Get To Know Indy Lights Drivers: Colton Herta
From growing up at racetracks, to balancing homework and a burgeoning racing career, this young driver is ready to make his move.
Colton Herta is your typical 17-year-old.
He enjoys playing sports like lacrosse and soccer, battles schoolwork like every teen in high school, and hangs out with friends when he has time.
He is nearly identical to the high school junior you’re thinking of right now. Well, other than the fact that he has a career racing cars at almost 150 mph.
Colton has been around racing, most notably IndyCar, for his entire life. His dad, Bryan Herta, raced in CART for nine years and then in IndyCar with Andretti Green Racing from 2003 to 2006. During his time with Andretti, Bryan won two races, and his résumé at IMS includes a fourth-place finish in 2004 and third in 2005.
Watching his dad race at 200 mph almost every weekend had a lasting effect on Colton. It wasn’t long before he strapped up his boots and started on a path to open-wheel racing.
“I got the chance to hop in a go-kart at 5, and I loved it,” Colton says. “Ever since then, it’s been progressing into bigger opportunities.”
Colton started racing open-wheel vehicles seven years later at only 12 years old. A three-day school at Road Atlanta led to an opportunity with Skip Barber, and his career took off. When he was 14, Colton lived in England on his own, racing and studying the sport.
“It just matured me massively as not only a racer, but as a person,” Colton says. “I had to clean and cook for myself, which is stuff you don’t think about when you’re living at home with Mom there. Racing over there also made me a better driver, so the transition back over here has been super smooth.”
Almost everywhere he has gone, Colton has made history by becoming the youngest driver to compete in the series. In his one-off appearance at the Global RallyCross Championship Lites series, he was the youngest driver to ever race, at only 14. The same could be said when he raced in the MSA Formula series in the UK, where at 15, he was the youngest driver and the only American driver on a British-dominated grid. His appearance there helped the U.S. team win the Nations Cup that year.
Since returning to the states, Colton has had a smooth transition into Indy Lights under Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing. He currently sits at third in the points, and has two wins and a second-place finish under his belt six races into the season. His next test will be his biggest, as the Lights series will have its first test on an oval this season in the Freedom 100.
“Everybody looks at IMS as the track they want to win on,” Colton says. “They all want to win the Indy 500, and just to compete in the Freedom 100 means I’m one step closer. It’s huge and I’m psyched for the race.”
The transition into Indy Lights has been smooth because of the partnership between the Hertas and Andretti Autosport, which dates back to 2003, when Bryan raced with the team. Just like his dad, Colton now has the opportunity to race with one of the biggest names in the racing world. It also means he gets to race with the team that won the Freedom 100 last year.
“I’ve been in talks with them ever since my dad was driving for them,” Colton says. “They always joked that I was going to one day drive for them, and it started to become more real the older I got. With it being an Andretti-Steinbrenner entry, those are two household names, so it’s a real honor.”
One member of the Herta family did pick up a win at IMS last season, not as driver, but as a race strategist.
Colton’s dad was the man on the radio helping Alexander Rossi along the final laps as his number 98 NAPA Honda had just enough fuel to cross the Yard of Bricks to win the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Colton was not in Indy the day of the 500, as he had a race in England that weekend. By the time Rossi had taken the checkered flag, Colton was watching the race on a delay. He streamed the race with the free Wi-Fi there, and actually watched it at the premiere. Like most of the 350,000 in attendance for the race that day, Colton was shocked that the fuel strategy actually panned out.
“It was pretty amazing,” Colton said. “I didn’t think they were going to make it. I was almost sure of it, and I’m honestly not sure how they made it. The fuel number was ridiculous.”
Despite all of the traveling and the long weekends spent racing, he is still your typical 17-year-old junior in high school, which means the work that comes along with it. When he’s not out on a track, Colton is almost certainly finishing up his homework and getting ready for his senior year of high school.
“I do an online schooling program called APEX that’s linked to my school,” Colton says. “I could transfer back to my school if I wanted to, and I’d be doing the same exact work. When I’m not racing, I’m focused on school. Right now, I’ve been studying from 8 to 8, just trying to get through the month and get ready for finals. I’m excited to get that done with.”
So as it turns out, Colton isn’t like most teenagers in America. He’s found a way to balance school life with a full-time racing career. Not many can stake this claim.