Social media was filled with stories during the pandemic about people learning a second language, getting a puppy or going on a fitness journey. For Uthman Alaoui, the pandemic drove him into racing as his college classes went online.
“I definitely believe that without that pandemic, I would have never even considered or had any opportunity to be where I currently am (with racing),” Alaoui said. “The pandemic gave me a lot more free time to be able to pursue this.”
It’s been a whirlwind 18 months for the junior at University of California, Riverside, who has gone from never racing to karts and now competing in NASA Spec Miata. The 19-year-old Alaoui is participating in Mazda Teen Challenge for the first time, and in his last year of eligibility.
Any doubts Alaoui would have growing pains moving into cars were erased at his first race in February at Willow Springs with the NASA SoCal region. Alaoui went home with a pair of podium finishes and two wins in the Teen Mazda Challenge.
Alaoui credits Lisa Caceres, founder and owner of Race Karts! Inc., for spotting his talent on the track. Alaoui returned home to San Mateo, Calif., from college in 2020 when university classes went online. Finding himself with more free time, a neighbor suggested Alaoui attend a karting school.
It was at the karting school where Alaoui met Caceres, who saw the raw talent in Alaoui.
“Over the years I’ve seen a lot of talented drivers that come through the school, and some stand out more than others and Uthman was one of them,” said Caceres, who has run the karting school for 29 years in Northern California. “When I see a driver that really stands out or has the passion, you want to continue helping them out.”
While most families have a connection to racing through a parent or sibling, Alaoui said he’s the first in his family to take an interest in racing cars. Originally born in Montreal, Canada to a mother from France and a father from Morocco, Alaoui grew up in Boston before moving to California in middle school.
Alaoui started watching karting on TV when he was 15 and never saw himself as a racer. The pandemic arrived and changed his perspective. Alaoui got into karting even though he was one of the oldest and most inexperienced drivers. He spent a little more than a year in karting before Caceres recommended he take the next step into auto racing.
“I was happy that she believed I had the talent to move into car racing after so (little) time in karting,” said Alaoui, who started his karting career with a first- and second-place finish. “For me, karting was more of an avenue to move into car racing. I never really saw it as a place where I’d stay forever.”
Alaoui moved quickly to get his competition license and rented a Spec Miata to go through NASA’s HPDE program starting in November. The instructors were so impressed with Alaoui’s skills after completing two HPDE classes, they gave him a waiver into competition school. He earned his competition license in January.
The timing was perfect for Alaoui to join NASA’s Teen Mazda Challenge series, which mentors young drivers between ages 13 and 20. It teaches racing and business-development skills to help racers advance their motorsports careers. The competition, open to Spec Miata and Spec MX-5 racers around the country, offers a chance to compete in Mazda’s annual MX-5 Cup Shootout. The winner can earn a $110,000 scholarship to race professionally in the Mazda MX-5 Cup sports car series.
Alaoui is focused on improving his racing skills, but wants to learn the business end that is taught in Teen Mazda Challenge.
“They want to support and make you improve as a driver, but they also want to support and improve you as a person yourself,” Alaoui said. “As a lot of people know, it’s how you connect with people off the track that builds connections and leads toward sponsorship opportunities.”
Caceres, who runs the Teen Mazda Challenge for NASA’s NorCal region, said the program is greater than creating the next-generation racer.
“The life lessons are the big picture for me,” Caceres said. “It’s all about how they learn to conduct themselves, the camaraderie, the sportsmanship, the confidence building that it gives them, the motivation, the work ethic. There are so many things that prepare them for adulthood and for becoming just great people. The main reason that I’m involved in this is because of how these kids turn out.”
Alaoui also showcases his driving skills online competing in the iRacing League. The simulated racing game has more than 150,000 active racers, who are either getting familiar with a track or seeking some racing competition during the winter months.
The teenager is currently ranked in the top 25 in the United States, top five in California and top 300 worldwide in iRacing. The league’s races are streamed on Twitch and YouTube, attracting an online following for Alaoui. He may be better known in virtual racing, but NASA racers are quickly learning Alaoui’s name after the race in Willow Springs.
Alaoui raced like a seasoned veteran, finishing in second place overall in the 15-car Spec Miata field. He plans to race at least once a month while pursuing his degree in public policy. Whether it’s moving up in the higher levels of racing or working in transportation in local government, Alaoui has plenty of future options.
“I’m thankful to have the opportunity to drive a racecar in the first place,” Alaoui said. “It’s something I never believed would have happened just two years ago. I’m just thankful that I have the opportunity to race in Spec Miata.”
|Hometown:||San Mateo, California|
|Racing Class:||Spec Miata|
|Day Job:||Student at the University of California, Riverside|
|Favorite Food:||Pineapple pizza|
|Favorite TV show:||“Mayday”|
|Favorite Movie:||“Forrest Gump”|
|Favorite Book:||“Into the Wild” by John Krakauer|
|Dream Racecar:||Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Car|