Suppose you were blessed with a sponsorship deal funding an entry in the Indianapolis 500 this year. Hooray for you! Would you survey the landscape of all available drivers and decide your guy/gal would be…Jay Howard? From motorsport.com:
Former Indy Lights champion Jay Howard will race the #77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda at this year’s Indy 500 under the Team One Cure banner, a primary program of the Tony Stewart Foundation.
Howard, who took the 2006 Indy Lights title for what was then called Sam Schmidt Motorsports, has made 13 IndyCar starts, including one Indy 500 where he qualified 20th but was classified 30th on raceday.
“I can’t begin to tell you how honored I am to have this opportunity,” said the 36-year-old Briton. “I’m not one to give up on a dream and I have every bit of determination to make this a successful effort for Tony, Team One Cure and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. I’m in the best condition both mentally and physically, and my racecraft is on point.
Back in 2006, when Brandon Routh was Superman and Wolverine was a character in PG-13 movies, Howard was the 2006 Indy Lights (then Indy Pro) champion. Since that championship, though, Howard’s Indycar career has been quite the decade of frustration. Tony DiZinno summarizes this well.
Despite being hired by Roth Racing in 2008, he was unceremoniously dispatched prior to that year’s Indianapolis 500, replaced by John Andretti, and made only one more start later that year.
A comeback occurred with Sarah Fisher Racing in a second car in 2010, also part-time, although he missed the field that year, and then was not retained into 2011.
In a jointly entered RLL/Schmidt Honda, Howard finally made his Indianapolis 500 race debut in 2011, qualifying 20th and finishing 30th after an incident. He made two other race appearances that year, at the dual Texas race and the ultimately canceled Las Vegas finale.
Two other would-be comebacks stopped before they even had a chance to begin. Howard was Michael Shank’s driver choice for 2012 but Shank was unable to secure an engine lease. Then after being announced for a second Bryan Herta Autosport car in 2015, a sponsor pulled out.
This gives Howard a quirky career stat line of 12 race starts, one race he started that doesn’t count in the record books, four other races where he was entered but didn’t start the race and two races he was announced but the car didn’t show up to drive.
Howard is a personable fellow and a capable driver, and he doesn’t deserve the spotty career he’s had to endure. But it’s the career he has. Consider that his most recent race in Indycar was the infamous 2001 IZOD IndyCar World Championship in Las Vegas, which means he hasn’t spent a single weekend working with the current Dallara DW12 chassis. There are more recent Indy Lights champions like, say, Sage Karam, or Gabby Chaves, or Tristan Vautier, who have all raced at Indy in the current chassis. So, why pick Howard?
Perhaps the answer is Sam Schmidt himself. Schmidt has been working with Howard and his career before he even came to Schmidt’s Indy Lights team, and has an obvious fondness for the Brit. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of the possible that the whole package was contingent on Howard being the driver, with Schmidt giving Howard one more chance in the series. Almost makes you want to shed a manly tear, right?
Then again, maybe he was hired for his hair. Truly, it is unparalleled in the modern racing era. It’s what Sebastian Saavedra intended but never achieved.
Final Lap: Speaking of Howard and his spectacular hair, here’s they are teaching a teenag girl how to drive.