One never knows what can be found inside a box of cereal. Mini cartoon characters. Parachuting army men. Silly stickers. Max Peichel, 16, of Edina found something truly valuable—a passion for racing cars.
“I’ve always been interested in cars,” the Edina High School junior says, recalling plucking out a toy racecar from a cereal box when he was a kid. The love of toying around with mini cars grew into racing karts at a Cokato racetrack when he was about 11.
But that wasn’t enough. In 2016, Max moved on to being part of a team with Jay Howard’s Motorsport Driver Development out of Indianapolis. Howard is a British professional racecar driver, and the program aims to mentor young drivers, preparing them for the world of motorsports. Max raced karts with the organization for about a year, competing in cities around the country from Las Vegas to Dayton two to three times a month during the summer.
But even that wasn’t enough. By 2017, Max was racing Formula 4 cars with Howard’s group. Howard himself reached out to Max, believing he had talent to go to the next level. The type of car he drives is similar to Formula 1 cars, minus some of the technological advances and speed capabilities. Max can hit speeds up to 150 mph. “When you’re actually out there, it doesn’t seem like you’re going so fast,” he says.
Traveling to about six races a year, Max has hit the raceways in Florida, Texas, Canada and the granddaddy of them all, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400. “That was one of my favorite moments of the year,” he says. “Getting to watch the Indianapolis 500 and getting to race there is amazing.”
Max’s races last about 30 minutes, with drivers circling the track as often as they can. He says his best race was in Miami when he garnered the fourth spot and was making a move to take over the third position when a full course caution was placed on the race. A restart left Max “taken out,” after his car was hit by another racer.
While his car is owned by the team, Max and his family still have plenty of expenses to handle, including financing travel and accommodations, paying for mechanics, tires, ground transportation to races and other fees. Thankfully, he has sponsors, including ProMark Drones and BiPro USA. “Every step you move up, the costs increase,” Max says.
“The responsibility that these kids take on at such a young age is just amazing,” his father Bill Peichel says. (There’s plenty of 14–15-year-olds who are deep into the sport.) That responsibility, he says, not only includes safely driving a racecar, but interacting with a host of people, including the race team, engineers, technicians, representatives from the race series, fans and sponsors. Max is able to manage that end of the sport, too, with confidence and composure. “A year ago, that was a quiet kid, and I attribute [the change] to racing,” Bill says.
As a junior in high school, college decisions are just down the road, and Max says he plans to continue his education. But, “I’d love to race cars professionally—Formula 1 or Indy cars,” he says. He’d also love to visit the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, which hosts the United States Grand Prix, the only Formula 1 race in the country, Espn’s X Games, MotoGP, the FIA World Endurance Championship and Imsa WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Given the chance to visit the speedway, Max might have the chance to see one of his favorite drivers, Max Verstappen, a Belgian-Dutch Formula 1 racer. “Right now, he’s the youngest driver to win a Formula 1 race,” he says. “He’s just really good, and he has the same name as me, but mostly because he’s really young.”
At the moment, Max is weighing his upcoming race options. In open wheel racing, there are two competitive series—The F4 U.S. Championship or the USF2000 Road to Indy series. The doors to both are open for him.
Max has another dream—driving a Ferrari 458, which can go from 0–100 km/h in 2.9–3.0 seconds. For now, he content driving one of his family’s cars, which he was only able to do last October when he got his driver’s license. But when you’re used to hitting it to about 150 mph, is it really a big deal to get a road license? When you’re a 16-year-old boy, the answer is still yes. “I was still really excited to get it,” Max says. “Maybe not as much as other kids because I get to drive a lot, but it’s nice because I have a lot more freedom.”
It’s time for some math. Teenager + boy + car + speed limit = flashing red lights in the rearview mirror. “It definitely is a little tempting,” Max says of pushing past the speed limit while driving around town. But he adds he has two diehard safeguards firmly in place. “My parents are going to be super mad at me if I get a ticket, so that helps.”