From fighting for a chance in Formula One to fighting for his life after being diagnosed with a terminal illness, Dean Stoneman has gone through more as a young man than most people go through in their entire lives.
In January 2011, Stoneman was diagnosed with advanced stage-four testicular cancer. The disease would ravage his body as it spread into his lungs and brain. Doctors gave him only a 30 percent chance of survival.
“I had four operations and six months of chemotherapy,” Stoneman says. “It’s been a long road to recovery, and it has been challenging. At the time, it was the biggest race of my life.”
Before being diagnosed with cancer, Stoneman was one of the most promising young drivers in open-wheel racing. He began his career in 2007 and just three years later was the FIA Formula Two champion. At the end of the season, he was able to test with Williams F1 for a shot at a Formula One ride. That was in November 2010. Two months later, he learned he had cancer.
Stoneman did not compete in any racing events during the 2011 season. That year was dedicated to fighting the disease and getting Stoneman back into shape for a return in 2012.
“I was just focused on getting fit again, getting well and getting my life back on track,” says Stoneman. “One of the major factors during my recovery is that I was already so fit that my body reacted quite well to the treatment. The doctors said that if they had given the medicine and treatment to an average 30-year-old person, it would have killed them instantly. My body was able to take it.”
Remarkably, Stoneman did make a recovery and in 2012 returned to the racing scene—not in a car but rather a powerboat. His dad was a powerboat champion in 1995, and Stoneman used the sport as a way not only to get back into racing, but also as therapy.
“I found that going out every day on my boat took my mind off of what I was going through,” Stoneman says. “I would take all my medications, injections—everything I could take with me—just so I could be outside enjoying the weather. I found that as soon as you sit inside and dwell on the fact that you’re ill and could die, that’s when it could get to you. But I just put that behind me.”
Once Stoneman got back into racing, he was able to continue where he had left off in 2010. He went on to win nine of the 10 races in the P1 SuperStock UK Series, and perhaps more importantly, he was having a good time.
“Me doing powerboat racing was about me going out there enjoying myself and getting back into my life again,” Stoneman says. “I was enjoying it with my friends and family.”
After dominating the powerboat racing circuit for a year, Stoneman decided it was time to get back into the car. He made his return in the Porsche Carrera Cup Britain and ended up winning both races in his first time back behind the wheel. With the Porsche season over, Stoneman consulted with his fitness trainer about a possible return to single-seat racing.
“I felt that I needed to get back into a single-seater, because I needed to see where I would end up,” Stoneman says. “I felt like I had something taken away from me, because I hadn’t finished.”
The return to single-seat racing came at the end of 2013 in the GP3 Series, with Stoneman signing with Koiranen GP. Stoneman finished second at Abu Dhabi. After two long years away from the sport he lived for, Stoneman was officially back.
Stoneman continued racing in the GP3 Series for another season, as he and his team looked for another shot at racing in Formula One. He signed with Manor Marussia Racing for the 2014 season. Midway through the season, due to financial issues, Stoneman was forced to switch teams and was fortunate to resign with Koiranen. In the final four races, Stoneman had two wins and finished second in another. If it wasn’t for an accident in the final race of the season that was not in his control, Stoneman could have finished first in the points standings, but he ended up finishing second.
Stoneman moved up to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series for the 2015 season then signed with DAMs and found a sponsorship with Red Bull. After two solid years in the GP3 Series, the Renault 3.5 Series proved more of a challenge for Stoneman.
“It changed me in many ways,” says Stoneman. “Racing with DAMs and having Red Bull as a sponsor changed me as a driver. It changed my perspective on how to go racing and how to be more professional about it. At the end of the day, it’s a job for us, and we’re here to do the job by scoring points, getting podiums and wins. It changed my whole perception on racing, so now it’s about doing everything in my power to make sure we win and to keep the team happy.”
This year brought a new stepping stone for Stoneman, when he received a call from Andretti Autosport about an opportunity to race in the Indy Lights Series. Seven races into the season, Stoneman has four top-five finishes.
Stoneman will be racing on only his second oval when he takes the track for the Freedom 100 today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Indianapolis is one of the best tracks in the world,” he says. “Oval racing is new to me, and it’s a learning curve. The Freedom 100 is going to be a completely different racing style than the first two races we raced here before, and I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never raced in anything like this. We’re going into it blind, but it is going to be quite interesting to see how it goes.”
At one time, it would have been easy for Stoneman to give up. But he kept fighting, beat cancer, and is now closing in on a potential IndyCar opportunity within the next few years.
“No matter what cancer you’re going through, it’s about people supporting you and being there for you,” Stoneman says. “Anyone that’s going through cancer—the best thing to do is to put it behind you. You need to forget about what’s going on at that time.”
Update >>> Dean Stoneman won the 2016 Indy Lights Freedom 100, setting a record for the closest-ever finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.