How Indy Pro 2000 champ Sting Ray Robb turned angst into advantage
If you’re searching for a story of faith and inspiration in open-wheel racing, the kid with the best name on the Road to Indy has something fine to offer.
Sting Ray Robb, the 2020 Indy Pro 2000 champion with Juncos Racing (pictured above leading at Indianapolis), went into the season as one of a few potential title contenders, but admittedly, the Idaho native wasn’t at the top of the list. Unlike his predecessor — 2019 Indy Pro champion Kyle Kirkwood, who blitzed the field — Robb’s journey to the title centered on one pivotal moment at Round 3.
“I think we can start by looking at the end of last season, and the progression that I took in 2019,” the 19-year-old told RACER. “Coming into the year there with Juncos Racing, it was a fresh start, I felt like, compared to the previous season. I think we saw the results a little bit at the end [of 2019]; qualifying on pole twice at Portland and Laguna Seca, and then challenging for those wins.
“Coming into this season, it was a make it or break it kind of year. It didn’t start out very good — we missed qualifying at Road America due to fuel pump issues, and it just seemed like bad luck continued, like I’ve had in past seasons. We had an OK run at Road America, got fifth and second there, which was pretty good. A good start for points. Mid-Ohio after that, and that first race in Ohio I think was a turning point for me, because I did not have a good race. I finished 10th in that race and it was no one’s fault but my own.”
Searching for ways to stop his season from spiraling out of control, Robb looked skyward for answers.
“I was really frustrated after that event and I took my helmet off, went stomping in the trailer, and I just went on a little walk by myself for a while,” he said. “They’ve got those trees out in the park area there in Mid-Ohio, and I just knelt down and started praying. I was like, ‘God, this is it. I feel like I’ve given everything that I can, and if it’s not the car breaking down, or someone running me off the track, then it’s me. Everything that can go wrong, has gone wrong. I’m done, this is all I can give anymore.’”
The standard response to a string of poor results is often found with training harder, or spending more time reviewing video and data. Robb’s decision to wander out behind the paddock and pray is yet another way the lanky teenager stands out from his rivals.
“I all of a sudden had this peace about me: this is all part of the plan,” he continued. “This is preparing you, this is what’s going to make you great in the future, because it’s teaching you to persevere. That was that same weekend that I won my first race, and from there on, it was like the floodgates broke open.
“I think that the trials and tribulations, and everything that has gone wrong, has taught me so much about becoming a mature driver: Not only how to handle a bad situation, but how to succeed in a bad situation, and having the confidence to look at it and go, ‘OK, I know what I’m capable of, I believe in the team that I’m with, and I know that whatever they throw at us, we’ll be able to fight through it,’ which I thought was pretty cool.”
Robb went on to win seven times over the next 14 races. His prize for winning the title is a full season of Indy Lights. Carrying the Mid-Ohio revelation forward with whatever team he chooses will be needed if he wants to contend with Kirkwood and an impressive array of young talent who are aiming for the championship.
“We’ve always said that there’s two kinds of men in this role; those that are humble, or those that are about to be,” Robb added. “And so I’d rather be the former, when it comes to that side of things. I think that started a long time ago — I won a few championships in karting, and we could see that I had the potential to become a good driver in open-wheel cars. With Pieter Rossi, my manager, jumping on board, he could see, ‘Sting Ray, he’s got the potential, he just needs to keep working and growing.’
“It’s funny, I don’t know whether I’m more excited to be winning the championship, or getting a ride at Indy Lights. A 50-50 celebration is going on right now. There’s going to be a lot of good drivers in this series.”