It’s the number that will adorn Matthew Brabham’s white and turquoise United Fiber & Data/MAZDASPEED car in his inaugural season in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. However, 83 is not just a number. It’s family.
“The first time I raced go-karts I was in the 83,” said Brabham, the American-born, Australian-reared driver. “It was my dad’s number when he was racing in the IMSA GTP days. It’s kind of a weird thing with my family, between just my mom, myself and my dad.”
If one of the trio races on four wheels, they use 83. If it’s racing on two wheels or less, as Matthew does with when he competes in BMX, it’s flipped to 38.
Brabham, 19, signed with Andretti Autosport in October, and is one of three members of the Brabham gene pool currently competing in some form of racing. Nicknamed “Matty Brabs,” he has raced since age 7 in the Australian Midget go-karting class. While his family has deep racing roots with his Hall of Fame father Geoff Brabham and grandfather Sir Jack Brabham, a three-time Formula One champion, it was from the maternal side of his family that he first remembers experiencing competition.
“I don’t even know how old I was. But standing on the side of the beach at Lake Havasu for the (International Jet Sports Boating Association) World Finals and watching my mom race jet skis was fun,” Brabham said.
Brabham has since conquered every racing challenge. In 2012, after moving to Florida, he won the USF2000 championship with four wins and seven more podium finishes. He followed that in Pro Mazda with a record 13 wins, including a record seven victories in a row.
“My dad and my family have been in racing for so long and they’re very good and very supportive of how to go about things,” said Brabham, who turns 20 on Feb. 25. “Having a family like that, they try to keep you as humble as possible.”
Driving for Andretti, one of the most famous names in auto racing, Brabham senses more pressure to live up to his own family name.
“When I look at my family, I look at my dad as my dad, and my grandfather as my grandfather. Mostly just as a family relationship,” Brabham said. “As a teenager, when my dad starts telling me stuff, I’m like ‘What do you know? You’re just my dad.’ Then I step back and think he actually knows what he’s talking about; he’s done this all before.”
Brabham has tested in the Indy Lights car and sees his next on-track action this month at Barber Motorsports Park. The season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., is less than two months out. Those sessions saw Brabham learning just how different his new car is from previous rides.
“I found for me the biggest thing going from USF2000 to Mazda Pro was the power,” Brabham said. “I would go on the throttle and the car would take off and my head to would hit the back of the seat. I was completely blown away.”
Now, on bigger stage with higher stakes, he finds himself having to learn to control a bigger car with a lot more horsepower.
“When you turn in a corner, it has a lot of down force and the car is really grippy,” he described. “Comparing it to a Mazda Pro (car), it feels like there’s a train behind you pushing you into the corner.”