Zach Veach, 17, moving up the ladder in Indy car racing

Zach Veach

Everyone knows there are major differences between 17-year-old race car drivers and 30-something race car drivers. But it couldn't be better illustrated than the activity of Star Mazda driver Zach Veach Wednesday and IndyCar drivers Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who are in the midst of a championship fight during this Grand Prix of Baltimore weekend.

Wednesday afternoon, Power, 31, spent his time doing media interviews at a luncheon in downtown Baltimore, while Hunter-Reay, who will be 32 in December, also took the opportunity to take a nap before getting ready for a sponsor activity Wednesday evening.

Veach, the 17-year old in the group?

"When we're done talking," he said, "I'm leaving here to go rock climbing at the Earth Treks Climbing Center [Timonium]. It'll be fun to clear my mind. I'm going with a driver from a rival team — I'd rather not say who. We are rivals, some people are funny about that. But it's good having a friend around the track."

That's one difference. The other is while the more grown-up competitors are more or less free to spend all their time with their teams if they want to, Veach, who drives for Andretti Autosports, started back to his senior year of high school Monday.

He goes to school online and appreciates the fact he can "go to school" wherever he is.

"I do my homework before getting in the race car," he said. "It's not easier than public school, but it feels easier because of teacher help being more individual. The program is more for the students than the schools." Veach takes classes through K-12, the largest provider of online education for grades K-through-12. And the online school is also the sponsor of his No. 77 Star Mazda Championship race car.

This week he also visited the school's Virginia headquarters to show off his race car to the school's employees and families.

"If not for K-12, I wouldn't be able to race," Veach said. "I'd have to be home going to a regular school."

Instead, he is moving up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. First hired by Michael Andretti, his childhood driving hero, when he was 15, Veach has driven in the USF 2000 series, the first step on the developmental ladder, and now the Star Mazda Series, the second step.

Last week, during a break in the schedule, he tested a Firestone Indy Lights car for Andretti Autosports and is hoping to move up to that series, the one just below the big league IndyCar series, next season.

"Our plan is to move up," he said. "The deciding factor is that I need to find the money. It's so expensive. It's not like football, where you can advance on your talent alone, you've got to have the sponsor to provide the money to take the next step."

Veach said K-12 is interested in making the move up the ladder with him, but that's still in the working out process.

"The first time I walked into the Andretti Autosports garages I saw the Indy Lights car and I wanted to drive that car," Veach said. "I've been three years dreaming about it. Now, I've gotten to test it and I went faster than some of their previous drivers. The engineer said I'm exactly what they're looking for."

You can hear the youthful yearning in his voice.

Veach is scheduled to make a charity appearance on behalf of Racing for Kids at Kennedy-Krieger Children's Institute Thursday, Aug. 30, alongside other Andretti Autosport drivers, including IndyCar Series drivers Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, Firestone Indy Lights drivers Sebastian Saavedra, and Carlos Munoz, Star Mazda teammate Sage Karam, and USF2000 drivers Thomas McGregor and Shelby Blackstock. Baltimore Sun

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