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Star Mazda series developing much needed American racing talent
With the influx of international drivers into the IndyCar Series during the 1980s, American drivers are now the minority in a series they once dominated.

There are several reasons for this turnaround. When international drivers — who had no place to move up in their homelands — saw an opportunity to compete in a world class series in the United States, they began migrating to IndyCar.

With the emergence of NASCAR, more young American drivers decided to turn to stock cars.

Another reason is many young American drivers became confused about which step to take after competing in go-karts to get to IndyCar.

Some made mistakes that put them way behind in their careers, and some gave up altogether.

Tony George, Jr., the manager of business development for Firestone Indy Lights and the Mazda Road to Indy Program, talked about why he thinks there are not more American drivers in IndyCar.

“It’s all about relevant training and experience for those who want to make it in open-wheel racing. A lot of grassroots motorsports didn’t change with the times with regards to new technology. When grassroots drivers are getting out-of-date training, it won’t take them to IndyCar,” George said.

With the recent formation of the “Road to Indy” program, there is a much clearer path for would-be IndyCar race drivers.

The program is fully funded by Mazda USA.

Here are the basics of the program:

Level 1: USF2000 Series champion gets a full scholarship into the Star Mazda Series

Level 2: Star Mazda Series champion gets a full scholarship into Indy Lights

Level Three: Indy Lights champion gets a partial scholarship into IndyCar

Randy Bernard, the CEO of IndyCar, IZOD IndyCar series and Firestone Indy Lights Series, agreed.

“As a series, the most important thing we have to do is have the best drivers in the world,” he said. “We want to be known as the fastest, most versatile series in the world.”

George also talked about the big change that came to IndyCar when big tobacco companies were no longer legally able to sponsor cars.

“When cigarette money was no longer involved in the sport, a lot of the lifestyles that racers had enjoyed ended. That’s where ride buying came from. It was a huge adjustment in our sport and one I think we are still recovering from,” he said.

“My No. 1 goal is to develop domestic talent that is going to capture American fans and to develop domestic sponsors. Brazil and other markets around the world see great value to racing in IndyCar. We need more domestic partners and American ‘superstars,’ so fans will buy the products of domestic sponsors,” he added. More at Napa Valley Register

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