In Indianapolis we are familiar with racing families like Andretti, Foyt, Unser, and Rahal. One name that belongs in the conversation — one that many might not be familiar with — is the Brabham family. Next weekend when 33 cars line up to run in the 100th Indianapolis 500, a third generation of Brabhams will be in the field, represented by Matthew Brabham.
His grandfather, Sir Jack Brabham, raced in the Indy 500 with mild success. Brabham fared in Formula One: Sir Jack Brabham is a three time Formula One World Champion, winning in 1959, 1960 and 1966. Sir Jack is the only Formula One World Champion to win with his name on the car.
His father, Geoff Brabham, has a name that may sound familiar to hardcore fans of the Indy 500. Geoff has 10 starts to his credit in the Indianapolis 500. He has a championship and a third place finish in the now defunct Canadian-American Challenge Cup series. He was also on the winning team of the 1993 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. He also has uncles who have seen success both at Le Mans, and 12 Hours of Sebring.
“My dad didn’t really want me to get involved with racing cars,” said Matthew. “He was trying to put golf clubs and tennis racquets into my hand” he says while laughing. It was actually a different kind of racing that sparked his interest into racing. “It really came from my mom, she was a jet ski racer … that was my first introduction into racing.”
You can’t have a Formula One World Champion as a grandfather and not have that play a part. He also credits hearing stories from his grandfather and father piquing his interest as they shared tales of racing across the globe.
Matthew’s first experience in racing came through karting as a hobby. He admits it didn’t really take it seriously, until he started growing up and was able to fully understand what his family had done in the sport.
Brabham’s career took off from there.
It began in the U.S. F2000 National Championship in 2012 where he ran for Cape Motorsports and Wayne Taylor Racing. Brabham took the podium in 11 of 14 races, including four victories in route to winning the championship.
The next year as a member of Andretti Autosport Brabham won 13 races to win the Pro Mazda Championship. With championships in two of the three Road to Indy series, Brabham drove for Andretti Autosport for two years in Indy Lights. He didn’t dominate in 2014 like he had the two previous years, however, he did place fourth overall with podiums in four races. He only ran three races in 2015.
Andretti didn’t have room for Brabham on the roster for 2016, but that would not stop Brabham from living his dream of racing the Indianapolis 500. There are no hard feelings between Brabham and Andretti, he mentions Michael Andretti is a friend and someone he respects. “It’s a dream come true really, all the stars have aligned. It’s the 100th running, my rookie year,” he says about looking to next weekend’s race. “To have all of that come together, and have my first attempt at going for the 500 is special.”
Running your first laps on the famed oval in an INDYCAR is special for every driver. It is no different for Brabham. “It’s incredible, I think with taking the rookie orientation it was a nice introduction. I took my steps, and kinda caught up for speed slowly,” he said. “It’s one of those cool moments of your life, and you gotta kinda pinch yourself.”
On top of racing his first Indy 500, another interesting story is Brabham's partnership with Taya Kyle. Taya Kyle is the wife of the late Chris Kyle, subject of the book and movie American Sniper
. Through her foundation, his team will compete with a group of military veterans and first responders in the pit stop competition on Carb Day next weekend.
That link started with team owner Brett “Crusher” Murray, who has a family connection with Taya Kyle. “At first it was just kind of an idea, then it all came about and it was good to go. It really adds to our program,” said Brabham about the project.
“It’s kind of inspiring, really” said Brabham on meeting his pit crew. “They’re so used to dealing with high pressure situations. They’re the types of guys who are just really good at what they do. You learn a lot from them, you kind of just absorb what they do,” says Brabham about his interaction with the team. “It’s really inspiring.”
Matt Brabham looks to be just the third third-generation driver to qualify for the 500 this weekend. With 33 cars entered into the field, barring any setbacks, it looks like a feat he will be able to accomplish.