A weekly series providing an inside look at new faces on the Mazda Road to Indy, the only driver development program of its type in the world.
Robert Megennis makes the jump to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda this year after a successful season with Team Pelfrey in F1600. The 15-year-old New Yorker moves up to the team’s Mazda Road to Indy squad after finishing eighth in the F1600 standings with eight podium finishes. There’s much more to this young man than meets the eye.
MRTI: What got you interesting in karting and in racing?
MEGENNIS: We went to England for my dad’s 40th birthday and we all went to a karting track. I just went to watch but they told me I could drive even though I was only 9. So I went out and I just loved it. When we came home, I wanted to keep driving. We found a little indoor karting track and it all went from there with the Saturday junior racing leagues.
MRTI: Take us through your career to date.
MEGENNIS: I drove at the indoor karting track for a few years and then went to Rotax junior karts when I was 11. I raced at the club level, finished second in a club championship when I was 12, then started racing at the regional level. I finished second in the Northeastern championship and then won the regionals the next year (the Northeast Rotax Max Challenge Series, earning the title by 70 points with podium finishes in all 11 races). I competed in the Rotax Pan American Challenge, the Florida Winter Tour and U.S. Grand Nationals. I did a couple of Skip Barber Racing Schools then got a call from Team Pelfrey inviting me to test their F1600 car. The test went great – I loved the team and they thought I did a good job so I signed to race with them in 2015. I really learned how to race a car and had so much fun last year.
It was a big transition to the F1600 car but it’s all the same basics: track line, carrying speed, etc. But it was more complex with gears, setups, higher speeds, more risk. It was a lot to take in at first but I got used to it quickly. I wouldn’t be where I am or have learned as much as I have without Team Pelfrey. The coaches, the engineers, everyone is so professional but you still enjoy yourself so much.
MRTI: What got you interested in progressing to the Mazda Road to Indy and the USF2000 series?
MEGENNIS: With the eventual goal of being a professional race car driver, there was really no other logical step than moving up to USF2000 after F1600. The cars have wings, they’re a little bit faster, but the racing is better. It’s on the Mazda Road to Indy so it’s logically what you would do to get to the Verizon IndyCar Series. I want to get to IndyCar with Pelfrey so nothing other than moving up to USF2000 made sense.
MRTI: What are your expectations for 2016?
MEGENNIS: It’s hard to judge since I’ve never raced a winged car but I think we have the potential to be at the front, get on the podium and win a few races this year. I expect to learn a ton: how to race these cars and how to drive these ridiculous IndyCar tracks, which look like so much fun. And have a great time!
MRTI: In addition to racing cars, you’re a nationally-ranked saber fencer?
MEGENNIS: I was in love with Star Wars so it seemed as close as I could get to light saber fighting! I started saber fencing when I was 9 and I got good at it, so now I’m going to national and international competitions. That’s what I do with most of my time. I probably go to 20 or 30 tournaments a year, which includes local and regional tournaments as well. My dad is English, so I have dual citizenship. When I visit Britain I go to national competitions and I’m one of the best British fencers under the age of 17. I’m trying to make the World Championship team this year.
MRTI: If I wasn’t driving a race car, I’d be _________________?
MEGENNIS: I’d be a saber fencer! That would be my sole passion. Racing is different in that you can’t practice every single day. You have to go where the cars are. You can do simulator time, or train, but it’s not real practice. So I go to fencing practice four times a week. It’s not hard to balance the two, but it’s been very tiring!
MRTI: What is your favorite race or racetrack?
Watkins Glen was my favorite track and race last year. It’s Watkins Glen – there’s so much history. The whole track is amazing, all the high speed and incredible turns like the Bus Stop. I finished third on Sunday, which was my first podium of the year, which made it 200 times better.
Do you have any “hidden” talents?
MEGENNIS: I’m actually a blacksmith. Once a week I go to a forge and make knives at 2,000-degree temperatures. I love it - it’s fun and feels like art and science combined into one. And you’re making cool stuff at extreme temperatures and in extreme conditions! I’m a student, so with that and the racing, there isn’t time for much else.
MRTI: What do you do to chill out?
MEGENNIS: I spend time at home with my family and my dog. I’ll go mountain-biking or play video games with my brother, just hanging out at home.