With a distinctive name like Sting Ray Robb, perhaps there could be no better profession than that of a race car driver. The 15-year-old Idaho native has already garnered an impressive list of accomplishments, and the future continues to look bright as he joins the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
Robb has won numerous national and international karting events and earned trips with Team USA to the Rotax World Finals in both Spain and Portugal. The resulting notoriety led to a test with California-based World Speed Motorsports and a season of racing in the Formula Car Challenge. He also finished second in the Skip Barber Winter Series. Having had his eye on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, Robb decided the time was right to make his move. By far the youngest competitor in Pro Mazda, he finished seventh and fourth in his first two races in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Here, the young Robb talks about his connection to Verizon IndyCar Series team owner (and 1993 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champ) Bryan Herta, the momentous occasion of earning his street driver’s license and of course, the origin of his unique name.
Tell us about growing up in Idaho – and the origin of your name.
I live just north of Boise, which is in the southwest part of Idaho and about 15 minutes from the Oregon border. We used to live at a house on some good acreage, so I grew up in the outdoors. In the winter time, we’d snow ski or sled around downtown and in the summer time, we’d be boating, hunting or racing.
As far as my name goes, my parents were big Corvette fans so they named me after the Corvette Stingray. It worked out pretty well that I’m a race car driver.
What first got you interested in racing?
Obviously, my parents like racing and cars. They were into drag racing and autocross and, of course, dad had a Corvette Stingray. But when I was about 5 years old, I was watching a Nitro Circus TV show and saw Travis Pastrana do a back flip with a go kart into a foam pit. It was super cool, so I asked for a kart for my birthday and it just all went from there.
About the age of 8, we started going to local IKF races, and going to events with Kartel Motorsports down in California. At age 11, I went to my first Florida Winter Tour race and started getting into the Rotax and SKUSA events. It progressed from there.
We didn’t have a big plan on how I was going to get into cars so we decided to go to the Skip Barber Karts to Cars Shootout, thinking that if it didn’t work out, fine, but if it did, there was the scholarship and we could move on from there. I got second and then ran in the Florida Winter Series, and that’s when people started noticing. But my second-place finish at Karts to Cars got me the Bryan Herta Career Advancement Scholarship, which was cool. I raced with Colton Herta when we were younger and it was great to be able to thank Bryan for the opportunity.
After that, we heard from Telo (Stewart, President) and Kevin (Harrison, team manager) at World Speed Motorsports, asking us to test for the Formula Speed 2.0 series. We liked the team and the crew and it was a great learning opportunity.
What got you interested in the Mazda Road to Indy and the Pro Mazda series?
You can look back and see how many guys have worked their way up through here – like Spencer Pigot. He’s in the Verizon IndyCar Series now but just a few years ago, I was watching him run Pro Mazda. To be able to say “that could be me” is cool. And I’m really looking forward to running alongside the IndyCar guys, to be able to watch them and then compete on the same race weekend.
One of the cool things about having this ladder system in the U.S. now is that all the kids who raced against each other coming up through karting can still race each other now: we don’t have to go anywhere. We were looking at the Mazda Road to Indy all through 2015 because that was the next step from the Rotax series, and we’re really excited to be here running with all the great drivers.
What are your expectations for 2017?
This is a good learning opportunity for me – I’m young, I’ve got plenty of time. In the last year of the old car, it’s going to be all about my driving as a whole and getting comfortable with the team. I learn every time I get into the car. We’re playing it by ear, so we’ll use what knowledge we have and decide what to do next year, but the new car could be a huge draw for Pro Mazda.
What did you think of your first race weekend at St. Pete?
I didn’t do as well as I would have liked at the series test at Homestead, but it was a good starting point and let us know what to expect at the first weekend. But St. Pete exceeded what I wanted to get done. We were mainly trying to set a tone for the weekend and keep improving, session by session, with the hopes of being in the top five – and we were fourth in the second race. It was awesome to do that on a track that most of the other guys have been running on for a few years, especially since I had never raced on a street course in a car.
It was funny: I wasn’t nervous at all before Sunday’s race, and I actually fell asleep on the pre-grid. I was very relaxed and as soon as I got onto the track, I hit the zone and went to work. I really felt that I could run up front and went from seventh to fourth. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season!
What is your favorite racetrack?
I’d have to say Road America. I have been working on the simulator and Road America looks amazing. I know it’s kind of bad to say that my favorite track is one I haven’t actually been to, but I’m really looking forward to it!
What kind of activities do you do away from the race car?
I ran cross country last fall and now I practice with the high school basketball team and I ski – with all the snow around here, there’s not a lot we can do during the winter so I spend time with my family, on the simulator, working and staying up on my homework. I was home-schooled when I was younger so once I started high school I decided to keep that pace up and take advanced classes. The school has “unweighted” and “weighted” Grade Point Averages – my weighted GPA includes the sophomore and junior classes that I’ve taken, so I have a 4.6 GPA. With the advanced classes, I’ll actually have an Associate’s degree at the end of my senior year of high school.
And now, I can drive on the street! I got my license last month. It was funny – when I started the driving test, I told the instructor that I was a race car driver and had decided I would try driving on the road. She said “oh, this is going to be so exciting!”
If I wasn’t driving a race car, I'd be ___________________________.
I’ve always liked cars, so I’d say something related to cars, like an engineer or designer. But I really enjoy all the sports I play, so maybe I’d try to be good at one of those.
Do you have a “hidden” talent?
I’m an awful singer, so that’s definitely not it. I’m pretty good at just about any sport I play, but that’s nothing too out of the ordinary. Does it count that I love Girl Scout cookies? Samoas and Thin Mints especially – I’m trying to order enough now to get me through the year!
What do you do to relax and get away from racing?
Just spending time outdoors – we can drive 20 minutes outside of town and go hiking and biking. And having time with my family always takes my mind off of worrying about things, because we’re always having a blast. I also like to go hangout with our youth pastor at the church we go to not too far from our house.