Jonathan Browne

Jonathan Browne freely admits he doesn’t come from a racing family. While the Browne family enjoys watching the sport, it wasn’t deeply rooted in how the industry works behind the scenes.

Instead, Browne credits Formula One legend Michael Schumacher for indirectly helping him reach INDY NXT by Firestone in 2024.

“I guess I owe my career a little bit to him,” Browne said.

Browne, a 23-year-old born and raised in Ireland, never crossed paths with Schumacher. So how does Schumacher get some of the credit for Browne being a rookie for HMD Motorsports in the 2024 INDY NXT by Firestone season?

“That’s kind of the reason I started racing, because my dad was a huge fan of his,” Browne said. “He used to watch all the races, and I apparently used to sit on his lap watching with him.”

That’s the Browne family’s only ties to motorsport. Watching F1 with his dad persuaded Browne to want to become the first member of his family to pursue racing as a profession.

At age 8, Browne took on karting. That began a trek of racing in various racing divisions and levels across Ireland and the United Kingdom. While doing so, he learned this journey has obstacles.

“The negative is the lack of experience,” Browne said. “I think we’ve had in terms of not knowing or not having many contacts, not having many ideas of what we should actually be doing. I spent a year too long in certain classes where I think if I had a racing background, I could have maybe moved up a bit quicker or found the right move earlier in my career.”

One way to scale those obstacles was for Browne to go to school and apply what he learned in the classroom into racing.

With an interest in cars, planes or anything that had a mechanical function, Browne went to college in Ireland with a degree centered on engineering. His final year of school was 2022, also the first year he came to the United States to compete in the USF Pro 2000 series. He was a full-time college student in Ireland and a full-time driver in the United States.

“I was coming back and forth,” Browne said. “I was in college Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, then I'd fly out.”

We’re talking nine-hour flights each way between Ireland and Indianapolis. It was challenging. But it also made him who he is today. Experiences such as taking final exams at 3 a.m. in the kitchen of an Airbnb in Chicago because they were scheduled for 9 a.m. local time in Ireland helped him grow as a person.

That struggle also made him better behind the wheel of a race car too.

“I don't want to go for the (race) engineer’s job,” Browne said. “I don't want to act like I know a little more. But it makes it a bit easier in terms of if he makes it or suggest a set of changes, I'll be able to process and be like, ‘Yeah, that should work.’

“Whatever they do with the suspension or springs, roll bars or like anything that they mentioned, I should be able to kind of calculate my head a little bit quicker. It's helped me out a little bit and just understanding setup changes.”

That aptitude has paid great dividends. Browne finished fifth in the USF Pro 2000 final standings as a rookie. He returned to the series in 2023 as a college graduate but still living with his parents in Ireland. Browne earned two podium results, six top-five finishes and finished eighth in the series championship.

With 21 top-10 finishes in 36 starts in Indy Pro 2000, Browne was ready to take the next step up to INDY NXT by Firestone. He hasn’t stopped learning, either. With his undergraduate studies done, he was able to focus on another aspect of racing to help him grow – health and fitness.

Browne has seen how important this aspect is for a racer, so he took courses about health and fitness and hopes to earn certification in these areas in 2024.

With an engineering degree, a certification in health and fitness and no long commute from Ireland to the United States, Browne is hopeful to put it all to good use in his maiden INDY NXT campaign.

“It's the only sport where you could have so many setbacks and so many negatives, and you keep getting up Monday morning wanting more,” Browne said. “Me and my family always say that racing is like 90% pain, and then you get that 10% of joy that spurs you on for the next 90%.

“I just really want to make it as a driver. I want to make it as my full-time career. I suppose that kind of keeps me going. This is all I kind of want to do in my life.”