Kyle Kirkwood is arguably the best-prepared the NTT IndyCar Series rookie in the last 30 years.
He’s the only driver in history to win championships in all three series of the Road to Indy development ladder system.
He won the Road to Indy’s Cooper Tires USF2000 championship powered by Mazda in 2018, the Indy Pro 2000 championship presented by Cooper Tires in ’19 and the Indy Lights championship in ’21.
He also won the prestigious Team USA scholarship in 2016, the Formula 4 United States title in ’17 and the F3 Americas championship in ’18. The latter two series are sanctioned by the SCCA and supported by the FIA.
Kirkwood’s accomplishments in junior formula cars have brought him what he wanted. In November, the 23-year-old racer was named to drive the flagship No. 14 Chevrolet for A.J. Foyt Racing in the NTT IndyCar Series.
Grassroots American fans will be pleased to learn that not only is Kirkwood an American, but he doesn’t come from a wealthy family that bought him a ride.
Kirkwood is from Jupiter, Fla.; his father is a realtor and throughout his career scholarships and prize money fueled the opportunities he made for himself.
Members of the Kirkwood family were not previously race fans and Kyle Kirkwood spent three years driving a go-kart for fun before entering a race.
He started early, at age 5, after his father bought the family a go-kart for Christmas. “I was the only one who really took to it,” said Kirkwood, the youngest of three brothers.
Karting is known for being an excellent building block to a motorsports career and Kirkwood found that to be true.
“There were a ton of good racers in Florida — like Lance Stroll, Oliver Askew and Pat O’Ward — and we were all racing against each other,” he said. “I raced against Colton Herta in SKUSA on the West Coast, too. There were races that put me under more pressure in karting than anything I’ve faced in cars so far.”
Through karting Kirkwood earned his first racing scholarship, which came from A.J. Allmendinger’s company, Walldinger Racing, and Shell Pennzoil.
The now-closed Ocala Gran Prix, a karting track in Marion County, Fla., picked him as a fully sponsored driver in 2013. Kirkwood was with this team from the end of 2013 through ’16, where he was coached by American karting icon Gary Carlton.
“I also learned a lot from an engine builder/mentor I had in karting, too — Mike Speed, who is Scott Speed’s father,” he said. “His other son, Alex Speed, was one of my coaches, too.”
Kirkwood earned several titles during his karting career. What were the key things he learned during his karting days?
“I would say it’s understanding what you need to do with lines and braking; general race craft,” he said. “That was the hardest thing, and it’s much harder in karts than in cars.”
The first car he drove was a Skip Barber race car at Florida’s Sebring Int’l Raceway at age 14. He spent one year in Skip Barber and says it was time well spent.
“I wasn’t in a position to try to move up into cars financially, but then I won a Skip Barber scholarship based off performances,” Kirkwood said. “I believe it was close to $75,000 in scholarship money to go race in Skip Barber. I opted to just do a couple of Skip Barber races and a ton of testing in Mazda MX-5 Cup cars instead. I did two or three more years in karting before I took a big step into cars.”
He ran in the F1600 Championship series with Chastain Motorsports in 2015, winning the season opener at Road Atlanta.
Kirkwood finished third in the inaugural Formula 4 United States championship with Primus Racing in 2016, where the emphasis was on developing a new chassis and doing as much as possible with a low budget.
He also was awarded the Team USA scholarship, and he represented Team USA at the Formula Ford Festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy event in England that year, finishing seventh and fourth overall, respectively.
In December 2016, he participated in the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout, but that scholarship went to his neighbor, Askew.
Click below to continue reading.