IndyCar Drivers To Know: Jay Howard

Six years after making his last appearance in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Jay Howard is back behind the wheel of an Indy car for the 101st Indianapolis 500.
It’s a fresh start for Jay Howard. With 12 career starts under his belt, Howard spent the first few years of his career making sporadic starts with Roth Racing, Sarah Fisher Racing, and Sam Schmidt Racing. His last race in an Indy car was a 20th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
Howard has been prepared for this opportunity since his last stint in IndyCar. The sport has had subtle changes in the cars since his last race, but just a few days in, he’s only noticed small differences and has adjusted well.
“I have a lot of confidence in my driving, even after six years out of the car,” Howard says. “You start wondering if you’re going to start liking the feel of the car the same. Sometimes you start wondering about other things while you’re out there. I got in, and it was like I had never gotten out. It was like riding a bike. You never forget.”
The race at Texas was the final of three races for Sam Schmidt Motorsports that Howard raced in during the 2011 season. Six years later and he has another chance with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, as he will be the third car entered into the 500 with the team. Along with sponsorship from Team One Cure, a project started by former IndyCar and NASCAR driver Tony Stewart to help the Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center, Howard gets another chance to leave his mark on the sport that he grew up loving.
“I was doing some charity work for the Tony Stewart Foundation, and I got to know his mom Pam and everyone at the foundation very well,” Howard says. “They just thought it was wrong that I wasn’t driving, and wanted to help. Right when they came and told us they wanted to support us and make it happen, the One Cure program just fell right on the table. One thing led to another. I’m racing for something a little more than trying to get my name on the Borg-Warner trophy by fighting for the cure for cancer.”
During his time away from racing, Howard has kept himself busy with his different contributions in charity work and by growing his new Formula 4 team. For years, he has had a karting team to coach kids, and has now propelled up the ladder with a new four-car Formula 4 team. While he has been more of a coach than a driver in this role, the team has helped him become a better driver from his experiences with the young racers.
“It’s given me a different outlook on things, especially coming back here for a second time,” Howard says. “All the criticism I give the kids, I now look at myself and think that maybe I can be better at certain things. I’m self-criticizing now more than ever.”
In the racing world, his Formula 4 team has been Howard’s biggest project, but in his personal life, raising his 1-year-old son has been his biggest project. And now, he’s getting another shot at the Indianapolis 500 with two of the biggest names in racing. To say Jay Howard is a busy man would be an understatement. Yet somehow, he still manages to balance his personal and work lives along with a rigorous workout schedule.
One thing that fans of racing typically don’t take into account is the physical toll that racing hundreds of miles at over 200 miles an hour takes on a racer. The g-forces that a human body endures during races is not something a normal person would be able to handle, so almost all racers have a rigorous fitness routine that keeps them in top shape. Howard is no exception.
Six years away from racing didn’t stop him from staying in peak physical condition. He goes to the gym on a daily basis, with a workout consisting of boxing, free weights, and soccer. Cardio-wise, soccer is a much better option for Howard than just running on a treadmill, as it takes his mind off things and he actually runs much more.
Out of the all workouts that he puts his body through, boxing has proved to be the most beneficial to Howard in not only staying in shape, but also making him a better driver.
“It is extremely useful with my hand-eye coordination,” Howard says. “The sweat and the amount of body fluids you lose boxing is very similar to after a race, as the car is extremely hot and it takes a beating on your body. Once you get in the car, though, you start using all sorts of muscle you forget that you have.”
Mentally and physically, Howard is beyond ready for the race. This will be only his second start in the Indianapolis 500. He started 20th in the 2011 race and rose as high as seventh before a wreck took him out just 60 laps in. Despite the six-year break between starts, this is a start that Howard views as one that could propel his career.
“Everyone comes here wanting to win,” Howard says. “Our first goal is to make sure we’re on the lead lap for the last pit stop, and the gloves off, so to speak. Outside of that, we just want to grow this program, and I’m really fortunate to be back with Sam (Schmidt). He has a first-class operation, and whether we have a good month or bad month, this is where I want to stay. Maybe get a couple more races this year. Maybe it turns into full-time next year. Only time will tell.”