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The Early Years of Today's IndyCar Drivers

Join us as we explore the path professional athletes traveled to reach their elite status. Were they really just kids racing go-karts, or participating in youth sports programs on the weekends? In fact, they were! And for many, their path to becoming IndyCar drivers wasn't straightforward.

We've gathered some incredible stories of seasoned and up-and-coming IndyCar drivers. Follow along as we navigate the road they traveled to become IndyCar Drivers.

Marcus Ericsson

1. Marcus Ericsson 

  • Recent Accomplishments: 2022 Indianapolis 500 Winner
  • Team: Chip Ganassi Racing  
  • Hometown: Kumla, Sweden

How Ericsson got his start: 

One day, while on a trip to a shopping mall with his parents, an eight-year-old Marcus wanted to try out the mall's go-kart track. After getting his parents' permission to drive, Marcus nearly broke the track's lap time record on his first drive! The track's owner was Fredrik Ekblom, a multi-time racing champion in their homeland of Sweden. "He saw my driving and was quite impressed," Marcus said in 2015. "Fredrik told my Dad we should start doing it professionally and helped us to get in contact with a go-kart team. We bought a go-kart, and I started racing when I was nine."

Josef Newgarden

2. Josef Newgarden

  • Recent Accomplishments: Two-time NTT IndyCar Series Champion
  • Team: Snapon
  • Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee

How Newgarden got his start: 

Josef began racing in karts at age 13, a bit later than most young drivers. At that time, he also played baseball and basketball. He juggled those sports and school for two years, but at age 15, he was overwhelmed and told his father that he wanted to focus only on racing. But he's still had the chance to show his athletic skills as an IndyCar driver - and not just on the track. Josef has previously competed on NBC's "American Ninja Warrior" and has participated in the NFL Scouting Combine. He's also an avid ping-pong player and hosts an annual celebrity ping-pong tournament that raises money for various charities.

Pato O'Ward

3. Pato O'Ward

  • Recent Accomplishments: 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship champion in the Prototype Challenge class
  • Team: Arrow
  • Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico

How O'Ward got his start:

Pato was introduced to racing by his grandfather, who bought a go-kart for him and his cousins when he was six. He went on to win karting championships in his homeland of Mexico and in the United States before switching to open-wheel race cars at age 13. Since then, Pato has made his way up the ranks and is now one of the NTT IndyCar Series' top young stars. To stay in racing shape, Pato especially enjoys boxing and weight lifting to build endurance and strength.

Scott Dixon

4. Scott Dixon

  • Recent Accomplishments: 2008 Indianapolis 500 Winner | Six-time NTT IndyCar Series Champion
  • Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
  • Hometown: Auckland, New Zealand

How Dixon got his start:

Scott got his passion for racing from his parents, Ron and Glenys, who were both drivers themselves. "When (Scott) was a real baby, if he wanted to say good night to me, he had to come downstairs because we were working on the race car for the next Saturday night race meeting," Ron said in a 2017 film called Born Racer. "He'd want to touch every tool there, and if it had grease or dirt on it - that was him. He loved it." At age seven, Scott decided that he wanted to go racing after seeing his cousins race at a kart track in his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand. Many years later, he's one of IndyCar racing's all-time legends.

Colton Herta

5. Colton Herta

  • Recent Accomplishments: Youngest driver to win an INDYCAR SERIES race and pole.
  • Team: Andretti Autosport W/ Curb-Agajanian | Gainbridge
  • Hometown: Valencia, California

How Herta got his start:

Colton is the son of former IndyCar driver Bryan Herta, and while he played other sports as a child, racing always seemed to be in the cards. Colton began racing dirt bikes before he was four years old and raced karts into his early teens. When he was 14, Colton moved to Europe for a few years to continue his career. "I moved over there just to grow as a person," he said in 2017. "Being put over there on my own, I had to (learn how to) cook for myself, how to clean for myself." Now firmly established in IndyCar, Herta remains an active athlete outside the cockpit - he enjoys cycling, running and golf.

Helio Castroneves

6. Helio Castroneves

  • Recent Accomplishments: Four-time Indianapolis 500 Winner
  • Team: Meyer Shank Racing
  • Hometown: Sao Paulo, Brazil

How Castroneves got his start:

In May 2023, Helio will again try to become the first driver to win five Indianapolis 500s. Helio became enamored with racing by watching his father, Helio Sr., run a small stock car racing team in their homeland, Brazil. By age ten, Helio was turning laps at a go-kart track, and as a teenager making his way up the racing ladder, Helio drove for his father before moving to other teams that could give him more support to continue his career. When asked in 2008 about what would've happened if Helio had not succeeded as a driver, Helio Sr. simply answered: "Our efforts would have never been in vain because he is my son."


IndyCar drivers come from every type of background that help develop them into talented athletes. From go-kart racing to basketball, golf, or cycling, the early years of today's IndyCar drivers were spent participating in sports that helped them develop into the athletes they are today. Feeling inspired? Find youth sports programs in your area.

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