AUSTIN, Texas – At age 23, Patricio “Pato” O’Ward of Monterey, Mexico is living his dreams as a competitive NTT INDYCAR Series racer.
Contrary to the typecasted thoughts of motorsports, O’Ward does not go around a racetrack in circles like a dog chasing its tail.
Rather, he competes in one of the world’s most prestigious racing divisions with events telecasted on NBC and USA alongside a streaming partner in Peacock.
From February to September, it’s 17 distinct, action packed races that test racers in a physical and mental manner. Consider a competitor like O’Ward akin to a modern day gladiator willing a 1,630 pound car for two and a half to three hours at tracks with aspects like the Autobahn in Germany or the winding country road in West Lake Hills, Texas.
NASHVILLE | RACE DAY BEHIND THE SCENES @Pato_TV_
— Pato O'Ward (@PatricioOWard) August 10, 2022
For longtime racing fans, a driver like O’Ward is a breath of fresh air in terms of his genuine, goodhearted personality. Likewise, for those unfamiliar with racing, O’Ward serves as a great ambassador and guide toward acclimating to a sport that may seem like a rock and roll concert tour.
When O’Ward was six years old, he developed a passion for racing. Competing in go karts from 2005 to 2012, he advanced his way to open wheel in his teens before earning his seat in INDYCAR.
In his fifth year of INDYCAR competition, O’Ward has made a name for himself for his dynamic on-track talents. Moreover, he’s one of the most personable, thoughtful drivers in open wheel racing’s highest division.
O’Ward drives for Arrow McLaren SP’s No. 5 Arrow Dallara Chevrolet ride. Suffice to say, O’Ward’s profession is unique in that he races in a car capable of reaching 235 mph at tracks like the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway.
To say the least, O’Ward is used to the smell of Speedway gasoline and the Firestone slick and wet tire compounds at the racetrack. Without a doubt, the best smell of all is that of champagne when he stands atop the podium after a two and a half to three hour race.
He’s raced in grueling, hot and humid conditions that would make grilling a New York sirloin steak seem like a walk in the park.
Then again, he’s prepared to race when Mother Nature throws a wrench with rain showers creating slick, risky conditions on a road or street course.
Presently, O’Ward knows he’s racing for his team for three more years. After signing his extension on May 27, the Friday prior to the Indianapolis 500, he expressed elation and gratitude.
“It’s my home in IndyCar, right?” O’Ward offered. “This is the place where I’ve evolved and been around the same people and it’s always good to keep strengthening our relationship, keep working with the group of people that we’ve sacrificed so much of our time in. Not just me, but everybody in the team to make a package that goes quicker, to make a package that I like and, ultimately, work as a team.
“It’s a great group of people. I feel very lucky that I get to do this as a job in my life. I know a lot of people would kill to have this opportunity and to be in my position. So, I’m really happy that I’m gonna get to continue with them and, uh, whether they like it or not, they’re stuck with me for another few years.”
Some may glance at motorsports as drivers simply making laps in circles. But that’s a quick dismissal of a high stakes, pressure packed sport where the risks would bring shivers to those daring to leap over the pit road wall or clamber into the driver’s seat.
Racers like O’Ward and the women and men serving as pit crew members or at the teams’ shops constantly vie for race victories and the championship awarded in Salinas, California.
Along the way, O’Ward recognizes how complacency does not reward him and his team in terms of battling for wins and titles. With three races remaining in the 2022 INDYCAR season, he knows it’s time to turn up the wick despite the nonexistent margin for error.
“To say the least, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” he shared. “I think, lately, we’ve performed really well in qualifying, which has been very big to our changes in the off season and a bit of what we’ve been working on. But I think our race results really haven’t showed how well we have positioned ourselves to fight for wins because we keep having random fails or errors here and there in the races.
“The only thing now is just what I told the guys. We’re already on overtime and all these little things, not finishing races and stuff where you can’t win a championship by qualifying well, you gotta finish well in the races. So we have to analyze the situation, identify the problem and move forward.”
Although O’Ward has faced some frustrating moments, he can smile about his victories in Alabama and Iowa, good enough to place him seventh in the points standings.
Moreover, aside from his contract extension, he can take heart in knowing he’s one of the series’ most popular racers, whether at the track or social media.
Along the same lines, O’Ward believes INDYCAR can make strides with their social media and marketing efforts to propel television ratings and increase fan engagement.
“At the end of the day, we’re in entertainment,” he mulled. “If we don’t grow, we don’t really get to go play race cars. So, it’s important for the brand to keep growing. I think we still need to push it a lot more than what we are right now.
“I think our team is a great example of what we should be doing in terms of marketing and how much emphasis has to go into the marketing and social (media), whether you have a series or a team or a driver or whatever.”
Moreover, O’Ward has gained the respect of one of INDYCAR’s top racers. Simon Pagenaud, the 2016 series champion, appreciates O’Ward’s presence and personality.
“Pato is a great guy,” Pagenaud said. “He’s a tremendous racer, first of all. But he’s also as a great personality, I know from following him on social media, yeah, I can see he’s a foodie as much as I am. So I just don’t know how he stays so skinny, but good for him.”
Similarly, O’Ward hopes the series can focus more on the personalities that are at the shops or cars, bridging the gap between fans and competitors to reemphasize the human element.
“People have their phones, they can access anything through the fingertips and that’s the way things grow now,” he remarked. “And, I think we need to keep working on how to show the characters that are driving, get to see ’em behind the helmet and racing. But I think people are really, really interested and intrigued by (thoughts like), what is their life? Where are they from? Who’s their family? And all these things that make them them.”
One of the fascinating aspects of INDYCAR is the diverse competition. Beyond the plethora of machines and variety of tracks, it’s an international affair with different nations like the U.S., Netherlands and Mexico represented in this year’s grid.
While O’Ward moved to San Antonio, Texas at age 11, he takes pride in being a native son of Monterey, Mexico.
Suffice to say, O’Ward has inspired Mexicans in the motorsports industry, including INDYCAR journalist Luis Torres.
Torres, an award winning journalist, highlighted O’Ward’s love of racing and the enthusiasm he exudes as an INDYCAR competitor.
“Pato O’Ward is a fierce competitor the moment he broke in the INDYCAR scene,” Torres said. “His passion for success is unparalleled that he brings excitement to the grid. He embodies Mexico to a tee because we’re passionate about what we love and won’t settle for anything less. Pato is no exception.”
By all means, this year has spotlighted his hometown with his competitive efforts along with his NASCAR Cup Series compatriot, Daniel Suárez.
That said, O’Ward emphasizes the paramount aspect of expressing his thoughts and emotions. Undoubtedly, he appreciates his team’s platform in terms of being himself, even if it’s captured during a frustrating weekend.
“Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, man, we’re all just human beings driving these cars,” he said. “We’re not robots and we’re definitely not emotionless and within boundaries, right? It’s OK to show a lot of emotion. It’s OK to show what you’re feeling. It’s not… it shouldn’t be frowned upon or like, “Hey, why’d you show you’re pissed off?” Because I am, man.
“Like just let me… let me be me. And I think that’s what makes our team very, very special where they, they let me be me. They let Felix (Rosenqvist, O’Ward’s teammate) be him. They let everybody in the team be them obviously within a set of boundaries. But, they’ve always been very flexible in letting me be me.”
Perhaps O’Ward takes to his parents’ advice when it comes to his relatable ways and demeanor when he’s in game face mode and when he’s back in his second hometown of San Antonio.
“If you’re sad, boring, well, not our problem, but if you’re not, and you’re trying to be sad and boring, then no, don’t be sad and boring,” he said with a chuckle. “Be you. And that’s probably the best thing my parents ever told me. ‘Be you, never try to be somebody else.’ And I was like, ‘Alright, I think that’s working out right.'”
A level headed, systematic approach and dynamic personality count as much as the horsepower in O’Ward’s No. 5 car. Still, as much as he cares about growing the sport and showcasing his true self, he is still an intense, passionate racer who wants to bring a title home for his crew.
“First of all, I think we need to stop leaving so many points on the table whenever we’ve had many chances to capitalize on a good result,” he emphasized. “I mean, we’re analyzing and we’re making sure that doesn’t happen again. All I can do is just keep performing, keep pushing, keep putting ourselves well in qualifying. So we have a chance in the race and keep doing that. That’s really all we can do.”
Overall, O’Ward knows he’s with a team that can deliver on any given weekend. After all, he was in the thick of the championship before finishing third place last year.
Similarly, he knows he’s a bit of a foodie as he tries to take advantage of the different meals across the U.S. during the INDYCAR season.
“I’m big into… I love sushi,” he considered. “I love Mexican. It doesn’t matter if it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. I love it all. I really enjoy a good Italian and I love different cuisines. The biggest thing and the biggest kind of my biggest motto whenever I travel is a part of enjoying a different culture and living a different culture is the food.”
With the 2022 season winding down, O’Ward hopes to enjoy a championship winning meal following the championship race at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas, California.
Sure, he may be 59 points behind points leader, Will Power, heading into Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (6 p.m. ET on USA and Peacock). Then again, it may be foolish to dismiss O’Ward from the INDYCAR championship chase.
Last year, O’Ward placed second at Gateway, a pivotal result that kept him in the thick of the illustrious INDYCAR driver’s title. This weekend, he hopes to improve upon his result by one position.
In the meantime, O’Ward prepares for his 53rd INDYCAR race with an optimistic mindset, even if he’s in a bit of an uphill battle.
If anything, O’Ward seems like a man who’s got the right mindset with his jovial and witty manner, particularly when asked how he would build his dream INDYCAR track.
“I think one of the best racetracks in America in terms of how well they’ve kept it up and how beautiful the facility is Barber Motorsports Park where I won this year,” he said with a grin. “I love that place. I’d build something like that, something fast, high commitment, where you really feel the car’s limits when you or whatever it is that you’re driving around there.”
Taking it to the limits is more than lyrics to a famed Eagles song.
Rather, it’s the perfect way to summate O’Ward as a person and racer whose stock is rising much like the series he’s competed in since 2017.