Ayrton Houk is Pursuing His Racing Dreams
One day Ayrton Houk hopes to hear the most famous words in motorsports – “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines” – at the Indianapolis 500, which is known as the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” He is well on his way to making this dream a reality. In his first race of the season, Ayrton won the pole, won fastest lap, placed first and led every lap of the main event at the Day Transportation Mel Kenyon Midget Series Dick Jordan Classic at the Anderson Speedway in April.
Ayrton was born into a Hoosier racing family, is named after a famous driver, is entrenched in the racing community, is winning races, and has the dedication, passion and work ethic to make it happen.
While Ayrton is not an Unser, Andretti or Foyt, he was named after the famous Brazilian racing driver, the three-time winner of the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship, Ayrton Senna. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time. Senna was once quoted as saying, “Racing, competing, it’s in my blood. It’s part of me, it’s part of my life; I have been doing it all my life and it stands out above everything else.” Ayrton is living up to his namesake as racing clearly was coded into his DNA, and he appears to have Lucas Oil in his veins.
Born into a racing family, his father Kevin Houk raced off-road motorcycles and go-karts, and was the crew chief for a USAC midget team. Ayrton attended his first race at just six weeks old, and by the age of 2 was asking his parents for a motorcycle. In an effort to delay this idea, they told him it wouldn’t happen until he could ride a bicycle around the block without training wheels. Undaunted, Ayrton simply got on a bike without training wheels and rode around the block by himself wearing only a diaper.
By the age of 5 Houk had joined the family in enduro races every weekend, and by the age of 7 he had won his first championship series trophy. That’s when he became interested in go-karting. By the time he turned 12, the family had spent more than a decade living out of an RV on many weekends, participating in family BMX and enduro motorcycle races.
With Houk’s interest in go-kart racing, the family headed up to the New Castle Motorsports Park.
“We paid a pro to drive Ayrton around the track to see if he even liked it, if he had any talent, and to see if it was even worth it, and he would not come off the track,” says Houk’s mother Anna Lynn. “He drove so long he literally was falling asleep. The pro pulled him in and told us he can definitely do this, and gave him the checkered flag to go ahead.”
Ayrton says he fell in love with racing that day, and knew it was what he wanted to do with his life.
Five years later the family added go-kart racing to Houk’s repertoire and invested in their first go-kart. Since that time his passion for racing has grown exponentially, and he has increased the intensity of his training. He was invited to participate in the Lucas Oil School of Racing, trained with Indiana racing legend Mel Kenyon, and added midget car racing to the mix. Because of his family’s involvement in the racing community, they have developed great friendships through the years. One of those family friends is IndyCar driver Scott Dixon and his wife Emma, who have taken an interest in Houk’s career.
“I’ve known Ayrton for many years now since he was a young boy doing BMX motocross stuff,” Dixon says. “My wife and I helped fund the first purchases of Ayrton’s go-kart to help him at New Castle Speedway, and to see his progression in race craft and just his ability to adapt even to new categories has been very good. I’ve seen that with the junior categories and Formula cars, which has honestly happened very recently.”
In the past two years, Houk’s career has been getting revved up. The family knew they needed to hire someone that could take them to the next level. Houk and Brad Hayes Racing partnered in a unique dual-path driver development program for 2021. Houk plans to compete in a mix of F1600 and Kenyon Midget races.
“Ayrton will pilot the team’s Piper DL7 F1600 car at some of America’s greatest road courses, and drive in the Kenyon Midget series on Indiana’s short tracks,” Hayes says. “I decided to work with Ayrton because he has a great personality, he has a good head on his shoulders, and knows this is about hard work and isn’t afraid. Plus, we have watched him at his races before we put him in our cars, and it is clear he definitely has talent. He is always progressing, always looking to get better.”
Houk knows that to be competitive, he has to take care of his body. He works with Jim Leo three to four days per week at PitFit Training. Leo is the founder of the personal training industry for race car drivers, and trains drivers like Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Kasey Kahne, Sam Hornish and James Hinchcliffe.
“Ayrton is probably one of the hardest-working young drivers we have ever had in our program,” Leo says. “He is also one of the most respectful. It’s been a privilege to be part of his growth and I see a long career in motorsports for him.”
A typical week for the 17-year-old Cathedral High School junior includes 6 a.m. weight training classes at the school, working 15 to 20 hours per week at Cortona’s restaurant, and 20 hours per week working with Hayes. In addition to the personal training sessions with Leo, Houk maintains a 4.2 grade point average.
“He’s very well-rounded with a great family and great values, and I expect to see him keep progressing,” Dixon says. “I certainly hope that we can continue to watch him in these next few years. I’m excited to see his progression and see him racing professionally one day.”
Houk’s Indiana-based team is actively seeking additional partners who share their passion for developing the next generation of racing superstars, and want to be part of Houk’s road to Indy. Those interested in sponsoring partnerships can contact Brad Hayes Racing at bradhayesracing.com/ayrton-houk.