Indy Lights Ride for Ernie Francis Jr

Ernie Francis Jr. Photo Courtesy: PENSKE ENTERTAINMEN
Ernie Francis Jr.
Ernie Francis Jr. Photo Courtesy: PENSKE ENTERTAINMEN

Race car driver Ernie Francis Jr., 24, has been successful in every aspect of motorsports the young driver has attempted. He’s won a championship in nearly every year of competition, particularly in the Trans-Am series, where he has earned seven titles.

Now the driver from Davie, Florida is making a bold step up in his nascent career, having achieved 47 total Trans Am wins, his 24 wins in the premier TA category trailing only Paul Gentilozzi (31)Mark Donohue with 29 and Tommy Kendall’s 28 TA class wins.

Francis Jr. will be the new Indy Lights driver for the Force Indy Racing Team, which earned a victory in its inaugural, 2021 season in the Cooper Tires USF2000 championship. Driver Myles Rowe took the twin checkered flags at New Jersey Motorsports Park with Force Indy, the sole African-American led team in open wheel motorsports.

Force Indy is led by African American business leader and former racing team manager Rod Reid, a veteran of karting and other auto racing experiences. He announced the team’s formation in December of 2020, focusing on hiring men and women of color. Force Indy has focused on hiring and mentoring mechanics, engineers and other staffers of color, in addition to securing positions for drivers. Reid’s NXG Youth Motorsports Inc. has introduced more than 2,300 students, aged 11 to 15, from under-represented communities to the educational benefits of racing.

“This is an incredible opportunity,” Francis said. “The Indy Lights car is different from anything I’ve driven, but the the power feels similar to the Trans Am cars. The downforce levels are different but I think I’ve got a good feel for the car after testing it. To know that I’ll continue my education with Force Indy and [am] only one step away from the NTT INDYCAR SERIES makes this unbelievably special. I cannot wait to get started,” he said.

Francis Jr. comes to Force Indy this year after securing three victories in his sole Formula Regional Americas Championship season. He also secured second place in the inaugural season of the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) with a victory at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park last year.

“SRX definitely raised the awareness level for me,” Francis noted. “It (the win and season finish) was a huge boost for me to compete in that series and get a win. It helped me get this opportunity. I didn’t think open wheel was where I could go, but I’ve always wanted to be here. I had dreams of racing in the [Indianapolis] 500 and competing at all of these race tracks.”

It was during Trans Am’s July 2021 weekend at Brainerd International Raceway that Ernie Francis Jr. got the call from Roger Penske that would change his career path towards open wheel racing. It was an opportunity he never thought he’d get and had channeled his thoughts towards NASCAR and other closed-wheel classes. “I picked up the call from Mr Penske, who invited me to come to Indy and talk with him, Rod and Jimmie McMillian,” Penske Entertainment Corp. chief diversity officer.

McMillian noted, “Ernie Francis Jr. is one of the great drivers of color known to the public. What he accomplished last year – in SRX and Formula Regional Americas – makes us certain he’s going to make some noise this year.”

Penske, too, is bullish on Force Indy and Francis Jr. “I was pleased to learn that Ernie would be driving for Fore Indy in 2022,” Penske stated. “As someone who has a history in Trans Am, I know the type of skillset that comes from that series. Ernie will be a wonderful addition to Indy Lights. We will continue to support Force Indy’s progress and mission, as the team continues on a path to compete in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.”

With only a single season of competition behind it, Force Indy and Reid understand that they’ve got quite a road ahead of them. “We have no illusions,” Reid said. “This is a super competitive series. We knew we had to find a driver (like Ernie) to go with us to Lights. He wasn’t in open wheel but we knew he had talent.

“Being able to finish our first season with a win showed what this team is capable of doing,” Reid continued. “We want to thank Myles, who will always be a member of the Force Indy race team, and will continue to offer assistance and mentorship as he pursues another season in USF2000.”

Force Indy makes its Indy Lights debut during the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg, the season starter for Lights and INDYCAR. Force Indy continues to use the No. 99 on the car, honoring the late Dewey “Rajo Jack” Gatson, who drove a roadster with that number as his career concluded in 1951. Gatson is one of the most successful African American drivers and mechanics in motorsports history, but never had the opportunity to race in the Indianapolis 500.

“We remain very fortunate to have Team Penske offer its guidance and mentorship,” Reid acknowledged. “I have been in and around the sport for 40 years. Force Indy remains a labor of love and our goals are unchanged: focusing on diversity with an eye towards competing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES – and in honor of Rajo Jack – in the Indianapolis 500.”

About Anne Proffit 1280 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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