By Christina Fernández-Morrow, Hola Iowa
Professional IndyCar racer Patricio “Pato” O’Ward Junco, a native of Monterrey, Mexico will be racing at the Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend at the Iowa Speedway in Newton July 21-23. O’Ward, who considers himself, “full-blown Mexican,” despite his Irish surname from his paternal great-grandfather, will be competing with the highly ranked Arrow McLaren SP team. Iowans may remember last year when O’Ward came from behind to take first place during the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 race, coupled with his second-place finish the day prior in the HyVeeDeals.com 250.
The 24-year-old began his racing career in 2005 in kart racing, a sport he loved since his grandfather gave him his first go-kart when he was only three years old. By age six he was spending hours at the go-kart tracks at Rio Santa Catarina in Monterrey. At the age of 12, O’Ward won the Rotax Max Challenge Mexico championship and followed that by winning the World Karting Association KF Junior championship in 2012 when he was just 13 years old. He continued to pursue karting after his family moved to San Antonio, Texas just before his first year of high school. He stayed in open wheel racing until 2018 when he caught the eye of scouts for professional IndyCar drivers and signed with Andretti Autosport. That year he competed in the Indy Lights championship where he won 9 of the 17 races, including a race at the Iowa Speedway on July 8. He was named Rookie of the Year and was the youngest driver to win that series. Two weeks later he tied with David Martínez, who at the time held the title for the best finish on a debut open wheel race by a Mexican driver.
By 2020 O’Ward had signed with Arrow McLaren Sports, the leading IndyCar Series operation in the United States. That year he achieved his first podium finish, coming in second during the second round of the Road America double-header competition. O’Ward’s success in the IndyCar Series has made him a national hero in Mexico. He is often seen as a role model for young Mexican drivers, and he hopes to inspire others to pursue their dreams. As he told La Revista Mujer as he prepared for the NTT Indycar Series season, “I have a lot of respect for my country, and I always display or wear the Mexican flag, or a charro hat when they give me a prize. I also hope that other Mexicans will be encouraged to engage with this fascinating sport, but it is important to remind them, as in everything that you are passionate about, to never give up. Never.”
The same year he returned to Iowa, finishing fourth at the Iowa Speedway. That put him fourth in the overall points standings heading into the Indy 500, the biggest competition for IndyCar racing, where he finished in sixth place and won the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award his first time competing. O’Ward takes pride in his Mexican heritage and often speaks about how it motivates him to succeed. During a podcast interview in 2019, O’Ward said, “I’m proud to be Mexican and represent my country on the world stage. I want to make Mexico proud.” In fact, one of the first IndyCars he raced with was painted red, white, and green like the Mexican flag.
O’Ward performs well in Iowa
Since making a splash in the Indy car racing world, O’Ward has raced in Newton, Iowa three times – in 2018 where he clocked nearly 155 mph to win the Indy Lights Tournament, in 2020 and in 2022, the same year he came in sixth at the Indy500. This year, he is tied for fifth place in the overall standings with one more race, today in Toronto, before he returns for the Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend at the Iowa Speedway. It should be an exciting race weekend. According to his coaches and teammates at McLaren, O’Ward is, “bringing the next generation of superstars to one of the most exciting racing products in the world. He is full of passion for his sport, his family, and his country. Being the only Mexican driver currently in the series, Pato taps into one of the world’s most diehard motorsports fanbases and has an incredibly loyal following both at the racetrack and on social media.”
This year’s Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend is expected to draw over 80,000 race car fans to the Iowa Speedway for a weekend of competition and entertainment. In addition to cheering on O’Ward and his team as he battles for a first-place finish, the weekend will be packed with performances. They’re bringing back Free Family Friday where everyone can get in free to the Iowa Speedway on Friday, July 21 starting at 2 PM to watch O’Ward and the rest of the racers practice on the uniquely designed short oval known by many racers and fans as the “Fastest Short Track on the Planet.” Stay until 6PM to get O’Ward and other racers’ autographs.
Saturday, Carrie Underwood will open the races just before noon with an hour-long performance. Kenny Chesney will close out the races at 4:30 PM with an hour-and-a-half set. On Sunday at 11 AM the Zac Brown Band will start things off for an hour-long concert and the party continues after the last race when Ed Sheeran will perform a 90-minute show just after 4 PM to close out the weekend.
Keep your eyes peeled at 2 PM Saturday and Sunday to catch O’Ward racing the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet as he and the rest of the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team take on the Andretti, Ganassi, Penske, and other IndyCar race teams looking to increase their ranks and break records. It’s going to be thrilling, as McLaren states, about O’Ward’s racing: “All it takes is watching him for a few laps, and you’ll understand the appeal of a driver like Pato O’Ward, who makes the most of every second he has on the track. His talent, combined with a massive, fan-friendly personality, creates a winning combination that isn’t often found in the world of sports.”
Historically, O’Ward performs well in Iowa. Race fans are in for a weekend of excitement watching this rising Latino star continue to make history as the youngest Mexican driver to shine in IndyCar at the Iowa Speedway.
To purchase tickets and for more information about the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend, visit www.hyveeindycarweekend.com or call the event ticket office at (641) 417-6007.