Team USA Scholarship winner Jackson Lee reflects on a memorable six weeks in England and what he hopes is a glimpse into his future in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship following a promising first test with the Jay Howard Driver Development team.
I’ve been home for a couple of weeks after six weeks in the UK and the most incredible experience of my life…and I’ve already had a chance to get back in a race car with my first test in a Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship car!
Over the three events in England with Team USA, I learned more than I had the entire season up to that point racing in similar cars in the U.S. Part of the reason was because of the significant amount of track time we received in testing. But it was the races and the competition that made the most difference. I am much more strategic with passes; can complete them more consistently; and I am certainly much more comfortable in the rain (we had a lot of time in the wet!). Off the track, my media skills have also improved. I got a lot of practice with local print journalists; on the event webcasts; and with some Zoom interviews from the U.S.
This adventure was life changing and I will remember it forever.
The final event during my time in England was the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone, the current home of the Formula 1 British Grand Prix. That event featured 103 entries with only 36 making it to the Grand Final! I had solid pace during most of testing and in qualifying held provisional pole in my group until I caught slower traffic late in the session and couldn’t improve my time.
After starting fourth in my heat, I lost four spots at the start (my standing starts improved, but there is still some work to do), but was able to recover and finish fourth. I was in a tough fight for most of the semi but lost some ground in the wet conditions and finished 10th after starting eighth. That was good enough to qualify for the Grand Final. I started P20 and was working my way through the field in pretty heavy rain when a car spun in front of me and I had no chance to avoid it, sadly ending my UK experience with a crash.
The result doesn’t show how well the experience went. While I would have liked to finish a little better, I have improved immeasurably. And I still had a podium in my heat at the Formula Ford Festival and finished in the top 10 in the Grand Final at Brands Hatch.
I also had a great experience with all of my Low Dempsey Racing teammates and especially fellow Team USA driver Bryce Aron. They were all great teammates and helped pass the time away from home.
I especially want to thank Low Dempsey Racing and Cliff and Michelle Dempsey. They were kind enough to look after me during my first time leaving the country and made me feel at home in their home. All of us in the sport know how expensive racing is, so thank you again to the Team USA Scholarship supporters including AERO Paints, Doug Mockett, the Road Racing Drivers Club and SAFEisFAST.com, Cooper Tires, Tom Gloy Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, The Stellrecht Company, Dyson Racing, Bernard Rhee, RaceCraft1, Styled Aesthetic, Bell Helmets, Sparco and so many more.
And certainly Jeremy Shaw. For 30 years now, Jeremy has done all of the work to organize and raise the budget to allow two or three young Americans each year to receive a huge career boost and life-changing experience.
Also, I want to thank Leigh Diffey from NBC Sports for helping set up a coaching session with Rob Wilson for me and Bryce before we came home. Rob is one of the most recognized driver coaches in the world. It was very beneficial, and I was able to really learn some new things on the finer techniques of driving – all in a passenger car!
Shortly after returning home, I was able to take another big step: I was at NOLA Motorsports Park near New Orleans this past weekend for my first chance to drive a USF2000 car in a two-day test with Jay Howard Driver Development.
It was my first time in a car with wings and tires without any tread. The downforce and drag produced by the wings means the top speed is just slightly faster than the F1600 or Formula Fords I’ve been driving (I think we topped out at just under 145 mph). But the amount of speed you can carry through the corners is so much more than what I had experienced. The amount of grip added by the wings and slick Cooper Tires is a huge adjustment and a fun challenge.
It’s definitely more physical. (I’ll be getting back in the gym at Pit Fit in Indianapolis as soon as possible!) Once I got comfortable with pushing the car to its limits, my experience in low-grip cars helped greatly. I had been used to sliding around, so the USF2000 car felt like it was glued to the ground and I was very comfortable at the limits of the tire.
We are hoping to test at least one more time over the next month. This is all determined by when we find the budget for the upcoming season and then we can look to secure a seat in USF2000 for 2021.
We have made big strides but still have a way to go. Thank you to Tnemec and Indiana Coating Specialists, Caldwell Realty and Caldwell Subways, Rising Star Racing and everyone else who has supported me and helped make all of these opportunity possible! I look forward to now joining the list of Team USA alums, and plan to do everything I can to continue the tradition of success and support of this great program.