Cody Ware was at peace when he strapped into both of his race cars last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He wasn’t nervous for his third NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix on Saturday, nor for the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series race on the IMS road course, the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard on Sunday.
Ware, 25, was diagnosed with anxiety and depression as a young teenager and struggled to cope with its effects growing up. But when he strapped into a race car for the first time while he was in high school, he felt a sense of ease and calm he hadn’t felt before.
He realized racing was his happy place.
“It was the first time doing anything where I felt like I belonged, where I felt like I had a home, a family away from my family,” Ware said. “It was something where when I hopped in the race car, all the chatter in my head stopped, and nothing else mattered. It was one of the few times and places in my life where I can just live in the moment.”
It was a tough and challenging journey to find a sense of peace. In the years leading up to when he got in a Legend Car at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the first time, Ware felt alone. He was insecure, stressed and anxious.
It mostly stemmed from an incident in high school when Ware said he associated himself with the wrong crowd. He and his friends went to the woods one day. As the group approached a creek, Ware smelled something burning.
He said he looked behind him, and his group of friends were running away from him. He looked down. Ware’s leg had been doused in gasoline. He was on fire.
Ware said he dropped to the ground and rolled around in the dirt and mud to put out his flaming leg. He had severe burns to the back of his leg, and his parents rushed him to the emergency room, where he had to have his leg repaired. It was months before he fully recovered.
The incident dropped Ware to his lowest point, but racing elevated him back to a high. Ware still has days where he doesn’t have it in him to leave his apartment. Sometimes, even just going to lunch by himself feels like too much.
After hopping in the small-scale, fiberglass and full-fendered version of historic NASCAR modified cars, Ware wanted more. He needed that feeling of comfort more often in his life.
So, he pursued a career in motorsports that led him through SCCA, IMSA, Porsche Cup, Lamborghini Super Trofeo and even a deal as a development driver for Lamborghini. That route took him to the NASCAR Cup Series, where he made his debut in 2017 and now competes full-time, with some exceptions. These days, those exceptions are for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Ware made his INDYCAR debut in June at Road America. He finished 19th in his first start, beating the likes of Conor Daly, Josef Newgarden, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Magnussen, who also made his INDYCAR debut that day.
The Greensboro, North Carolina, native acknowledges the NASCAR Cup Series is his home and where his career is, but he said he has always wanted to compete in INDYCAR. This year, his father’s team, Rick Ware Racing, entered the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in a partnership with Dale Coyne Racing to field a car for Romain Grosjean.
That relationship opened the door for Ware to make his INDYCAR dreams a reality, too. In turn, he believes the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has made him a better race car driver overall. He believes the training he’s done this year to prepare for his three-race NTT INDYCAR SERIES stint in the No. 52 Nurtec ODT Honda has helped him hone his stock car racing craft.
He’s been doing more endurance training, core work and neck exercises to ensure he can handle the G-forces and lack of power steering in INDYCAR.
“Just being at that next level physically, to be able to withstand the G-forces and braking and things in INDYCAR has helped me be in better physical shape for NASCAR, as well,” he said. “I think just doing what I’ve been doing to train for INDYCAR has bled over and helped my performance in Cup.”
Ware was the only driver during Brickyard Weekend to compete in both the NTT INDYCAR SERIES event and the NASCAR Cup Series event. He said part of the reason he did the “double” was because he had a set number of INDYCAR races on his radar, he didn’t want to miss more NASCAR races. Therefore, having both at the same racetrack on the same weekend was perfect.
“This weekend is just fun all around,” he said. “I love Indianapolis as a city, and I love this racetrack. So, to get to run two of the biggest series in the world here this weekend together, it’s all fun.”
Ware finished 25th in the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix in the No. 52 Nurtec ODT Honda and 40th in the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Chevrolet.
While it was a big weekend for him and for motorsports as a whole, Ware said he felt as comfortable as always when racing. Sure, he experiences pre-race jitters when he straps into the car before the start of the race, but that’s to be expected. When the green flag flies, Ware is happy.
“I’ve been driving stock cars for 10 years now, and every time I hop in a Cup car, I still get the jitters pre-race,” Ware said. “It’s more of a nervous edge right now. I’m trying to, as my INDYCAR finale for the year, enjoy it and soak it in and be appreciative of what I’m trying to do here.”
Being strapped into a race car and performing on racing’s biggest stage drives Ware, but so does the comfort of being an advocate for mental health, which he opened up about a couple years ago. Ware said he hit a point in 2016 and 2017 where he was a bitter, angry person.
Ware said he realized he was not the best version of himself because he was suppressing all his emotions in ways that manifested as anger at the wrong times. Therefore, Ware sought help. He started going to therapy, taking medicine and speaking openly about his mental health.
His goal is to create a conversation around mental health in motorsports and to create more awareness. He wants those who are struggling with mental health issues to feel comfortable enough to speak about what they’re feeling.
“The biggest thing is we just have such a big stigma in this world right now, and I’d say it’s even worse in motorsports,” Ware said. “It’s always kind of been a cripple on my life, and I’m finally starting to flip the script on that and instead of viewing it as a weakness, viewing it as something that I can share to help other people not feel as alone.
“I don’t want to be the only one talking about this stuff. We need everyone to be talking. If you’re dealing with it, once you’re comfortable with it, hopefully you start talking about it, too. I just want to be one of the voices that helps get the ball rolling to normalize things.”
Ware has become an advocate for mental health in NASCAR, and he’s hoping to bring that passion and awareness to the INDYCAR paddock, too. After cutting his teeth in road racing, Ware said he one day hopes to get back to his roots, and he hopes the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is the end destination.
“As much as NASCAR is my home and where my career is at right now, I have a major passion for road racing and sports car racing and INDYCAR,” Ware said. “I would love to be over here at some point in my career full time. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing and keep the doors open.”