Tanner DeFabis Has Big Goals in the Racing World
Writer / Melissa Gibson
Tanner DeFabis is just 17 years old but knows his way around a race car.
The Avon resident is participating in the F4 US Championship series this year, with hopes of becoming a professional driver in the future.
“I’ve loved cars and racing for as long as I can remember,” Tanner says. “Growing up in Indiana, I’ve been going to the Indy 500 since I was 6 or 7, and got into go-karting around that time and I just knew I wanted to do this.”
Motorsports has been a family tradition for decades. His father, John, first took him go-karting for fun and then the Indy 500, cementing his love for the sport.
“He’s always loved being at the track,” John says. “If there’s a car out there, whether it’s an IndyCar, NASCAR or any kind of sports car, he wants to be there. We spent a lot of time out at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and eventually he started passing me.”
Tanner’s childhood was not only filled with car-related events, but he also played baseball, basketball and football. John says none of them compared to when his son got the chance to race.
In his early teens, he had success on the go-kart track, winning the X30 division championship at New Castle Motorsports Park, which led to a test drive in a Formula 4 (F4) car in 2022.
F4 cars are open-wheel and similar to what you see at the Indy 500. The championship series was designed to support young drivers taking the first step from go-karting to single-seat racing.
That test drive put him in front of professionals like race car driver Jay Howard.
“I met Jay Howard and he invited me to join his developmental team,” Tanner DeFabis says. “In the F4 championship series, we go to six different tracks and race three races per weekend. I feel like being a rookie, I started the season in New Orleans and was doing OK in the middle of the pack. I kept progressing and getting better and better. By the end of the season, I’m in the top 10s and possibly the chance at podium.”
In early 2023 Howard welcomed Tanner to the team, and said the young driver has shown steady progression, eventually becoming a threat as the 2023 season continues.
“Tanner has been karting for quite some time and now has the opportunity to begin his climb up the North American motorsports ladder,” Howard told the F4 US Championship program. “Choosing us for our race-winning experience, driver development and advancement program, Tanner is in good hands. He’ll receive the same equipment that propelled Lochie Hughes to win the championship in 2022, and we look forward to making him a future motorsports star.”
Tanner is hopeful that, in May of 2024, he may progress to competing in the USF2000, the next level in the Formula championship series, but either way, the experience of this year will leave a lasting impression.
From NOLA Motorsports Park in Louisiana to New Jersey Motorsports Park, he has had opportunities to travel, race and meet others in the industry.
“This is my first time traveling across the country, and you not only get to see the tracks, but also different foods and cultures,” Tanner says. “I’ve made friends from all over the world and still interact with them daily.”
Teens from multiple countries gather to compete during the F4 US Championship series. They’re racing one minute and hanging out the next – even racing each other on a simulator from their homes across the globe.
Ultimately, the high school student just loves being behind the wheel.
“It’s the thrill of it,” he says. “I like the competition and it’s kind of like being on a roller coaster. That’s what I love about it.”
It’s an expensive thrill, requiring sponsorships and top-of-the-line equipment. John says for those drivers who have made it to IndyCar, millions of dollars have been spent to get there.
“It’s definitely a sponsorship-driven sport and we’re always recruiting for sponsors,” John says. “It’s a lot on the driver, the parents, the sponsors and the team, because if you don’t get sponsored you could be out for the year. You have to have talent, sponsors and a team willing to put you in the car. If you only have two of the three, you’re done.”
Some might also be concerned about safety in one of the most dangerous sports in the world. It’s crossed John’s mind, but like every parent, he also knows fueling his son’s passion is worth the worry.
“I think every single emotion runs through me: pride, worry, mad, excited, frustrated, sad,” John says. “You literally get everything from the highs to the lows. I’m most proud of him doing what he loves to do, getting better and better at it, and I want to support him while he pursues his dreams.”
Heading into his senior year, Tanner is considering colleges and honing his skill, but says he knows he wants to stay in Indiana. The track is his home.
With drivers like Michael Schumacher and Scott Dixon to look up to, Tanner has his sights set high.
“I think they are the best based on results and statistics, and I want to be just like them,” he says. “I hope to one day get to IndyCar. That’s the end goal.”
Catch Tanner DeFabis live on the F4 US Championship YouTube channel, as well as on Instagram @tannerdefabisracing.