Jack Hawksworth driving to the top as USA gamble pays off in Indycar and NASCAR

As gambles go, Jack Hawksworth’s decision to drop everything and pursue his motor-racing career in the United States was a pretty seismic one.

Jack Hawksworth: Has been competing on the American motor racing circuit since 2012. Picture: Sideline Sports Photography/Lexus Racing

If you add to that, the fact that he even had to sell shares in himself and his future earnings to just get a foot on the bottom rung of the motor-sport ladder Stateside, it tells you all you need to know about the determination and self belief of the Saltaire-based driver.

However, the gamble paid off handsomely as Hawksworth quickly proved his worth and, seven years on, he has a lucrative contract with Toyota Racing and in GT Racing with Lexus, having already competed successfully in Indycar and NASCAR and world-famous races such as Daytona and the Indianapolis 500.

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The 28-year-old even has the luxury of commuting to work from his home in West Yorkshire with flights to America paid for by his employers – something he would not have believed possible just a few short years ago when he began racing karts at Wombwell Karting track in Barnsley.

Jack Hawksworth in action in his Lexus during the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Picture: Sideline Sports Photography/Lexus Racing

“I’m in a fantastic position that not many young drivers could even dream of,” said Hawksworth, who competes in the GT Daytona class (GTD) of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for the AIM Vasser Sullivan team.

“The hardest thing in the world is to get paid to do this sport. I’m in a situation where I’ve got a manufacturer committed to racing which has backed me for the last four years and I can race in some of the biggest races in the world – such as the Daytona and Sebring races – driving these fantastic cars and earning a living doing it, so I am very grateful for that.”

The glitz and glamour of the American racing circuit is a far cry from Hawksworth’s first taste of motor racing when he was 12 years old.

“My dad had always been into racing bikes when he was younger,” Hawksworth told The Yorkshire Post. “When I was young, I used to play football but I fancied a change and tried four wheels. I always had the hand-eye co-ordination and the motor skills, so I had a go at karting.”

Jack Hawksworth on the podium during the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. Picture: Sideline Sports Photography/Lexus Racing.

“I went to the local track at Wombwell with my dad and then he bought me a kart and we went off racing.

“We started racing just once a month and then twice a month and then three times a month. Then it was every weekend. I finished school on a Friday and then I’d head for the track with practice on a Saturday and the race on a Sunday and it grew and grew and grew from there.”

It was not long before Hawksworth was winning races and championships such as the Rotax Max Junior Euro Challenge, the Trofeo Margutti and he came second in the World finals.

After racing karts in Europe for three years, Hawksworth decided to see how his karting skills would convert to car racing.

“When I was 19, I took part in the Formula Renault Winter series,” added Hawksworth.

“Just because you are successful in karts doesn’t mean that it would translate to a car.

“But it went very well. I had four pole positions out of six races and finished third in the series. At the time, it was a competitive series, Carlos Sainz jnr, Daniil Kvyat, Yorkshire’s Oliver Rowland and Alex Lynn were racing.”

A strong season followed in the 2011 Formula Renault UK Championship but with money running out and further opportunities limited, the Yorkshireman had a big decision to make.

“At the end of that year, it came to a point when I no longer had the money to continue,” added Hawksworth. “There was not really any path to follow. Even if you won races and a championship there was no guarantee you were going to progress to the next level.

“They had something in America at the time called the Mazda Road to Indy. It was a ladder system with Indycar at the top and you could progress through the levels like from F3 to GP2 to F1.

“If you won the Star Mazda Championship, Mazda would pay for you in the following year’s championship. It was a no-brainer for me and offered me that chance to progress.”

However, as well as taking a motor-racing gamble, Hawksworth also took a considerable financial gamble in order to realise his dream.

“I set up a company which sold investment in my future career,” he explained. “Investors could put money into the company, so I was basically selling shares in myself so once I started earning money, they would take a cut of that.”

But it proved worthwhile as Hawksworth was crowned the Star Mazda champion and has never looked back since.

A season in Indy Lights followed, and within a year Hawksworth had progressed to the full Indycar Championship, claiming a podium finish at Houston in his first season and taking part in the world famous Indianapolis 500 three times.

“The Indy was cool,” he said. “In the 500th running of the race in 2016 there were 300-400,000 people in the stadium. If you can imagine two-and-a-half miles of Old Trafford right round the circuit, all of it packed to the rafters, it was awesome.”

Hawksworth was quickly signed up by Lexus in 2016 for their GT Racing programme and he competes in races such as the Daytona 24 hours and Seabury 12 hours against prestigious teams such as Mercedes, Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini.

The series, which involves sprint races as well as the endurances races, means Hawksworth shares the workload with co-driver Richard Heistand and other team-mates.

“The first event of the year is the 24-hour race in Daytona in January which attracts some of the biggest names in the sport,” he explained. “Fernando Alonso raced it this past year and Juan Pablo Montoya. There’s also the 12-hour race at Sebring, which is another famous one, then we kick on to the sprint season and finish with one big 10-hour race in Atlanta in October.”

After achieving back-to-back wins in Detriot and Mid-Ohio on the way to his best finish to date of sixth place in the GT Daytona championship in 2019, Hawksworth even managed to make his NASCAR debut before the season’s end.

After a driver dropped out, Toyota drafted in Hawksworth to deputise and the Yorkshireman did not disappoint – leading the race for long periods and turning a lot of heads in the process.

“It went pretty well,” said a modest Hawksworth. “I was fastest in the practice session on the Friday and qualified second on the grid. In the race, I was leading for quite a big chunk of it. They split the race into three stages and I ended up winning the second stage of the race.

“Unfortunately, we had a bad pit stop and dropped back to 15th, but it was a pretty awesome day.”

As to the future, Hawksworth has a lucrative contract with Toyota so only has eyes on lifting the GT Daytona Championship with Lexus next season, but is also aware that other opportunities may present themselves.

“I think there is an opportunity that I may do another couple of NASCAR races next season but, from Toyota’s perspective, their main priority with me is the Lexus programme,” he added.

“As far as Indycar goes, I’ve raced there in the past and I feel like there is unfinished business there. I was quick there and showed my capabilities and I really believe with the right opportunity I can go on and win.”

Whichever direction he chooses to go, you would put your money on Hawksworth making a success of it.