600 Championship Series, too. Of course, none of this would have been possible without our loyal band of supporters, many of whom have been part of this program for many years, so a huge thank you to them. Long may it continue.”