Carmel’s Own IndyCar Driver Jay Howard: On Developing the Next Generation of Drivers

May 2021

Having enjoyed the return of the deeply rooted traditions that encompass the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 throughout the month of May, Carmel Monthly is pleased to feature IndyCar driver and Carmel resident Jay Howard on this month’s cover.

From Across the Pond to Becoming an Adopted Hoosier

Born in the United Kingdom, Howard moved to the U.S. in 2005. He achieved immediate success upon winning the USF2000 Championship and Rookie of the Year honors. With nine wins that season, Howard broke the win record of eventual Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon. In 2006, Howard won the Indy Pro Series (Indy Lights) Championship and Rookie of the Year honors while driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. His success quickly advanced his career to the top level of open-wheel racing.

IndyCar Driver Jay Howard

Howard began his IndyCar career in 2008 and still makes annual attempts to compete in the series. Prior to qualifying for his first Indianapolis 500, Howard won the seventh annual karting event: RoboPong 200 at New Castle Motorsports Park. Howard has finished first or second every year he has entered the annual Red Bull PRI Show All-Stars karting event.

Additionally, Howard is on a short list of people that have won the USF2000 championship as a driver and a team owner.

When not in his workshop or at a track, Howard resides in Carmel along with his wife, Courtney, and their 5-year-old son, Hudson. He is also a One Cure ambassador—a project led by the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University.

IndyCar Driver Jay Howard

“I came [to the U.S.] from the U.K. pursing a career in IndyCar,” Howard shared. “I bounced around a little bit from Atlanta, Florida, Dallas and a few different places and quickly realized that if I were to have a career in IndyCar, I needed to be in the Indianapolis area. I fell in love with Carmel and love everything about Carmel—it’s got roundabouts, which is great, and is more like home.”

Developing Confident Future IndyCar Drivers

Howard shared that while he appreciates the path he has taken to reach his career goals, he recognized there was a void in the racing program in terms of driver development. With an intrinsic passion for coaching, Howard saw an opportunity to create a racing team whose core mission is to develop their own drivers internally by educating and passing down all of their knowledge to help the drivers perform to the very best of their ability.

IndyCar Driver Jay Howard

In 2017, Howard introduced the Jay Howard Driver Development team—based in Westfield, Indiana. The Jay Howard Driver Development team has accelerated its success since its first racing season in 2017 in the following races: F4 U.S., FR AMERICAS, USF2000, INDY PRO 2000, INDY LIGHTS.

“Even before I got into a race car and I was still karting, I have always loved coaching,” Howard expressed. “I saw a big void in the ‘system.’ There wasn’t anything [programs] specifically focused on driver development, and I wanted to take coaching to another level. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had a lot of people help me, and I was able to make my way, but when I made the big jump to IndyCar, there were so many aspects [of racing] that were completely different, and it caught me off guard. From the business side of things, the fitness and nutrition, to what’s expected of you on a day-to-day basis, I look back and wish that I had had someone educating me along the way so that I could’ve been better prepared and ready for IndyCar.”

IndyCar Driver Jay Howard

Additionally, Howard expressed that he wants to help not only the young drivers but their parents as well so that they fully understand what needs to be done and what to expect as the young drivers progress in their careers.

“From an enjoyment aspect, there is nothing better than seeing the kids reach their goals, win races and championships,” Howard said. “I relive some of those really great memories, living vicariously through them, and it’s a lot of fun. We’ve got some really great sponsors on board and some great parents, drivers and crew. Some of things that I really enjoy and find rewarding is seeing the kids change and become completely transformed.”

Howard continued, “The best thing my dad did for me was support me in the way that was needed. He stood back and let the crew do their job and let me have my career. There’s enough pressure for any athlete, no matter what sport it is. I never felt any pressure from my dad. He just taught me to go and give it 110% every time, and as long as you do that, that’s all that matters. What will be, will be. Some days it’s tough, and all the parents handle it a little differently, but fortunately, we’ve been pretty lucky and work with some really good parents. And that makes it easier on all of us.”

When asked what he will say to his 5-year-old son if he expresses a desire to race one day, Howard shared, “It’s already happening. When he was 3, he asked when he was going to go karting, and I just pulled a number out and said, ‘I don’t know, when you’re 5.’ So, a few weeks ago, he asked my wife, ‘Why doesn’t dad have my kart ready?’ So now, I’m negotiating with my 5-year-old. And we’ll see how he does.”

The Most Important Characteristic of a Race Car Driver

When asked what the most important characteristic is that he looks for in a young driver, Howard replied, “One hundred percent, it’s determination. They’ve got to be hungry. I say to all the kids that it doesn’t matter whether they win or finish fifth—the result is irrelevant. We always want more, and that applies to me and to my business and employees as well. I don’t want to let any of the kids down, and so it’s push, push, push, all day, every day.”

Howard also coaches his young drivers on the importance of balancing their lives and staying humble. He puts a strong focus on preparing the young drivers for handling the limelight, both on and off the track, and how the optics on social media can be a blessing and a curse to one’s career.

“I always use Peyton Manning as a good example,” Howard shared. “He worked hard at his profession and is a humble guy. You have to be confident to drive a race car that fast, but there is a fine line between that confidence and coming across as not such a nice person.”

The Future of IndyCar From His Perspective

With the most recent changes and growing pains within IndyCar and IMS, Howard believes that the future of IndyCar is in the best hands.

“I think we have the best man for the job, Roger Penske,” Howard stated. “I think that’s all we need to say. If anyone knows how to make something work and be successful, it’s him. And for me, what makes the Indianapolis 500 so special is the people. It’s not the actual race itself. In terms of driving the car, it’s a fun race, and that’s all good, but having all those fans on race day and the building up to it—there’s just so much energy in that place, and there’s nothing like it. And if Jay Howard Driver Development can play any small part in that, then that’s great.”

For more information on Jay Howard Driver Development, visit jayhoward.com.

Most Recent Career Highlights

2018 – Competed in the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM)

2018 – Started USF2000 team

2017–2018 – Named One Cure Ambassador

2017 – Started F4 United States Championship team

2017 – Competed in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM)