On the streets of Surrey, Scott Hargrove drives a car with a fresh "N" sticker on it. It's a funny thing, because for the past few years on race tracks around North America, he's been hitting speeds of more than 200 kilometres an hour.
"I got my driver's licence last March," said Hargrove, 17. "Most of my friends don't have their licence, so they all bum rides off me. Most of them say, 'Scott's a great driver,' and they trust me, but their parents are like, 'He's a race car driver! Don't get in a car with him!'"
This weekend at the Road America course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Hargrove returns to the USF2000 race series in the open-wheeled formula car he drives as a member of the JDC Motorsports team.
Last March, his season began with a crash - in fact, a couple of them during a weekend of races in St. Petersburg, Florida. The first time out, he hit a wall, spun the car around and damaged the car's suspension. About a third of the way into the second race, another driver clipped his car from behind, causing Hargrove to hit the wall again.
"That was quite a blow financially," he said, "and our budget was kind of borderline at the time. It caused me to hang up my gloves for the summer, you know what I mean?"
In Wisconsin, Hargrove is stoked to return to racing car #38 for the JDC team. August and September are the busiest months in the race series, which continues Sept. 1-2 in Maryland and concludes Sept. 14-15 at Virginia International Raceway.
Among racers in the USF2000 series, Hargrove is of average age.
"The thing that's different about me is I started racing in 2008 when I was 13, and most of the people I race against started at age eight or nine in go-karts. In that sense, I have quite a handicap, but I've proven that I can still keep with the guys and give them a run for their money."
When the Now reached him by phone last week, Hargrove was having a new seat moulded to fit his body while in Minneapolis. Travelling to such U.S. cities isn't foreign to Hargrove during the school year, either. He's a full-time student at Surrey Christian School but frequently cuts classes to practise his racing skills, sometimes on go-kart tracks in Sumas and Chilliwack.
"All my time and effort is put into racing, to get to that next level," said Hargrove, who lives in the Sullivan area of Surrey. "I basically eat, sleep and breathe racing. It's what I want to do as a career and I'm really pushing every chance I get to capitalize on it, and make sure I leave a good impression so that I can have a good shot at a paid ride in the future."
Hargrove caught the racing bug after witnessing Indy race action years ago. His dad, Jim, hit the streets of Vancouver as an amateur racer in those days, and continues to drive on the Sports Car Club of America circuit.
In the USF2000 series, Hargrove is the only driver who hails from B.C., and he has a Canadian flag sticker on his car, next to his name. He hasn't yet won a race, but he's been close.
"I qualified second in my best race, before the season (in January), but in the same car against the same people. I finished third in that race, and that's my best result so far.
Considering I'm up against people who have been in cars way longer than me, it was quite the achievement for me."
In recent months, Hargrove has spent time go-kart racing with the Italian Motors team in Arizona and Utah.
No matter where he is, Hargrove's family and friends follow his progress on the track - even though some of them don't completely understand why and how he does his thing.
"My friends are all interested in what I do, but it's unfortunate that none of them can ever come out to see it live, to see what it's really like," he said. "Some of them think it's just pushing a gas pedal - like, what can be hard about that? They don't quite understand why it's so hard, but it is."
Part of the difficulty stems from the physical demands of cornering at high speeds, he said.
"The cars can corner at 3G, up to three times the force of gravity," he added. "That, coupled with trying to get the car at the same part of the track every single lap, is a huge physical and mental stress. It's picking the same break zone every time and making sure it's the maximum the car can do before you lose traction with your tires, and making sure you turn the car in at just the right time to maximum your rolling speed through a corner and not waste any inch of track. It's really a balancing act."
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series of races debuted in 2010 and is a continuation of the USF2000 series that ran from 1990 through 2006, launching the careers of many of today's top drivers. Sanctioned by INDYCAR and managed by Andersen Promotions, the series is the first official step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system.
This weekend in Wisconsin, with 30 drivers on the 4.048-mile, 14-turn permanent road course, the USF2000 will host its first ever triple-header event at Road America in support of the American Le Mans Series.
Hargrove's sponsors include Analytic Systems, a maker of power-conversion equipment, Skip Barber Racing School, Red Line Oil and RaceEnergy, which makes battery chargers for the motorsports industry. Scott Hargrove Motorsports is online at www.scotthargrove.com.