Ohio Native Veach Looks to Inspire with his Story of Overcoming Bullying

via IndyCar.com

The smallest kid in a Stockdale, Ohio, classroom sure has grown from enduring childhood bullying and becoming painfully aware he could fit into a school locker.

Zach Veach is still small in stature at 5 feet, 4 inches and 140 pounds now that he’s a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series driver for Andretti Autosport. But he’s learned how to use racing as a platform to share life lessons to benefit others.

His candid account of being a bullying victim is an eye-opening admission, with stories that aren’t just a testament of what he’s overcome, but a message to help young people in a similar predicament.

Zach Veach“When kids found out I wanted to race, I got a lot of bullying,” Veach recalled of his own youth. “Half of my front tooth is fake from being slammed against a desk. I learned that I fit into a locker very well. I ended up in a dumpster once or twice.

“I had all these things telling me to stop racing, (but) I had a great support system that I think a lot of kids don’t have. I had great teachers, I had a great family that pushed me along. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today. I think about that every single day. There’s kids that need that positive influence in their life.”

He vividly recalls losing part of that front tooth.

“There was a kid sitting next to me who actually grabbed me by the back of my head and slammed my head against a desk trying to be funny,” Veach said. “I don’t think he intended to break my tooth. He was just trying to be hilarious, but that was the outcome.

“One of the stories that I always joke about is I won a go-kart race at Indianapolis. You get a hat with a ‘first place’ on it, and I was excited about that.

“I wore the hat to school the next day and a kid grabbed it and threw it in the trash and poured milk all over it – which is hilarious thinking about it now. At the time, I didn’t think about that. But looking back, I’m like, ‘One day, I hope I have milk pouring on my hat again.’”

The winner of the annual Indianapolis 500 swigs milk in Victory Lane and typically douses himself in the liquid.

Veach didn’t let the demoralizing cruelty he endured dissuade him from his dreams. After succeeding in all levels of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder from 2010-16, he struggled to secure a ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He made his first two series starts last year – as a substitute for Ed Carpenter Racing at Barber Motorsports Park and in a third AJ Foyt Racing entry in the Indianapolis 500.

Struggling to land a full-time ride, a bit of divine guidance led Veach to finding sponsor Group One Thousand One, which made his dream come true this season with Andretti Autosport. Veach finished a team-best seventh in the most recent race, the Honda Indy Toronto on July 15, with his personal-best finish of fourth at the famed Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in April.

Zach VeachBut it took dogged perseverance and solid support for him to reach this level. Veach recalled the lowest point when he was 12 years old.

“I came home and things were so bad, I went to my dad and said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’” he said. “I was tired of people making fun of me. ‘It’s not worth it.’ I was just emotional at the time, being 12. If it wasn’t for my dad saying, ‘Hey, there are other ways. We can do online school and just focus on racing,’ I might not be here.”

The bullying stopped after the eighth grade. What’s surprising is some of his former classmates who subjected him to that bullying have stayed in touch. What might seem even more surprising is that the 23-year-old Veach would give any of them the time of day.

“That’s the beauty of having Facebook, right? You can see where everybody is now,” he said. “I don’t wish any harm or anything bad on those guys. That’s just how they were educated. That’s just something they learned coming from a small town. You pick on things that are different. Honestly, I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from them. I think a lot of them understand that they weren’t who they wanted to be when they were younger.

“I get the compliment, ‘Hey, it’s great to see you get to INDYCAR.’ It’s kind of funny. A lot of them talk about how they want to come to races. I’m like, ‘We’ll see.’”

The diminutive driver acknowledges the importance of being the bigger man.

“You have to be,” he said. “You have to look past things. I’m lucky to have a support system that allowed me to keep doing what I love. A lot of kids don’t have that.”

It’s more important to share his life-influencing messages. In 2011, Veach wrote the book “99 Things Teens Wish They Knew Before Turning 16” and made an appearance on NBC’s “TODAY.”

“Everyone has their own struggles, no matter how great things look,” he said. “You don’t know how close someone is to breaking. You pile on top of that, especially in high school, when there’s a lot of hormones and emotions going on, that can do permanent damage. As soon as we start taking better care of ourselves, we’ll move forward as a society.”

Veach will keep driving important life lessons home while steering an Indy car. Hopefully, history will one day repeat itself with a milk shower in Victory Lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“If I’ve won the Indy 500, that’s going to be something I’m extremely proud about,” he said, “but more so is how I helped people.”

Veach and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action at his home-state race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday, July 29. Live coverage airs at 3 p.m. ET on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. A same-day encore telecast airs at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN.

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