DALLAS — Jason Rabe has gone from living in his passenger car to living his dream.
The driver who couldn’t afford a hotel room a few years ago will make his first start ever in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires in that support series’ doubleheader Saturday and Sunday at Reliant Park Houston. It’s part of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston that is headlined by an IZOD IndyCar Series doubleheader.
Rabe is getting his big chance through a Dallas-based team, M1 Racing, and his sponsors: Delaware Investments, the Monticello Motor Club and Fuel Clothing.
Rabe hopes to parlay the opportunity in M1 Racing’s neon yellow and white No. 29 this weekend into a full run for the championship in the Mazda Road to Indy series in 2014.
Reaching the point where a driver can earn a living as a professional race car driver is extremely difficult. Many of today’s stars raced go-carts as children. Most Pro Mazda drivers are in their late teens or early 20s. Rabe is 29.
Rabe says he knew he wanted to race cars at a very young age, but with very little money and no connections in the sport, it’s taken a lot of tenacity to get to this point.
“After being on the outside looking in for too long, I’m determined to make it work,” Rabe said. “I reached a breaking point about three and a half years ago, and I got in my car and drove down to New Jersey Motorsports Park to take an hourly job as a flagger, just to get my foot in the door. I didn’t know anyone there or have a place to stay, so I slept in my car for about a month before networking and meeting some great people who helped me.
“I eventually volunteered to wrench, and that led to opportunities to drive and even race,” he said. “I’ve driven with heart, sheer determination and motivation. This has produced successful results, and the rest started to fall into place.”
Another important setting in Rabe’s story is Pocono Raceway. He completed the five-day advanced program offered by the Bertil Roos Racing School at that track in Pennsylvania, and then competed in the Bertil Roos F2000 series and won its Rookie Runoffs.
The next step was acquiring his regional and national SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) racing licenses. With that accomplished he started competing in amateur Formula Mazda, Formula Atlantic, Spec Racer Ford and D Sports Racer SCCA events up and down the East Coast. That led to him acquiring his SCCA Pro Racing license and competing in the SCCA’s F2000 Championship Series, earning a seventh place in his debut.
To help make ends meet, he’s a full-time driver coach/instructor for the Bertil Roos Racing School, New Jersey Motorsports Park and the Monticello Motor Club in Monticello, N.Y. In addition to networking with auto enthusiasts better off than he is financially, it gives him the opportunity to get behind the wheel of some exotic sports cars that most people only dream of driving. Rabe also has an auto-detailing shop at Monticello to help generate extra funds for racing.
Rabe’s tenacity has also garnered him more national TV time this year than any of the Pro Mazda drivers he’ll compete against this weekend. That’s because he was featured in Ford’s Octane Academy TV show that aired on the NBC Sports Network earlier this year. Although he didn’t win, he made it to the finals representing Pro Rally/Autocross superstar Ken Block.
Rabe has been in contact with M1 Racing’s owner, Paul Mata, for some time now, and tested with the Dallas-based team at the Monticello Motor Club in July. He’s also testing at Eagles Canyon Raceway in Decatur, Texas at press time in order to prepare for this weekend’s challenges.
He’s entering this Mazda Road to Indy series’ season finale in the hopes of putting together enough sponsorship for more races in 2014.
“I just want to be competitive in any professional open-wheel or sports car racing series,” Rabe said. “I’ve sacrificed everything to pursue my passion and dream of racing cars professionally. Now I’m about to make my Pro Mazda debut. It’s all surreal to me, but I’m proof that you should never give up on your dreams!”