My Mazda Road to Indy: Garett Grist
 November 10, 2015| 
  • Series News
A weekly series providing an inside look at drivers involved in the Mazda Road to Indy, the only driver development program of its type in the world.

PALMETTO, Fla. – Garett Grist decided five years ago to graduate from the karting ranks and pursue a formula car career. Now, three years into his tenure on the Mazda Road to Indy, Grist, who counts fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe as a friend and mentor, hopes to emulate “Hinchtown’s” success all the way to the Verizon IndyCar Series. 

Born in Grimsby, Ontario, less than an hour east of Toronto, Grist virtually grew up at karting tracks all over the province with his father Jeff, an author of several racing related books and a partner at the Derek Daly Academy.

“My dad raced dirt bikes growing up, but he was injured a lot,” says Grist. “He’s pretty much broken every bone you can break. He started racing karts about the time I was born, so I grew up at the karting track, watching my dad. He put me in a kart when I was 6 years old so I could try it, and I absolutely loved it. It started out just for fun, something I could do with my dad, and it was a good bonding thing for us. But I won a local club championship, then a couple of regional championships, then had some success in a Stars of Karting event in the U.S. Winning the Rotax Max Junior Canadian Nationals and Western Canadian Juniors earned me trips to Egypt and Italy to compete for Team Canada.   

“This was very unexpected,” recalls Grist. “I think we figured I’d go into formula cars at some point so we could do some club races on the weekends, but when I started winning races and championships, I knew I wanted to be a race car driver.”

As Grist moved up through the karting ranks, he began to garner attention, including the notice of then-Indy Lights racer Hinchcliffe, who had started the Canadian Karting Shootout, which selected young karting standouts to attend the Bridgestone Racing School event at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. Grist finished second in the 2010 edition – and gained a mentor and friend.

“It was me and a bunch of my karting friends from Ontario. James gave us all the opportunity to have our first day in a race car, which was massive. I owe a large part of this to him, for giving me my first shot. I hope I can win IndyCar races someday!”

Grist made the switch from karts to cars in 2010, entering the Ontario Formula Ford Challenge. He took himself by surprise, winning both pole positions in his first weekend and going on to finish runner-up in the series. Grist moved on to the F1600 Championship Series driving for Bryan Herta Autosport where he finished fourth. His season ended with a trip to England to compete for Team Canada in the Formula Ford Festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy.

As the young Grist became more serious about racing, Jeff Grist realized that it was time to look for assistance. He asked former Formula 1 and IndyCar racer Derek Daly to manage his son’s career.  

The Grists and Daly chose the Mazda Road to Indy as the next step. Driving for Andretti Autosport in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, Grist made the most of the opportunity, finishing third in the championship. With Andretti closing its USF2000 program at the end of the 2013 season, Grist decided to move up to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in 2014, where he scored wins at Lucas Oil Raceway and Mid-Ohio.

“I had my first street races, my first ovals, so it was a great learning experience,” says Grist. “When I look back on it, there were some good aspects to moving up quickly, but there were some bad aspects. I could have battled for the [USF2000] championship my second year, but I really enjoyed working with Andretti, so we decided to move up into the Pro Mazda seat that Matthew Brabham was leaving after he won the title and moved into Indy Lights. 

“So again, we were fighting against guys with more experience, like Spencer Pigot with Juncos Racing, Shelby (Blackstock) with me at Andretti. But overall, I was happy with the season. I had three pole positions, so anytime you can do that and be battling up front, it’s great. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of learning a different kind of racing on the ovals. You really have to switch your mindset. The Andretti team really knows how to do ovals.”

But Grist was ready for a change in 2015. He felt comfortable after testing with Juncos Racing, which had won the driver title with Pigot, and made the switch. After a difficult start to the season, Grist hit his stride at his home race in Toronto, winning race two from the pole position. He earned three more poles and two more race wins, storming to a third-place finish in the championship.

“My dad took me to the Toronto Indy growing up. I saw Michael Andretti win there and I thought it was so cool. My best friends, my family can all come see me race and I know the city so well. To get my first win there this year was amazing.”

“We started on the front row at each of the last seven races, so hopefully that will be some good momentum going into 2016. We need to make the decision whether to stay in Pro Mazda another year or go into Indy Lights. After everything we went through this year, to end up where we did was amazing. So to come back next year, without all that stuff happening, we could be very good for the championship.”

Grist appreciates the fact that the progression of the Mazda Road to Indy gives drivers like him a straight shot from karts to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“In North America, you can go from karts to USF2000 to Pro Mazda to Indy Lights, and hopefully into IndyCar. In Europe, you have so many decisions. Do you do 2.0 or F4? F3 or GP3? 3.5 or GP2? There are so many different options. Here, it’s one straight shot.” 

But there is more to life than racing. Early in his career, Grist committed to working with The Hospital for Sick Children (known as “SickKids”) and has maintained that connection.

“SickKids is one of the best hospitals in North America. What they’re able to do for young kids is amazing. We had the kids design helmets a few years ago – I wore them at the Toronto race and then we auctioned them off.  It gave the kids a cool project and it was fun for me, racing with butterflies, ladybugs or flowers on my helmet! It’s great to visit them, but it’s hard, too. They’re in there battling for their lives and we’re out racing cars, living our dream. But if we can put a smile on their face or help them have a better day, it’s all worth it.”
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