Dear Readers,

The coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption to the lives of everyone in Tampa Bay and to so many businesses in our community. Here at the Tampa Bay Times, we continue to provide free, up-to-date information at as a public service. But we need your help. Please consider supporting us by subscribing or donating, and by sharing our work. Thank you.

  1. Sports

Grand Prix: Five things to know about IndyCar rookie Oliver Askew

The Jupiter resident has ties all over Florida, including a connection to the late Dan Wheldon.
IndyCar driver Oliver Askew poses for photos during IndyCar Media Day Auto Racing, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) [ERIC GAY | AP]

ST. PETERSBURG — Next month’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will feature the IndyCar Series debut of one of the sport’s top up-and-comers: Oliver Askew.

The 23-year-old Floridian won the championship last year in the sport’s top feeder series (Indy Lights) to earn a full-time ride in Arrow McLaren SP’s No. 7 Chevrolet. Here are five things to know about Askew, who was in town recently as construction began on the downtown street course:

1. He has ties all over Florida.

Jupiter resident Oliver Askew got his start in the IndyCar feeder series in 2017 with Cape Motorsports, then based in St. Petersburg. (CHRIS URSO | Times) [CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times]

Askew was born in Melbourne and raised in Jupiter. Like most IndyCar drivers, he spends a lot of his time in Indianapolis, but … “I like to say I’m based in Jupiter, still,” Askew said.

His climb to IndyCar took off a decade ago with a push from Ocala Gran Prix, a respected go-kart facility. Askew’s first season of car racing was with Cape Motorsports, which was then based in St. Petersburg. And if that’s not Florida enough, one of his favorite off-track hobbies is surfing.

Related: Ryan Newman’s crash was a reminder of racing’s danger. Why drivers keep racing, anyway.

2. He got into racing by accident.

IndyCar driver Oliver Askew poses for photos during IndyCar Media Day Auto Racing, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) [ERIC GAY | AP]

Unlike many of his IndyCar colleagues, Askew didn’t come from a racing family. His introduction to the sport came when his dad took him to rent go-karts at a track in Jupiter for his eighth birthday. Askew loved it.

“We stumbled upon it by chance,” Askew said. “It’s pretty cool to look back at that now, from what we’ve come from to be here now and all the people we’ve met and the opportunities we’ve had, it’s really surreal to think about.”

3. This won’t be his first Grand Prix debut.

CHRIS URSO | Times Oliver Askew throws his hands in the air after winning the Cooper Tires USF2000 during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Saturday, March 11, 2017 in St. Petersburg. [CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times]

Askew officially made the jump from karts to cars at the 2017 Grand Prix in the USF2000 series — the bottom rung of the IndyCar ladder. “I remember it being overwhelming,” Askew said.

Not that overwhelming, apparently. He had the fastest lap and finished second in his first race in the series. He had the quickest lap in the second race, too, and won it by more than 1.2 seconds.

Related: How the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg became one of IndyCar’s crown jewels

“It was a big step forward in my confidence and knowing that I can compete for race wins in the Road to Indy,” Askew said. “I don’t think that mind-set’s going to change.”

4. He needs his metabolism to slow down.

Oliver Askew celebrates winning the Indy Lights Freedom 100 IndyCar auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Friday, May 24, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) [DARRON CUMMINGS | AP]

Askew spent the offseason trying to bulk up to prepare for IndyCar, where the cars are bigger and faster and the races are longer and more intense. The 6-foot-3 driver has risen from 150 pounds to 164. That’s about where he’d like to be, although he expects to lose some weight during the season’s grind.

“Right now my metabolism’s so quick, I’m just trying to eat as much as I can,” Askew said.

That means doubling up on most of his meals to consume 3,500-4,000 calories a day.

5. His racing hero is Dan Wheldon.

June 7, 2011 was officially declared Dan Wheldon day by the St. Pete City Council during the Dan Wheldon Indy 500 Victory Party - A Hometown Celebration. (TIMES 2011) [MELISSA LYTTLE | St. Petersburg Times]

Askew was new to the national racing scene in early 2011 when he met the former IndyCar champion during a karting event in Florida. Wheldon was there tuning up for the next season, and their pits were nearby.

Askew hit it off with the late St. Petersburg resident. Askew remembers a cold race in Orlando, where he could hardly see because his visor kept fogging up.

Related: Susie Wheldon, wife of late IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon, opens up about life without him

“He took the time out of his day to go around with me to other teams to try to figure out if we could buy a better visor,” Askew said. “Such a great guy.”