A look at the rise of U.S. F2000 driver Oliver Askew
On the heels of a series high 7 race wins, 20-year-old Jupiter, Florida native Oliver Askew sits atop the Cooper Tires U.S. F2000 Championship Powered by Mazda championship by 13 points headed into next month’s final round at Watkins Glen. During the recent IndyCar race weekend at Mid-Ohio, I sat down with Askew to talk about his season, and goals for climbing the Mazda Road to Indy Ladder.
To begin, I met with Askew on Saturday morning, about two hours before he was scheduled to take the green flag in the second of two races during the weekend. And this brings me to something that I’ve long contended is an impressive trait race drivers possess that I personally do not: an ability to compartmentalize. Keep in mind, Askew is and was in a very tight battle for a championship that could mean the difference between his racing career continuing or not. Yet, here he was 120 minutes before the penultimate race of that championship totally in the moment without the slightest hint of being rushed.
Askew is also similar to many race car drivers you meet in numerous ways in that he’s very intelligent, polite and polished. Before getting together with Askew, one fellow IndyCar media member told me I was about to meet “Josef Junior,” comparing Askew both on-track and off with the very talented and polished Newgarden.
Another thing you immediately notice about Askew is his height. At 6’3, he is rather tall for a race car driver, and I asked whether this posed any difficulties. “More in karting than cars,” was the very simple response.
However, ultimately the biggest take-away from my meeting with Askew was not so much the success he was having, nor his maturity; rather it was the numerous instances, which had they gone the other way, could very well have meant Askew would not be in the position he currently is.
Following a number of successful years in karting, Askew tried his hand in cars for the first time in 2015 running Formula Masters China and enjoyed moderate success with two podium finishes in six races. However, without the funding to make the full-time jump to cars, Askew spent the early part of 2016 at a bit of a crossroads. And other than a brief stint in Skip Barber, opportunities to race cars were proving quite difficult to come by.
“I was really beginning to wonder if I was done. Racing is so expensive, and we were plain out of money,” said Askew, noting his lack of funding to make the jump into a junior formula car series.
However, some casual surfing of the internet would put into effect a chain of events that would completely change Askew’s fortunes.
Askew came across the Jeremy Shaw-led Team USA Scholarship, which counts amongst its famous alumni A.J. Allmendinger, Jimmy Vasser, Bryan Herta, Charlie Kimball, Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly and Spencer Pigot. Askew would reach out a few times to Shaw, who was eventually impressed enough to add him to a group of 11 drivers that would travel to Mid-Ohio during the IndyCar weekend in 2016.
“Honestly, I think we were all somewhat star-struck,” says Askew about the opportunity provided by Team USA Scholarship to hobnob with drivers, team principals, series principals and the like. They would also be put through a series of interviews with a panel that included Josef Newgarden, Patrick Long, Charlie Kimball and Mike Hull.
Askew would make the cut at Mid-Ohio, as one of six drivers chosen to participate in a one-day shootout at the Lucas Oil Racing School at Palm Beach International Raceway in September of 2016. The panel at PBIR led by two-time CART Champion and 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran would then select Askew and Kyle Kirkwood. The two would go then head off to England for the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, and then the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone, where Askew would win a heat race and finish second in the trophy standings.
Success at the above mentioned stops would still offer no guarantees. But it did punch Askew’s ticket to the Mazda Road to Indy U.S. F2000 $200k Scholarship Shootout at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Despite little experience in cars, Askew would go on to beat 17 competitors from 9 different countries to win the Shootout and earn a seat for the season in U.S. F2000 with Cape Motorsports.
So, to briefly repeat: midway through 2016 Askew believed he was possibly done racing; he was given something of a lifeline by Team USA Scholarship with the trip to Mid-Ohio and emerged as one of 6 from the group of 11; he would then emerge as one of the two from that group of 6 and go to England. In England, he would finish 2nd of 120 cars and then parlay his success there into the opportunity at Laguna Seca. And even still with his success in England, he still needed to be 17 other drivers to earn a $200k scholarship for this year’s U.S. F2000 championship. He did that.
Oh, and lest we forget, after all of the above, Askew now leads the U.S. F2000 championship with one race remaining. Yes, quite a year.
“Drivers of Oliver's caliber don't come along very often,” says Shaw. “The more I see of him, the more I am impressed. There's never been any doubt about his capability but it took him awhile to find the key to the door that would allow him to make the move from karts to cars. Since then he has worked hard both on and off the track to take advantage of the opportunities that have presented themselves. I believe he has everything it takes to establish a top-line career in this sport.”
Former IndyCar and F1 driver Derek Daly, who currently coaches young drivers, agrees with Shaw.
“Oliver is good - very good,” says Daly. “He recognized early in his career that he needed a professional structure. He got a manager and together they have positioned him to learn at an accelerated rate with good people and good equipment. I think we will hear a lot more about him in the years to come.”
Others have taken notice of Askew’s performance as well. Earlier this year, Askew signed with Rising Star Racing, an Indianapolis-based talent agency founded by businessman Art Wilmes. Wilmes’ goal is to assist talented drivers that don’t necessarily have the funding to climb the ladder reach the top levels of the sport. RSR counts among its clients current IndyCar drivers Newgarden and Pigot.
When reflecting on the past year, Askew notes “The chances of me getting here in the first place seemed to be so slim; but it was just a matter of opportunity and preparation intersecting perfectly. I will always stay extremely thankful for the people who have believed in me and have opened doors.”
Granted, there is still work left to be done, as Askew holds only a 13-point lead in the series championship, with a scholarship to move to Pro Mazda on the line next month at Watkins Glen. But if the last year is any indication, you have to like his chances.
Brian Carroccio is a senior columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com
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