Jack Hawksworth of Cullingworth, England, (70 miles northwest of Liverpool) has something on his resume few IndyCar drivers can boast: tractor driver.
During a trip to Iowa before the 2014 IndyCar race at Iowa Speedway, Hawksworth visited the third-generation family farm of Kyle Phillips near Knoxville.
pressdog: “When you went to that Iowa farm did they let you drive the tractor at all?"
Jack Hawksworth: “They did. They let me go in a straight line. I don’t think they trusted me to do any corners or anything like that. But I gave it gas full on the straight and got it up to about 10 miles per hour.”
pressdog: “You gotta be careful … massive low-end torque on those things.”
Hawksworth: “I found it quite intimidating to drive, to be honest. There’s so much torque. I don’t think I’m qualified to drive one of those.”
While American farm tractors are typically around 150 horsepower with top “road gear” reaching maybe 25 mph, on July 18, 2015 Hawksworth will find himself more at home behind the wheel of a race car as he and his IndyCar mates take their 550 to 700 horsepower machines around Iowa Speedway at a top race speed of about 180 mph.
For that task, Hawksworth has proven himself eminently qualified. After winning three races and finishing fourth in the Indy Lights championship for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2013, Hawksworth joined Bryan Herta Autosport's IndyCar team in 2014. In that year, he qualified in the Firestone Fast Six in three out of six road/street course races, including starting on the front row of the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and finishing a IndyCar career best third at Houston.
When Hawksworth returns to Iowa in 2015, he’ll also be with a new team, AJ Foyt Racing.
“I’m absolutely over the moon about it,” said Hawksworth during a visit to Iowa in early November promote the 2015 race. “At the end of last season, around August, I spoke to (AJ Foyt team leader) Larry (Foyt) about the possibilities and thought there might be something there. So then I went down and spoke to AJ and met the crew. It was an incredible opportunity.”
Hawksworth said he wasn’t overly intimidated to meet racing icon AJ Foyt, but did have the butterflies associated with a job interview.
“I kind of turned up for an interview, basically, rolled up in my suit trying to make the best impression I could,” said Hawksworth. “It’s always cool to meet AJ, because he’s done so much in racing. He’s won the Indy 500, Daytona 500, LeMans. At first you’re like ‘Wow, this is AJ Foyt,’ but to sit down with the guy and have a conversation, you realize he’s just a top bloke. You can talk racing with him and share stories and stuff.”
During a teleconference in late October, AJ Foyt said the team had had their eye on Hawksworth for a while.
"Well, we watched him race last year,” Foyt said. “(Takuma) Sato, he watched him race, and he thought he was very good. Was all in agreement. He's 23 years old. Then the engineer (Raul Prados) is a young boy. With a second car, we got to call our second car the young gun. Both are our main cars, but I think the two guys can get along good together. They've been getting along good today. I think they can race together and I think either one of them can win."
For Americans, talking to Hawksworth means navigating his relatively thick, northern England accent that can require a good deal of concentration, especially for flat-as-a-pancake Midwestern English speakers. But Hawksworth said there was no interpreter needed for the meeting with AJ. In fact, AJ Foyt Racing is a “proper international team.”
Hawksworth is English; his teammate, Takuma Sato, is Japanese, plus other members of the team hail from Spain and New Zealand. On top of all of that is AJ Foyt’s Texas drawl. “We got a little bit of everything going on down there. I’m not sure anybody understands anyone,” Hawksworth said with a laugh.
Coming to America
Hawksworth started his racing career at age 13 in 2004 at the Wormbell kart track in South Yorkshire. He competed in karting through 2010 before moving into Formula Renault where he stayed through
2011. At the end of 2011, Hawksworth decided to come to America and compete in 2012 Star Mazda Series, where he broke records for most wins, poles and fastest laps in a season on his way to claiming the Star Mazda title and a $600,000 scholarship for the Indy Lights series.
In 2013 Hawksworth competed in Lights for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports winning three races and finishing fourth in the championship before transitioning to IndyCar.
Hawksworth said IndyCar and its feeder series are becoming an increasingly attractive option for European drivers.
“I think for sure now there’s a big interest for European drivers to come over here and be part of the Mazda Road to Indy and eventually looking at IndyCar as a viable option,” Hawksworth said. “A lot of people growing up in Europe look at Formula 1. But now that Formula 1 is in some trouble, I think IndyCar has a lot of European drivers out there who see it as perhaps more viable option, and see it what it is, really, it's a great series and they want to be part of it.”
Hawksworth said the cost of competing in IndyCar is “so much less” than in the Formula 1 system, and that “teams are able to commercially make it work. From the perspective of trying to make a career, it’s more viable, but it’s still by no means easy. There are very few seats and it’s extremely competitive to try and even get a ride in IndyCar. It’s very, very difficult, but that’s how it should be, because it’s the pinnacle of the sport. It needs to be accessible to talent but at the same time it is the pinnacle and you want the best drivers on the grid.”
Iowa and Ovals
Hawksworth will need none of his tractor driving skills at Iowa Speedway, where speed and precision supplant torque.
“Part of the challenge of Iowa is you have a lot going on,” he said. “You never get a chance to breathe; you’re always in the turns, basically. It’s close racing and side-by-side racing and it’s exciting for the fans and an engineering challenge. That big bump in turn one … always trying to not compromise the rest of the circuit for that one pump, but at the same time you try to engineer the car so it’s not unstable over the bump. There’s a lot of compromising. It’s definitely a tricky one.”
Like many European drivers, Hawksworth has been learning about the fine nuances of oval driving.
“It’s knowing where to place your car in the dirty air and side-by-side racing,” Hawksworth said of the oval challenge. “All the small details of the oval racing is the tricky thing when you start. I feel like I still got some stuff to learn for sure.”
Hawksworth and IndyCar will take their next run at learning about Iowa Speedway on July 18, 2015. The weekend also includes Mazda Road to Indy races and an ARCA race. For ticket information, visit iowaspeedway.com. Learn more about Jack Hawksworth at jackhawksworth.co.uk/ Follow him on Twitter at @jackhawk41