The Road to Indy, launched in 2010, is IndyCar's version of the minor leagues, a feeder system in which drivers can ascend through the ranks.
Zach Veach is the model driver for how the series is supposed to work. In the past three years, Veach has climbed the developmental ladder, from racing in USF2000 to Star Mazda (now called Pro Mazda).
Now, Veach, 18, has moved to Indy Lights, the final step before the IndyCar series. He joins former teammate Sage Karam as the only drivers to compete at every level of the Road to Indy.
Veach understands how some might view his Indy Lights debut as a huge leap for a driver who drove one Star Mazda season.
From his position, it's a logical destination after a series of steps.
"For me, it's not that intimidating to move up each level," Veach said. "I think it gets easier with each step. Of course the goal is to go out there and win a championship. But more realistically, it is to be consistent, spend another year in Indy Lights and win it next year."
For all of the learning Veach expects to do in the highest developmental series in American open-wheel racing, his resume suggests he'll be a quick study.
Veach has racing in his blood. His father, Roger, was a truck and tractor-pull national champion. Veach long imagined a route that would bring him closer to the path his father followed.
"I always wanted to try racing," he said. "I told my dad I wanted to be a pro racer someday. He always brushed it off. He said I wanted to be an astronaut the next day. But he eventually let me get into it."
Veach started in go-carts when he was 12. He demonstrated his ability to stay up front by negotiating a field of young drivers to win numerous races.
In 19 months, Veach went from go-carts to open-wheel Formula BMWs in the Atlantic Championship series. Andretti Autosport signed Veach to compete in the USF2000 series in 2010. He had 10 top-five finishes and graduated to the Star Mazda series, where he finished 10th in points last season.
"Having Andretti as my team has been a big help, especially to be with the same team all four years," Veach said.
He quickly has turned into a crossover star. He won the most popular driver award in USF2000 in 2011 and Star Mazda last year. He was listed as one of CNN's "Most Intriguing People" in 2010 and ESPN the Magazine named him as part of its "Next" issue in 2011.
Besides racing, Veach also is a published author and an advocate against distracted driving and bullying.
In 2011, he released a book, 99 Things Teens Wish They Knew Before Turning 16.
"A lot of people asked me for advice at a young age," he said. "I think I should come out with a second version because I've learned so much more in the last two years."
He also is part of the national No Bull antibullying campaign and is a national spokesman for FocusDriven, an advocacy group for victims of motor vehicle crashes involving drivers using their cellphones.
"I really try to stay active and help others," Veach said. "I've got a great platform to do it, and I try to take advantage of it."
Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected] or ( 727) 445-4169.