ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Like most teenagers on their 16th birthday, Matthew Di Leo got his Ontario learner’s driver permit when he hit that milestone just three weeks ago.
It allows him to drive a car, but only when a person with a full valid drivers licence is with him at all times.
The problem, you see, is that Di Leo has been driving cars at speeds above 160 km/h for several years now, so it wasn’t such a big deal.
“All the kids at my school are like ‘Wow you got your G1,’” he said. “I tried telling them that on weekend I drive a Formula 2000 race car, but I don’t know if they would believe me.”
If they cared to Google young Di Leo, they would find details of his excellent weekend adventure in the Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship race as part of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Di Leo, driving the No. 33 Res Precast Brian Stewart Racing entry, managed to avoid an early multiple car crash to jump from his 10th starting position to third.
He was overtaken near the end of the race but still finished a very impressive fourth — his best finish in his first year in the Road to Indy open-wheel series.
Di Leo’s personal road to Indy began when, as an 11-year-old, he talked his dad into helping him try Kart racing at the Innisfil Indy Karting circuit, near their home.
“I just fell in love with the sport,” he said.
After several successful karting seasons Di Leo was introduced to open wheel team owner Brian Stewart who put together the racing deal that got him into the USF2000 series this season.
“Everyday is a learning experience for me,” he said. “Brian Stewart Racing is a great team and they have really helped me.”
But when he gets back home and behind the wheel of the family sedan, Di Leo, will still need a licensed drivers beside him for a while longer yet.