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Kurt Busch stretches before the start of practice for the Indianapolis 500 IndyCar auto race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Monday, May 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Auto racing: Jack Hawksworth ready for Indy 500 debut
First Published May 21 2014 11:07 am • Last Updated May 22 2014 04:25 pm

Jack Hawksworth would be out $500.01 if the IndyCar Series rookie wagered on his own career.

Turned out, he can keep the change.

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"I wouldn’t have bet a penny I’d race this year. Not one penny," Hawksworth said during preparations for the Indianapolis 500.

Hawksworth took a hit to his wallet when he put down a nonrefundable $500 deposit for personal trainer classes. An unemployed driver, Hawksworth had his eyes on Plan B, a little something to keep him in the Indianapolis area and quench his interest in physical fitness.

There’s no need for Hawksworth to update his resume — he never made it to his classes. Instead, the British driver will make his debut Sunday in the Indy 500.

Like so many unknown drivers before him, Hawksworth has made a name for himself in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He started second in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, led 31 laps and finished seventh. He was the top rookie in 500 qualifying not named Kurt Busch and starts 13th on the inside of row five.

In his first season with Bryan Herta Autosport, Hawksworth expected to be in the mix for wins this season — and the 500 would be a great first one.

"I think there’s a belief we can really take it to the big guys," Hawksworth said. "We don’t see ourselves as underdogs, we see ourselves as contenders."

Hawksworth started racing karts at age 13. In 2010, he joined the Formula Renault U.K. Winter Series, finished third in the points and was the series’ top rookie.

In 2011, he started moving up the American open-wheel ranks. He dominated in the 2012 Star Mazda Series, setting records for most wins, poles and fastest laps in a season. Last year, Hawksworth competed won three times and finished fourth in the Firestone Indy Lights points.


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Hawksworth, though, found those checkered flags came with a price.

"I didn’t have the best relationship with the people I was working with," he said, refusing elaboration. "Some things didn’t go the way I thought they should have."

He had soured on racing relationships and was out of work for a chunk of the winter, so he decided to become a personal trainer. But he tested for Herta’s team at Sebring in February and was good enough to impress Herta, who drove in the series before starting his own team.

He was due to start his new career in March, shortly before the start of IndyCar season, then lost his $500 deposit when he ditched training for racing.

Hawksworth, who crashed during Indy 500 practice, was a surprise leader during the Grand Prix. The 23-year-old Hawksworth took the lead early in the race and held it until a pit stop dropped him to ninth.

"This is the place you want to lead your first race," he said. "You go down the back straight on the road course, and you think, ‘This is pretty damn cool.’ But you have to refocus and get yourself back in the zone."

———

JIMMIE’S SKID: All of Jimmie Johnson’s visits to Victory Lane this season have been to congratulate other drivers. The six-time and defending NASCAR champion hasn’t won a race since last November, a 13-race losing skid.

He’s not getting any sympathy.

"I don’t feel bad for him," said Carl Edwards. "I’ve felt bad for him before and he turns it right around."

Johnson goes into the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway a surprising 0-for-11 on the season. It’s the longest drought since 2002, his second season in the Sprint Cup Series, when Johnson needed 12 races to pick up his first win of the year.

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