Veach Finds Inner Peace Ahead of IMSA Switch

Veach Finds Inner Peace Ahead of IMSA Switch

Marshall Pruett | Racer

Zach Veach’s van needs an oil change. The big Dodge Ram 2500, converted into a miniature home on wheels, has crisscrossed the country throughout the offseason. Racking up 6000 miles of adventures as its owner drove west, Veach eventually fulfilled a lifelong dream rock climbing in Yosemite National Park, keeping fans engaged along the way with routine posts to social media.

Surrounded by beautiful scenes of untamed wilderness, the images of an outstretched Veach on a variety of imposing vertical surfaces, sitting atop a peak he’d scaled, or cooking inside the Ram while at a campsite, speak to significant changes in his world. Among the kinder souls in the sport, Veach has found the inner peace that was missing throughout most of his time in the NTT IndyCar Series.

In his shift to the Vasser Sullivan Lexus GT team in IMSA, the young man from Stockdale, Ohio, may have happened upon the team and series where he can finally be himself.

Entering his third season as an NTT IndyCar Series driver with Andretti Autosport in 2020, Veach said the key to a successful year would be found in having more fun. Sadly, it never materialized.

Coming off a solid debut in 2018 with brand-new sponsor Group 1001/Gainbridge adorning his No. 26 Andretti Honda, the Ohioan endured a punishing sophomore run as everything from driving errors to multiple refueling fires dashed any chance of improving upon his output at a rookie.

Falling from 15th in the drivers’ championship to 18th, Veach emerged from 2019 with a new goal of leaving the pressure and stress of a disappointing season in the past. With the intent of being loose and happy behind the wheel, Veach expected to rediscover the joy he’d lost, and in turn, achieve more quality finishes to boost his chances of earning a contract extension.

The mental adjustment was on fine display at the season opener in Texas where Veach finished fourth, but as his fans know, the rapture was fleeting. Across the 10 races that followed, the No. 26 would fail to finish better than 14th as speculation about his future in the series grew. Nearing the end of a three-year contract with Andretti and the sponsor he brought to the team — rumored to be worth between $18-20 million in total — Veach’s year, and career, were turned upside down with three races left on the calendar.

Although the press release announcing the premature split spoke to a mutual understanding between team and driver, the circumstances behind his ouster were far from pleasant. A clause in his contract, which prohibited taking part in dangerous activities outside the cockpit, is rumored to have been used to push Veach out of the car.

With a tumultuous chapter closed and plenty of frustration to exorcise, Veach turned to climbing as a spiritual salve to restore order in his life. It’s here where those 6000 miles of driving and trekking throughout the country gave the 26-year-old time to think and recalibrate his goals. Racing would remain at the center of his universe, but in a different form of the sport, and with a group that had no interest in limiting his contractual freedoms.

“I was extremely thankful to get to spend time at the highest level of open-wheel racing in America, and I got to do it for three years, and got my fix on it,” Veach told RACER. “It’s something that I’ll always love, and if I can come back and do the Indy 500, that’s something that’s high on my list.

“I’m sure it’s going to be just as intense with racing in IMSA, but for me, it feels like such a more welcoming environment. The thing is, everyone’s so intense in IndyCar because it’s such a difficult series to get into, and honestly, a difficult series to stay in. Whether it’s driving, marketing or sponsorship. So I think that leads to a lot of pressure and stress on the entire experience. But so far, the IMSA paddock, everyone’s been so welcoming that it seems a little more family-oriented, and the team I’m with, with Jimmy Vasser and [James] Sulli [Sullivan], has the same kind of family feel.”

Veach joins a reconfigured Vasser Sullivan team that nearly won IMSA’s GT Daytona championship last year. Known for a serious, but more personal approach to racing, the North Carolina-based team should complement Veach’s outlook on life and competition. And with its heavy open-wheel composition, including IndyCar veteran Jack Hawksworth and Road to Indy front-runner Aaron Telitz in the sister Lexus RC F GT3 entry, Veach is entering a friendly environment.

“As things progressed and we were just looking for that next chapter, I was really thankful to be able to be in contact with Sulli and Vasser because, they were two guys I was familiar with in the IndyCar side of things, and, honestly, they’re perfect group of people for me to make my move to sports cars with,” he said. “So I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity that they’ve given me with this. I’m really excited to see what we can all do together.

“I think they have a great line-up. It’s been awesome to spend some time with Hawksworth again. We grew up racing against each other on the Road to Indy, so it’s funny to see how different our paths were over the last five, six years to end up back in the same place together. And it’s similar with Aaron, who I’ve raced against in open-wheel. And then, which will be good for me, my teammate in my car, Frankie Montecalvo, has been a sports car guy, so I’m sure he’s going to teach me a lot as I learn all the different things that IMSA does compared to IndyCar.”

It was missing in most conversations last year, but now, there’s a detectable note of optimism in Veach’s voice when he speaks about the future. Hopefully, in his first season of WeatherTech SportsCar Championship action, he’ll find the contentment and satisfaction that was missing.

“To me, it’s just as high of a level as IndyCar,” he said. “IMSA is just as important to me, and to have a team that’s dedicated as Vasser Sullivan behind me is something that’s just contagious. I think we’re all going to work extremely well and hard together.

“I’ve been in the IndyCar paddock for 13 years, so there’s really not a single soul that I didn’t know or spent time with, and now I’m starting over in IMSA. So, I’m just excited for that. It’s that next chapter. It’s like going from high school to college. It’s just a ton of new experiences, a lot of new people and things to learn, and something I’m really excited for personally, and professionally.”