That display just confirmed Manning's opinion that Hearn has the right stuff to go all the way to Formula One, where there has not been an American presence since Eddie Cheever—who actually grew up in Italy—defected to Indy cars two seasons ago. "Richie will do it. No question," says Manning. "At five-six and 140 pounds, he's the perfect size for today's tiny and narrow Formula cars. He's good at dealing with pressure. And he has that god-given talent to turn in incredible lap times while driving so smoothly that he doesn't look like he's going very fast. And where are you going to find another kid who is only 20 years old and already has seven national championships and 11 years of racing experience?"
"As a parent, you're concerned," says Richard Hearn when discussing his son's career choice. "Every parent wants his kids to get an education and a good job. But I feel that if Richie wants to race, he should. I know he has the ability. Even his mother, Christy, who was never very supportive of his karting, is excited about his win at Winfield. She's delighted."
Rich Hearn's victory earned him a partial refund of his tuition along with sponsorship this season in the highly regarded French Formula Renault series—a first step on the way to the Grand Prix circuit. Hearn has made the most of his opportunity. After nine of 12 races—on tracks he has never seen, running in 50-car fields filled with veteran drivers—Hearn was second in points among rookies.
"Of course, I wish I was winning already," Hearn says, "but some of the guys I'm racing against have been in this series for three or four years. Besides, nobody wins in their first season—this is supposed to be a learning year for me. My team and my sponsors say that they're really happy with my performances so far."
But perhaps Hearn's biggest boost has come from French racer Erik Comas, himself a former Winfield competition winner and now a driver for the Ligier Formula One team. "I met Erik," Hearn recalls, "and I told him how I wasn't really satisfied with my finishes so far in the season. And he just smiled at me and said, 'Don't worry, Richie. Compared with how I started in Formula Renault, you are doing much better.' I felt pretty good when I heard that."