Canadian Drivers at #indyTO: Parker Thompson of the MRTI

Parker Thompson: “I grew a passion for all things loud and fast”

By: Christian Ryan

Nineteen-year-old Cooper Tires USF2000 driver Parker Thompson is surprised that he wound up racing cars.

Hailing from Red Deer, Alberta, Thompson grew up immersed in racing. Thompson’s father was a motorcycle racing enthusiast who raced jet boats in Northern Alberta, while a five-year old Parker watched from the shore. Parker Thompson’s career path was settled as boats roared past, “I grew a passion for all things loud and fast pretty quick in my life.”

Inspired by his father’s passion for the sport and his own admiration for English Grand Prix Motorcycle Champion Barry Sheene, Thompson’s journey set out on two wheels at the age of six with his first dirt bike. This was a transformative moment for him, as the receiving of the dirt bike set him on a path to professional car racing: “My mom immediately pretty well put a stop to [bikes],” he laughs. “She thought that was a bit too dangerous for a six year old to be on a dirt bike. So for my eighth birthday I got my first go kart. And that’s pretty well how it all started.”

Once the wheels doubled, so did Thompson’s determination. Without kart racing opportunities in Red Deer, the Thompson family took to regular weekend trips to Calgary in order for Parker to compete. He would win the Western Canadian title in his first year, catching the eye of 2004 Indianapolis 500 Champion Buddy Rice and marking his first major step on the road towards IndyCar.

The young Canadian was headed south of the border to compete for Buddy Rice Karting in Phoenix, Arizona. Excelling on a national stage into his early teens, Thompson was afforded the opportunity to represent Canada at the Rotax Grand Finals in Dubai and Portugal where he would become the highest ranking Canadian in World Championship karting. This opened a unique and intimidating opportunity for the teenage driver.

“I flew back from Portugal and I pretty well had a week to make a decision,” he explains. “I got a contract when I was a 14 year old kid, and the contract basically stated that I had to move from Red Deer, Alberta all the way to Bergamo, Italy to compete over there full time for 12 months… I gave up a lot at that point… But at the end of the day, it’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

The 12-month tour saw Thompson continue to grow his impressive racing resume, claiming poles and victories throughout the European Championship.As he took a year off to deliberate as to which direction to head, the former Buddy Rice protege landed firmly on his next step.

“The Road to Indy, right away, stuck out,” Thompson said of his introduction to USF2000. He would claim seven top fives in his rookie season, but having jumped into the Mazda Road to Indy immediately out of karting, the young Canadian raised on bikes and boats was bewildered by his own performance. “Rookie is a term that gets thrown around a lot with a lot of different drivers, but I was a true rookie: to not only the series but also just to cars in general.”

Thompson signed with Cape Motorsports in his second season and would go on to claim four victories and lead the championship points for the majority of the season. He ultimately finished second in points after a blown tire in Mid Ohio took him out of title contention late in the season. Despite the disappointment of a missed title, Thompson was able to claim his proudest racing achievement to date.

“That year I won Toronto, which was awesome,” he beamed, recounting his biggest victory on home soil in the Honda Indy Toronto. “I would say out of all my wins in my entire career, the Honda Indy was probably the most special wins I’ve ever had. My whole family was in Toronto to see it. And even though it’s a four and a half hour flight away, it still feels like a home Grand Prix. The Canadian fans are like none other.”

Now in his third year of USF2000, Thompson will return to the Honda Indy Toronto race weekend with Mazda Road to Indy’s sole all-Canadian team, Exclusive Autosport.

“It doesn’t get much more Canadian than what we’ve got under our team,” Thompson says, outlining the comfort of familiarity with an owner from Saskatchewan, engineers from Quebec, and mechanics from Ontario creating a Canadian synergy within the team. “Once it all starts to come together, I guarantee we’ll be in for some race wins coming up. It’s going to pretty emotional once we do capture those just because I know how hard this team has worked to muscle their way onto the Mazda Road to Indy. And to get where we’ve gotten already has been a huge battle… I would love to get our first win in Toronto.”

Thompson’s passion fuels his interests away from the racetrack, but his focus is very much on cars no matter the circumstance. While describing his love for golf, he compares the mental strain of piecing together a strong 18 holes with that of successfully running a 200 mile race.

However, his greatest passion away from the track is his safe driving campaign The Drive to Stay Alive in which he travels to speak to high school students about the dangers of distracted driving. After a close friend was involved in a texting and driving accident in high school, Thompson assessed the visibility of distracted driving as a serious hazard.

“It was at that point I knew I needed to do something about texting and driving,” he explains. “At that time, there was no national campaign for texting and driving yet. There’s been plenty of drinking and driving national campaigns and then plenty of other road safety campaigns, but there wasn’t one at that time four years ago developed specifically for texting and driving or distracted driving.

You look at racing on a track: the mistakes we make or the split second decisions we make can be the difference of life and death. I think the same goes on the roads, it’s just not as promoted. I find myself driving a race car at 260kmph around the Toronto street course much safer than I would driving on the streets of Toronto in a street car.”

Parker Thompson’s fire and passion for all things loud and fast have taken him from Red Deer, Alberta, to the top of Canada’s biggest racing podium, back into the classroom as a role model. Having achieved all of this at the age of 19, his racing career can go in any direction. Thompson, however, is just happy to be along for the ride.

“If I could get paid to drive a race car for the rest of my life as a career, I think I would be the happiest guy alive,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what I race, if I can ever get an opportunity to drive a race car for a career I will definitely take it.

I could race a cardboard box in a parking lot.”