ELKHART LAKE – It’s a great distinction.
Myles Rowe never felt like he didn’t belong at the racetrack. But neither is he ever not knew he was different.
Look around the paddock.
The NTT IndyCar Series has drivers from the United States, Canada and Mexico, Europe and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The three series of development are similar.
But black Americans? Rowe in USF2000 and Ernie Francis in Indy Lights are the only two Rowe knows of competing this weekend at Road America.
“Anything that looks like a challenge, I go head first,” said Rowe, a three-time winner who turns 22 this month.
He grew up in karting by idolizing Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso and the drivers who have done it since, such as Charles LeClerc, George Russell and Lando Norris, and by studying the kart video of 2021 F1 champion Max Verstappen .
“I saw there was no one (in karting that looked like me) so I went, let me be that guy,” Rowe continued.
“It sucks. You shouldn’t even think about it. But, yes, it’s very noticeable, the lack of diversity in the paddock. It’s improved a lot in the last five years or so – much, much better – but there is still a long way to go.
What about black fans? Rowe is as surprised as he is happy to see a black kid come over to say hello or ask for an autograph.
It happens, but it is the exception. The smiles are mutual.
“I try not to make it a racial thing, but it’s a real thing,” said Rowe, an Atlanta native and recent graduate of Pace University in New York. “If you go anywhere, if you go to China and you don’t see any Americans around, you feel alone. Yeah, we’re all Americans and that’s fine, but that kind of culture that you have, there’s a lack of it and sometimes the viewers, you can see that. You feel it a little.
“Certainly they appreciate when they see someone who looks like them because it makes them feel like they belong, they’re meant to be here, not just come and go and hang out in the distance.”
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It bears repeating: Rowe is not complaining. He is not intimidated or particularly uncomfortable to stand out in his sport because of his race. He really enjoys running with and rubbing shoulders with his fellow competitors.
It just points out the obvious.
If there’s pressure on him to blaze a trail or inspire, Rowe is okay with that. Racing is about handling pressure, and if he can’t handle more of it in the development divisions, how could he be expected to do that in IndyCar or some other top series?
Plus, Rowe has a lot on his plate trying to go fast, win races and stay in the series.
Rowe drove for Force Indy last season and gave the team its first win, but was left out when the team moved to Indy Lights with Francis as the rookie driver. Force Indy is owned by Rod Reid, whose NXG Youth Motorsports has introduced thousands of students from underrepresented communities to the educational benefits of racing.
Rowe landed with Oconomowoc-based Pabst Racing Services for the start of this season, won two of the first four USF2000 races and led the championship, but also ran out of budget.
Eventually, Roger Penske stepped in to provide the funding for Rowe to finish the season.
In addition to its business interests and ownership of racing teams, the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Penske launched the Race for Equality and Change program to help support diversity and inclusivity in the ‘industry.
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“I didn’t know if I was going to get to Indianapolis, and then at the last minute I realized I was getting there,” Rowe said. “And I was still in Indianapolis and I didn’t know if I was going to walk away from that. Last minute figured out I was.
“So Roger Penske has been a huge help to my career and my future, being right behind Race for Equality and Change and behind Force Indy, picking me to lead the development of Force Indy and always supporting me outwardly now…always trying to help me climb the ladder.
For Rowe — who is second in points ahead of Road America’s doubleheader on Saturday and Sunday — his season’s uncertainty is an example of how the racing business model is broken at the grassroots and paid development levels.
Nobody gets anywhere without having access to thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.
“They need to find a way to get sponsors for the teams so the teams get the money so they can hire the drivers and so the teams can choose who is talented not who has the most money,” Rowe said. “… So the teams can choose drivers who can come and show their talent like in any other sport.”
Rowe hopes he can fulfill his racing dreams, but he’s also realistic. He was away from the sport for four years before returning last season via Force Indy, and that could have been the end of it.
Fortunately, Rowe has other passions, cinema being the biggest of them. It’s where he graduated from college and worked with a company that does video and photography projects for IndyCar and sports car clients.
“I’m a big believer in making your dreams come true,” Rowe said. “Everything that excites me, cinema, racing, I will go all out and achieve it with all my might and with all my effort.”