It was all supposed to be so different. There was only one lap to go in Friday’s USF2000 season opener at St Petersburg, and Myles Rowe was running in a strong second position behind Thomas Nepveu. Having been the fastest driver on track, Rowe had worked his way up to runner-up from fourth on the grid and was about to collect a solid amount of points. All he needed to do was get to the finish line, as the white flag fell.
By Jeroen Demmendaal
But Rowe wanted to win this race, as any true racing driver always wants to do. He also knew he needed to leave an impression, in need of additional sponsorship as he was, so he decided to make a move for that final, top step of the podium. Heading into Turn 2 and 3, that tricky, snake-like combination of corners leading onto the back stretch, Rowe put his car next to Nepveu’s and was determined not to yield. Problem was: neither would the young Canadian.
What happened next was as predictable as it was tragic. Rowe and Nepveu touched at full speed, hit the wall and wrecked their cars. Rowe’s teammate Jace Denmark was the beneficiary, ensuring that Pabst Racing would take race victory after all. All’s well that ends well? Not quite. In fact, after this weekend’s crash and the resulting damages, the question is whether we’ll see Rowe again at Barber Motorsports Park in two months.
Staying out of trouble
The reason, as so often, is financing. In a video posted around Spring Training in mid-February, Rowe confirmed that while he would be doing USF2000 with Pabst Racing in 2022, he only had funding for the first two race weekends at this point. When I reached out to the team after Friday’s accident, they confirmed that while Rowe’s car would be repaired ahead of Race 2 on Sunday, the repairs were “taking away a large portion of funds he needs to continue racing throughout the season”.
Should he have backed out on Friday and settled for second? Maybe so. When you’re running around with a budget of only 200,000 dollars and some change (a full season in USF2000 requires about double that), the main task in front of you is to stay out of trouble. That’s not an ideal situation, driving around with such financial worries constantly in the back of your mind, but it was the reality Rowe found himself in. He simply could not afford any damages. None.
Luckily, he rebounded in the best possible way on Sunday, winning Race 2 in dominant fashion and now making headlines for all the right reasons. After throwing away a podium finish on Friday, this win was probably the most important of his fledgling career. His main job in the next two months remains to find more money (and a LOT of it), but at least he now has a race win in his pocket. That should serve as a nice ice breaker in those conversations with prospective sponsors.
Highs and lows
In my USF2000 season preview last week, I wrote that while Rowe showed undeniable speed and talent during his 2021 campaign with Force Indy, at times he also seemed to have a special talent for getting in trouble. Too often he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, resulting in another DNF or a finish at the back of the field. As a result, he had a campaign in which he won a race but was also classified outside of the top-20 seven times.
Unfortunately, this weekend fit that pattern. Maybe it was this inconsistency that led Force Indy and its financier Penske Corporation to decide to let him go at the end of 2021. But for a kid who hadn’t raced for several years before the 2021 season and who showed great speed on his best days, his dismissal by Force Indy was pretty harsh. How tragic, then, that most of the 200 grand he received as a severance payment from Penske will now go towards the damages incurred in Florida.
This is supposed to be the season where Myles Rowe translates the raw speed from 2021 into consistency and results, helped by the experience of Augie Pabst’s team and its long history of creating winners. Judged by this weekend’s results, the jury is still out on Rowe. Once again, he experienced all the highs and lows of being a race car driver in one single weekend. Here’s hoping he can find the funds to continue his season – and that he hasn’t stumbled just one time too many.
Header photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography
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