This weekend, Zach Veach will be making his first start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 driving for Andretti Autosport In Indy Lights testing a few weeks ago, Veach set the fastest lap of the session and was the only driver to top 190 MPH. It was the first time he ever drove on the famed oval. He also says that was the best moment of his career at Andretti Autosport.
Pulling out, seeing the grandstands wrap around turn one and going into two, the sun was this orange bright reflection off the track and for a minute I was lost I didn't know what I was doing because it was so beautiful. Then I was reminded really quickly that I had a job to do and focused on the task at hand.
The season has been a bit of a slow start for Veach, but he thinks that this weekend's race is way for his team to get back on track. "I'm excited to get back in the chase after a bit of bad luck at Long Beach, Veach says. "We have really great car and Andretti Autosport has done an awesome job and I think we have a really good chance to win on race day."
This season marks Veach's first venture into the Firestone Indy Lights Series after a brief stint in the U.S. F2000 Championship and the Pro Mazda Series. His entire professional career has been with Andretti Autosport and he signed with the team when he was 15 years old.
He got the call from Andretti Autosport after a potential venture into the Atlantic Championship went south when the series shut down due to economic conditions. He would have been the youngest driver in the 37 year history of the series. "Idolizing Michael growing up, it was something I really couldn't turn down."
He also was the youngest driver to sign with Andretti Autosport. "I always wanted to think I would drive for Andretti Autosport one day, but I never thought it would be at 15 years old," Veach reflects.
Along with Sage Karam, he is the only driver to move up the Road to Indy ladder program from start to finish. He attributes a lot of his success to the team around him. "It has been a very lucky experience for me because you have all the knowledge from all the drivers of the team and Michael himself."
Veach also sees teammates Carloz Munoz's success in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 as motivation for him. "Carlos has done a fantastic job as a rookie qualifying in the middle of the front row, and I am very happy for him."
"It gives me something to look forward to as well because he ran one season of Indy Lights as a rookie, and the next season he is running the Indy 500 in his second season of Lights," says Munoz. "It is exciting for me because I think Andretti has the same plan for us, but a lot of things change over the year we just have to evaluate for where we are at the end of the season and if we can find the funding for that at well, that will make it possible."
Racing for the first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an experience that any driver will treasure, and Veach's experience is no different.
It is special running here the very first time, Indy is a place you always dream of as a little kid, but when I strap into the car I lose some of those in awe moments because I'm back where I need to be and I'm focused on how to be fast and all of that goes away, but as soon as I get back out of the car and look up at the Pagoda and the timing stand and I can see the bricks I realize where I'm at and it hits me all over again.
Veach is also set to graduate High School next week, but not in the traditional brick and mortar way most kids do. He had obtained his high school education through an online program: K-12 online, which is also his sponsor.
It's cool for me to drive for them because I wouldn't be where I'm at today if it wasn't for them because it allowed me to finish my education while I'm traveling on the road, something I no other school would be able to do.
Veach says that he was drawn to open wheel racing when he was around four years old. "I told my parents one day I'm going to drive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and they kind of brushed it off and said yeah next week you'll want to be an astronaut." "It is special now to have my family here this weekend kind of in a way to say hey I told you I'd be here." At the same time Veech says he is thankful for the lucky breaks he has been given and feels lucky to be where he is at right now.
Off the track, Veach is an advocate against Distracted Driving and Bullying. His advocacy stems from his personal experiences. "I was bullied in middle school, and it almost let to me giving up on my dream, and if I would have done that, there would have been no way that I would be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today," says Veach. "I always wanted to go out and help kids and encourage them to do whatever they want to do in life because that's important to them and I want to help bullies see the wrong in what they are doing."
Veach also was interviewed by veteran journalist Larry King and becomes the second race car driver to be interviewed by King, following Danica Patrick.
On the distracted driving side, a young girl in Veach's hometown was killed while texting and driving and he initially started advocating against distracted driving to help his community move forward.
Veech says that his favorite race track is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and if he could drive any race car on it, it would be an Indy Car from the '90s. "That to me, was the awesome days of racing and was the golden age of car design," says Veach. "It was also the first cars I saw when I was a kid."