Edwards stepping away from racing to become an airline pilot

John Edwards has hit the pause button on his career as a professional race car driver. The 2008 Star Mazda champion and 2009 Atlantic Championship title winner will trade a lifetime of using cockpits and inverted wings to race on the ground to soaring within bigger cockpits and relying on larger wings used for flight.

At 32, the Kentucky native is stepping away from a successful career in open-wheel and sports car racing, where the last decade has been spent in the employ of BMW, to forge a new life as an airline pilot.

“It’s an interesting time in my life,” Edwards said. “I’ve raced my whole life; since I was eight years old, started in go-karts and it was just father-son bonding at the beginning and I never dreamed that it would evolve into what it was. But as you get through life, you start to look at what’s next, and what does the future hold. I think every driver, in the back of our minds, we wonder what we’re going to do post-driving, because unless you’re making Formula 1 salaries of 10s of millions of dollars, we’re gonna have to still work after we’re done driving.


“Since the first year of my BMW career, I found a passion for flying and it really paid off because I was able to use my travel budget to get my time by flying myself to all the races in a little prop plane. I got about 1300 or 1400 hours by October or November of last year, and as I started to plan my future, I had a contract through this year with BMW, and as you get through that, you start talking about what’s next. So I had to think about that and reckon with myself on what I wanted from my driving career and whether it was time to make the step.”

Prior to his arrival in Grand-Am in 2010 with Mazda in its RX-8 GT model, Edwards was primed for IndyCar, but fell through the cracks at a point when the American open-wheel scene was fractured.

Despite the premature end to his IndyCar aspirations, Edwards’ talent was quickly recognized within endurance racing where he spent 14 years representing a number of teams and brands in multiple series.

Continuing was always an option, but with a desire to spend more time with his family and explore his longstanding passion for flying in a professional capacity, Edwards feels the time is right for a career change.

One highlight of Edwards’ long association with BMW was being part of Team RLL BMW’s victory with its M8 GTE at Daytona in 2020. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

“Ultimately, it happened a lot sooner than I really expected it to happen, but at this point, there’s a huge pilot shortage and pilot salaries are going up,” he said. “The time to start as a pilot, if you have your hours in, has never been better. And you’ve never been able to say that about race car driving because there’s just way more drivers than there are seats. So you’re always fighting tooth and nail to earn your spot, keep your spot, and I’ve seen the good and the bad sides of that.

“I’ve been very lucky in my career to be in the right place at the right time. But I’ve also seen a lot of guys lose rides. I’ve seen my program get cut for reasons out of my control. So I’ve seen all the good and bad of it. And as I looked into the future, you know, I just had a daughter. I’ve got a really, really happy life with a family now. And as we started kind of planning our future, we decided now’s the time.”

The good new for Edwards’ fans is he isn’t retiring from motor racing. It’s just no longer his primary method of supporting his wife and daughter.

“I’ve been very careful not to mention the word ‘retirement’ because to me, even the guys that say they retire, you suddenly see pop back up occasionally,” he noted. “I’m someone who is making a decision that that I’m very comfortable with. I’m confident that I’m going to be happy with what I’ve decided, but I still love driving race cars.

“I would love the opportunity to step back in and help a team out at Daytona or even a full endurance season in the future if the schedule lined up for me. That time might not be now; it might be a way down the road. But I still love driving race cars, and I’d welcome any opportunity to just step back in, in the future.”

BMW M Motorsport boss Andreas Roos paid tribute to Edwards, who was part of the winning GTLM team in a BMW M8 at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2020.

“John Edwards competed in his first full season for BMW M Team RLL in North America in 2014 and is one of the longest-serving BMW M works drivers. On behalf of BMW M Motorsport, I would like to thank him for his long loyalty and excellent collaboration,” Roos said.

“Although it was unfortunately before my time, the 2020 IMSA season stands out from a whole series of beautiful shared memories with the victory at Daytona and the title win in the Endurance Cup. I wish John Edwards all the best for his professional and personal future! We will certainly stay in good contact.”

Story originally appeared on Racer