Born to Race
Conor Daly Has Made His Own Track
Photography / Provided
From a young age, the world of racing was all Conor Daly and his brothers, Colin and Christian knew. Their father, IndyCar and Formula One racing legend Derek Daly had retired and moved into a career with ESPN as a television color analyst. His job took them to race tracks around the country. His mother was a competitive Jet Ski racer and worked at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Competitive racing was in Conor’s DNA.
“My earliest memories are at IMS,” he says. “Always there, always watching the cars at the track and then traveling to races as well. My dad had a racing school in Las Vegas and the family would spend a lot of time out there and we would go back and forth. And yet, he still never put it out there as something I should do.”
Ironically it was not Derek’s idea to get Conor started in racing. It was a neighbor who contacted his dad to come out to a track because they had purchased a go-kart. They were hoping to get some advice and while they were there, they casually asked Conor if he wanted to jump in and do some laps. And that is where it all started.
Looking back, Conor never felt pressure to perform, and he knew he was driving but had no idea if he was even any good. “I didn’t know if I was good or not or what that even meant. But when we took it to the level of buying a trailer to go to races and it wasn’t going badly I had an idea that I was OK,” he says.
But Conor was doing more than OK. He was able to win some races, so they continued racing and he continued winning.
“It wasn’t until I was 12, 13 or 14 that I was started to compete at a national level and get up against some national and international competitors and things seemed to be going well,” he says. “There are ups and downs in racing and oftentimes more downs than ups. But it was something that I had a passion for and was enjoying.”
The biggest test in his career came at the age of 15 when he decided to compete in the Skip Barber National series. The winner of the championship was offered a scholarship which basically meant you won a considerable amount of prize money and would go on to compete at the next level.
At 18, Conor won the championship in his rookie year, proving that he was on a serious road ahead because he was competing against some of the best young drivers in the country and a lot from Europe and South America as well.
“Once you get to Indy Lights level, which I did at 18, we went to Europe as well to try to pursue Formula One at the F3 level. So, there was a lot happening from 2010-2013 because he was pretty much driving everything. It was a very deep mountain to climb going through the ranks at that point,” he says.
He qualified to drive in the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 at the age of 21. While there are certainly drivers that have done it earlier, he was busy trying to work toward driving Formula One also so that pushed IndyCar back a bit.
“You can’t do both at the same time, but I was winning in Europe and people in America were still paying attention. I was lucky enough to win at every level. We just kept going and taking opportunities whenever they presented themselves,” he says.
Conor has racing in his DNA but is quick to share that his dad always told him that his success was up to him.
“As a parent, since I knew what it is like being hurt badly by the sport, I was not afraid for my son to race,” Derek says. “But the most important part about this is that it was his decision to race. I was not living vicariously through him. I told him I will help you in every possible way as long as you’re pulling me through the sport. I am not going to pull you.”
Conor took the advice to heart, making sure to pull his own weight. “There was a lot that I was sacrificing and giving up to be the best racer that I could be and be focused on everything,” he says. “I was never at school, I was never around. I didn’t go to college. I was always fully into racing, fully into my job and being a professional and always trying to get better.”
He was working in his full-time job at 18 years old and it was intense because there were a lot of young drivers trying to make it into the top levels. At any given time in Formula One, there are only 22 drivers and IndyCar only 33 drivers that line up, so he felt it required him to give this level of intensity.
Conor reflects on his personal road to Indy and all that it has given him.
“I am really lucky to be racing at this level,” he says. “I get to meet a lot of people, go to a lot of events and race in a lot of events. But the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the place that is so tied to my entire family. My mom, my dad, my stepdad, my brothers. We have all been out there a lot. I’ve seen friends win. I’ve seen people that I look up to win and to be part of it is truly incredible.”
Conor may have been born to a race family, but he is creating his own legacy, proving that he was born to race — and there would be no greater victory than the one in the Winner’s Circle of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.