The day Bryce Aron turned 16, he not only got his Illinois driver’s license, he got his Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)-sanctioned professional car racing license.
“It’s true,” he says with a smile, explaining that he had to have both to compete in England’s iconic Formula Ford Festival, where he was the youngest race car driver on the track. One of three drivers chosen to represent America as part of Team USA in the World Cup there, Bryce’s participation came at the conclusion of a brilliant first year in professional racing. He placed third in the U.S. National 2019 Pro Formula 1600 series, among a host of other racing wins.
Such a strong first showing earned the Winnetka teen an invitation to drive with the Low Dempsey Racing (formerly Cliff Dempsey) team in the UK, where he was set to compete for the 2020 season. Running from April to October, the UK racing year typically culminates with the Formula Ford Festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy race.
His dream was to be the first American in history to win the Festival’s main event.
Then COVID-19 happened, and all those best laid plans took a different route—one that saw Bryce set off on his own to England earlier this month, first to self-quarantine, then to race with his teammates.
Earlier this week, we spoke with his parents, Jordan and Alyson Aron, about Bryce’s dream and how the recent pandemic altered (but did not cancel) his plans for the summer.
“Bryce is in the Midlands of England, living with the team principal and teammate in Bridgestock,” explains Jordan, owner of Imperial Motors Jaguar of Lake Bluff. “He went on June 6, knowing they would be limiting people coming into the country.”
While the national championship schedule has been cut in half, starting in July this year rather than April, Bryce will be racing in the UK National Championships with The Champion of Brands and then, Castle Combe, through the summer and into the fall.
Alyson says he will continue his classes at New Trier Township High School (NTHS) online when school starts up again, so he doesn’t have to fly back and forth to compete.
And while nothing about this summer has gone as planned, Alyson and Jordan say they are happy that Bryce is able to continue to follow his dream, despite the pandemic.
“It’s not without some hesitation that we sent him, but there was really no way around it. Either you forfeit the season, or you go,” says Alyson, who is hoping to get over to England to meet up with her son by early August. “We never thought we’d be sending our 16-year-old off to England during a global pandemic to drive race cars alone, but there was no other choice.”
As Jordan adds, “it’s his passion and his dream and we support him.”
Bryce says he’s loved cars as long as he can remember.
“My parents tell me my first sentence was, ‘I see car.’ So even when I was really little, I wanted to find a way to pursue cars as my passion,” he explained in an interview earlier this year. “I was like, ‘But how do I do that?’ Watching car races on TV—Top Gear, Formula One, Indy Car, my 4-year-old-self thought: ‘Racing! That’s how I’ll do it!’”
And he hasn’t stopped since.
“I’m ultra-competitive,” laughed the rising NTHS junior, who manages to maintain a 4.0 grade average, despite the intensity of commitment that racing requires. Racing cars and mastering everything about them in the push toward faster speeds and bigger wins, consumes him.
Touring the Lamborghini headquarters with his father during a family vacation in Italy when he was 8 years old made a big impression, who spent the tour asking questions about racing and learned about go-karts—the entry ramp to professional car racing.
“After that visit, I went from, ‘I want to race,’ to ‘I have to race,’” he said. “From then on, it was just me asking, ‘When can I do go-karts? When can I start in go-karts?’ which probably annoyed the heck out of my mom and dad.”
Despite initial reservations, Alyson and Jordan did research and agreed to take Bryce to a recreational indoor go-kart track to try it out.
“The kart was way too big for him,” Alyson recalls, “but he just took to it. He seemed to just naturally know what to do.”
Bryce’s ease with speed and maneuverability, and his unrelenting determination to race, eventually led to participation in competitive go-kart racing on an outdoor track when he was 10. That first go-kart race remains one of his most memorable.
“It was a brilliant, sunny day,” he says. “We didn’t have great equipment or a big group of supporters standing there. But there I was, on the grid, ready to race, and my dad leaned in and said to me with this huge smile, ‘This is where it all starts!’ And then as soon as I drove off, immediately there was the speed, the feeling of being one with the machine, pushing it to the absolute limit. I loved it.”
Bryce placed fifth in the race, and with each subsequent competition, has learned and improved, advancing from go-karts, to the Formula 1600 cars he races now. Hints of the racing life peek out at the edges of the family home in Winnetka: Go-karting trophies in one corner stand almost four-feet tall. A half-dozen racing coveralls hang in the coatroom, with two helmets on the shelf.
And Bryce’s first go-kart—now a battered relic—hangs quietly in the garage. But his room is the motherlode. Shelves wink and sparkle, lined with trophies, medals, racing swag, and empty champagne bottles (traditionally handed out to winners on the podium and filled with liquid that he has been too young to actually drink.) But despite the trove of riches, Bryce keeps a quiet profile when he’s at school, doesn’t talk much about racing with his friends and maintains the disciplines required to fulfill his dream of one day making it to the top of motor sports.
“Friends know I race, but most do not really understand it,” he said earlier this year. “They hear racing and think NASCAR, which is on an oval track, and Ricky Bobby. Open wheel, which is what I race with the Formula 1600/Formula Ford cars, is different. These are open cockpit, single-seater cars mostly driven on road courses with right, left, and hairpin curves.”
“Someone once described driving these cars as akin to wrestling a giant wild boar while traveling at speeds in excess of 150 mph and passing others who are trying to hold onto their own wild boars,” adds Alyson. “And all of this takes place in conditions that are sometimes treacherous.”
A great deal of physical strength, and endurance, plus intense mental focus, and strategy are required to succeed. To achieve this, Bryce works out daily, with a focus on building shoulder, arm, and abdominal strength. He also analyzes film footage from races—his own, as well as races won by motor sport stars such as Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton.
“People may think of racing as a one-person thing … just the driver behind the wheel of a very fast car,” says Bryce. “But it really is a team effort. I may be in the car by myself, but it’s the team—from the driver coach, to the data engineer, to the engineer, to the mechanics, that leads to success.”
Bryce explains that each Formula 1600 car he races is equipped both with an onboard camera, and a data-logging unit that captures the minutiae of everything he does on the track, from throttle, braking, and shifting inputs, to steering. Studying the video footage and data with his coaches and engineers is what helps Aron find ways to correct movements and strategize toward faster times. It’s something he studies every day.
“Am I a little bit too wide in turn three?
Or too narrow? Am I taking a late apex? Early apex? Am I on throttle too early? Am I braking too early, or if I’m braking too late—am I overcharging the corner? Studying all of this allows me to break things down to a couple of feet, or even inches. Because in a race, if I am breaking a foot later than another racer, that could add 1/100th of a second to my time. And in this setting, where races can be won by a couple thousandths of a second, that can mean the difference between a win or a loss.”
Because Bryce is a perfectionist, his biggest challenge has been not beating himself up mentally if he makes even the slightest mistake on the track. “If I get down on myself and get stuck there, it affects me in the car. It’s hard to bounce back, but you have to stay out of your head. Because if you get frustrated or angry, it shows immediately in your race performance. If I lock a brake and spin, for example, or get too sideways and lose time on a qualifying lap, I have to brush it out of my mind right away. I can’t say, ‘Dang it! I screwed up!’ I have to immediately say, ‘OK I made a mistake, now move on!’ And put it to the back of my mind.”
His mantra is that you either win, or if you come in second, you are the first person to lose. “Ultimately? I want to make it to the top of motor sports. I want to be paid to do my dream. So, I’m aiming to make it to Indy Car, or to the absolute pinnacle which would be Formula 1,” he explains.
At the end of the day, Bryce concludes, “This is not just something I’m doing for fun, this is something I want to do for the rest of my life. I put my heart and soul into it. I get out of a race car and I’m still thinking about it. I go to sleep thinking about it. I wake up thinking about it. How can I be faster? How can I win? I’m willing to do anything to get there.”
Anything. Even if it means flying to England in the middle of a pandemic.
“He was just written up in a European magazine as one of the Top 10 Drivers to Watch in 2020,” adds Alyson. “Lots of passion from that kid and just amazing to hear him talk and watch what he does on track.”
For more information visit, brycearon.com