Zach Veach has gotten some serious mileage out of a fast-paced decade of competitive auto racing. A 22-year-old native of Stockdale, Ohio, Veach began his racing career with go-karts at the age of 12. It was here in Indianapolis that Dave Fisher, the father of IndyCar team owner and former driver Sarah Fisher, discovered him. Within a few months, Veach was driving open-wheel Formula BMW machines.
“As a young kid, I always had the hope that one day I’d be racing in the Indianapolis 500,” Veach says. “I never diverted from that. I was really lucky to have the Fishers help me along. Dave taught me a lot in kart and jump-started my career.”
After spending two years with Andretti Autosport and a year of racing in the Star Mazda Series, Veach had three successful seasons in Indy Lights. Following a fourth-place finish in the Lights series, Veach made the jump that all young drivers dream of making. Filling in for an injured J.R. Hildebrand, Veach raced for Ed Carpenter Racing in the 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, finishing 19th in his first IndyCar race.
“For me, it was completely different, because I didn’t have much notice,” Veach says. “I learned on the Tuesday before the weekend that I was going to fill in for J.R. Hildebrand, and I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare myself going into that event. IndyCar is much more physically demanding to drive, and the race itself is about an hour longer than an Indy Lights race.”
While the race at Alabama was a special one for Veach, his next start would be even bigger. For the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, Veach would partner with A.J. Foyt Enterprises for a spot in the field of 33.
“This is something I’m very appreciative of,” Veach says. “I’m a young American driver in the greatest American race, so to come here with a name like Foyt just makes it all that much more special. My goal coming to Indianapolis is to make Veach a historic name like Foyt, and this is the best place I can start that legacy.”
While 2017 is on pace to be the most memorable year in Veach’s career, 2010 finishes a close second. Not only did Veach begin his rise into IndyCar that year, he became a published author with his book 99 Things Teens Wish They Knew Before Turning 16, which he promoted on the Today show.
“I was 16 and just got my ride with Andretti and one question I got a lot was, ‘What advice do I have to give to kids my age?'” Veach says. “So I thought, Why not write a book of something I’ve learned the hard way? There are things as simple as doing the laundry to planning for college. I thought I had a stage to put my message out. I wanted to do as much as I could.”
The year 2010 was also when Veach became a major spokesperson for the distracted-driving campaign. After attending a taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show that addressed what’s called the No Phone Zone program, Veach met Jennifer Smith, the founder and president of FocusDriven. He was later named their national spokesperson.
This led to Veach campaigning for other IndyCar drivers to support the No Phone Zone. Veach’s work didn’t stop even after gaining the support from 33 IndyCar drivers; he released an anti-texting-while-driving phone app, urTXT, that automatically responds to any message a person receives while driving.
“I lost a close friend due to texting and driving,” Veach says. “I wanted to send out the message that if IndyCar drivers are the best drivers in the world and if they’re not texting while they’re driving, then you shouldn’t be, either. I was really lucky to have people like Michael Andretti sign the pledge saying they wouldn’t text while they drive.”
Veach has become one of the big names behind the anti-texting-and-driving crusade. All of his hard work paid off when he became the youngest person honored at Capitol Hill, when Ray LaHood, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, honored him at the 2010 National Distracted Driving Summit.
While racing cars at ridiculous speeds is his first love, his second love is rock-climbing, which has been a hobby for years with his best friend and fellow Indy Lights driver, Dalton Kellett. The duo travel to Kentucky every year to climb at the Red River Gorge. Their biggest test will come later this year, when they plan to scale the nose of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley.
“That is something we’ve always dreamed about doing,” Veach says. “For me, climbing is a lot like racing, where it’s not so much impossible, but it takes a lot of mental determination to get to the top. While I’ve been lucky to ascend the racing circuits to the most-competitive series, I still have a long way to the top. Figuratively, El Capitan is going to be my mountain to overcome in rock-climbing.”
Before his ascent up El Capitan, Veach has one more major mountain to climb this season. He is one of just four rookies in this year’s Indianapolis 500, though Veach knows that a win here is not out of reach. A rookie winning the 500 isn’t something new, as 11 drivers—including last year’s winner, Alexander Rossi—have won The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
“This is something I’ve been dreaming about for 18 years. Something I’ve envisioned winning since I was a young boy,” Veach says. “I think if we were lucky enough to win the Indianapolis 500, I would be in complete awe. A rookie winning last year—so that doesn’t mean a rookie can’t win it this year.”