For most kids, their first experience behind the wheel of a car comes at 15 years old, armed with a learner’s permit and a nervous parent in the passenger seat. But Jupiter native Kyle Kirkwood started driving at the age of 5—and he hasn’t stopped since.
By the time he was 15, Kirkwood had already amassed an impressive driving record in karting competitions and was well on his way to a career in racing. Today, at just 25 years old, he is an accomplished professional race car driver with two IndyCar race wins this past year alone.
It was a visit to Moroso Motorsports Park in 2002 that sparked his passion for racing. “When I was 4, my parents brought me and my two older brothers out to Moroso for a drag race, and I remember watching the jet cars and just being absolutely fascinated and thinking it was the coolest thing ever,” recalls Kirkwood. That Christmas, his dad bought the three boys go-karts. “I was the only one who stuck to it,” says Kirkwood.
He spent the next three years doing laps on the karting track at Moroso (which was acquired and renamed Palm Beach International Raceway in 2008 but has since closed). “It was a hobby for me and my family,” says Kirkwood. “They would just watch me go around in circles.” One day, somebody at the racetrack approached his parents and suggested they start entering their son in races.
Navigating the landscape of the racing world proved to be challenging for a family with no background in motor-sports. His mom, Peggy, is an artist and founder of The New Studio for the Visual Arts in Jupiter; his dad, Cam, is in real estate. “Something people don’t recognize is that most of the kids in the karting community come from a family that’s very motorsports-oriented,” says Kirkwood, who found himself competing against kids from racing royalty. “At the time, I was going up against drivers like Pietro Fittipaldi, whose grandfather was an absolute legend in Formula One.”
Still, he started winning—and putting the Kirkwood name on the map in the world of racing. In 2011, a team out of Charlotte, North Carolina started sponsoring Kirkwood, picking up the cost for him to travel throughout the country racing for the team. The following year, he was awarded the Walldinger Racing Karting Scholarship (created by former NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger), which paid for a full season of racing in the World Karting Association Manufacturer’s Cup Series, as well as a spot at the Rotax Grand Nationals and SuperKarts USA SuperNationals.
In 2015, Kirkwood made his first jump from karting to cars at the F1600 Championship Series, where drivers race low-powered, small open-wheel cars. In order to advance in the IndyCar world, he explains, drivers follow a ladder system. At each level, the cars get bigger and faster. Kirkwood climbed that ladder quickly, racing in the Formula 4 series for two seasons and winning the championship in 2017. He then advanced to the Formula 3 series and won that championship in 2018.
His ascent to the IndyCar circuit began in 2018 when he raced the USF 2000 series, the first rung in a three-division ladder system called “The Road to Indy.” He won and advanced to the second division in 2019, the Indy Pro 2000, and won that too. After the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic, he came back in 2021 to win the final division, the Indy Lights, becoming the first driver in history to win consecutive championships in all three divisions.
Kirkwood made his IndyCar debut in 2022, competing in all 17 races on the A.J. Foyt Enterprises team. His best performance of the series that year was a top-10 finish at the Acura Grand Prix in Long Beach, California—though outside IndyCar, he took two first-place finishes in the IMSA Weather-Tech SportsCar Championship for Lexus, racing with the Vasser Sullivan team. IMSA consists of endurance races in which drivers race for up to 24 hours, earning points at various intervals throughout the race.
He entered his second IndyCar season signed with a new team—Andretti Global—and drove the No. 27 Dallara Honda to greatness. He achieved his first NTT IndyCar Series victory in April at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. “Indy 500 is our biggest race, and second to that is Long Beach,” says Kirkwood. “This year, we had 196,000 people in attendance and I think 1.5 million [watching] on NBC. It was my career highlight.” In August, he got his second win at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.
But his successful season wasn’t without some disappointments. In May, Kirkwood had just 20 laps to go in the Indianapolis 500 and was in good position for a top-five finish. Then a competitor’s car hit the outside wall and spun into his car, ripping off a back tire. Kirkwood’s car hit a barrier and flipped over, skidding upside down across the track as sparks shot out from the vehicle.
Despite the frightening crash, Kirkwood came out of it without injury and chalks it up to part of the job. “A lot of things are out of your control,” he says. “You have to be willing to accept that. We had a phenomenal race. We had a chance to win the race. That’s all you can ask for as a racing driver.”
His description of that race is true to how he often speaks of his racing performance—not in terms of his individual victories but as what “we” accomplished: “It is a team sport. A lot of people look at it from the outside and think it’s a driver driving a car. There’s a lot more to it.” Kirkwood is talking about the 15 to 20 people working on his car at any given time, all of whom contribute to the success of each race.
As he takes some much-needed downtime before the 2024 season begins in March (with the Streets of St. Petersburg race in Florida), he’s settling into the new home he recently purchased and renovated in Tequesta. Never one to sit still, he is spending his time off in town surfing, fishing, and generally staying active, often with his Labrador retriever, Rolly, in tow. “I grew up doing water sports in Jupiter, and I just love being on the water,” he says. “That’s kind of my getaway from motorsports, which is a very stressful environment.”
As he looks forward to the upcoming season, Kirkwood reflects on how far he has come since those days of karting with his brothers. “I went to my first IndyCar race in 2007 at Homestead Miami Speedway and watched Scott Dixon win,” he recalls. “I envied him so much, and now I race against him—and I beat him on occasion.”
He’s looking forward to a return to the Indianapolis 500, where he hopes to come out with a better performance in 2024. “The drive for something new, something more, never stops growing,” he says. “I want to win more races. I want to win championships. I’m always striving for more.
A few of Kirkwood’s favorite things
Outdoor activity: surfing and walking his dog at Kite Beach
Fishing spot: The Bahamas
Date night: Food Shack, Hog Snappers, U-Tiki
Grab a drink with friends: Square Grouper or Topside at the Beacon
Car to drive around town: Lexus LX 600
Car movie: Ford vs. Ferrari