CLARENDON HILLS – In four years, Jack Mitchell Jr.'s goal is to have a degree from Marquette University and a renewed license that encourages him to drive more than double the speed limit.
The 18-year-old Clarendon Hills resident is not only embarking on an undergraduate degree this fall, he's chasing a dream of becoming a professional IndyCar driver, something he thinks is a very tangible goal.
If 2013 is any indication, Mitchell may be well on his way. In October, after securing sponsorships with Sparco, Honda, and Spectrum, Mitchell was named lead driver of the Canadian team, Exclusive Autosport, and won the Toyo Tires F1600 Championship A-Class Championship.
He is off to a good start this season, too, reaching the podium after finishing in second in two F1600 Championship races July 17 and July 18 in Toronto.
“There’s nothing stopping me from being in the Indy 500 out of college,” he said. “All I have to do is win.”
A recent Fenwick High School graduate, Mitchell first got into a car at the age of 13 when he was visiting Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. His father, John Mitchell, had taken up racing and offered his son a chance to get in the drivers seat.
“I was just watching, really had no interest in racing at all,” Mitchell said. “He asked me if I would do it, and I was like ‘oh yeah, of course!’ Any kid would want to do that.”
So his father and members of the Road America staff put him in the car, shifted it into third gear and let him drive.
Since then, Mitchell has been driving in the Toyo Tires Formula 1600 Series, earning rookie of the year honors and collecting a win and six podiums. Additionally, in 2012 Mitchell finished as the vice champion in the Skip Barber Summer Series, securing six wins and eighteen podiums in twenty races.
He was also named to the Team USA Scholarship and traveled England to compete in the Brands Hatch Formula Ford festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy Race.
Mitchell said is was initially hard to break into the racing community as a 13-year-old.
“Most people start go-karting and stuff when they’re five,” Mitchell said. “It was really hard to break into the racing circle because people had been go-karting at the same tracks for literally like 10 years before I had even gotten in a car.”
Mitchell also noted that he is the youngest driver in his current racing series and has been one of the youngest drivers for most of the time he has been racing, often competing against men in their early 20s.
But when he's behind the wheel and driving of 145 miles per hour, age is often irrelevant.
“You can set up the car differently, but in the end, its just kind of how you drive it,” Mitchell said.
Even though he’s in the fast lane, Mitchell said it's a long drive to the top.
Like a soccer or baseball player working through minor league ranks, Mitchell has to make it through the racing farm system by winning races in the USF2000 Championship Series, then moving up and winning in the Pro Mazda Championship, and finally proving himself in the Firestone Indy Lights before reaching the pinnacle of open wheel racing, the IndyCar Series.
The road ahead may be long and bumpy, which is why his father thinks school is the best option.
“The most important thing is for him to get an education,” John Mitchell said. “A lot of the guys out there are putting all their time into racing and aren’t [getting an education].”
With the goal of double majoring in Biology and Economics, Mitchell may have his work cut out for him, but he is unwilling to let the future workload slow him down.
“If I could put it in one sentence I would say, "just go for it – go for the gap," Mitchell said. Because if you hesitate – and I’m sure it’s true in life – it just doesn’t work out.”
GET TO KNOW Jack Mitchell Jr.
Residence: Clarendon Hills
Education: Incoming Marquette University freshman
For more information, visit http://jackmitchelljrracing.com/