“It’s Spider Man versus the Enforcer!”
That was how TCR Australia commentator Greg Rust described the battle for the lead in Race 2 of the series’ most recent round at Queensland Raceway.
While even casual motorsport fans know the Enforcer is the long-standing tag line for Russell Ingall, the Spider Man reference is somewhat less well-documented, and came about after Rust noticed an uncanny resemblance between the Peter Parker superhero character, and 21-year-old Melbourne racing driver Dylan O’Keeffe.
In fact, the similarities extend further than appearances, as throughout his motorsport career O’Keeffe has demonstrated character traits much the same as the comic-book and movie icon.
Specifically, they both have somewhat introverted and agreeable personalities in normal circumstances, but these are quickly usurped by a combination of courage, supreme skill and uncanny analytical abilities in certain situations: grave emergencies for Peter Parker, and in Dylan O’Keeffe’s case, the heat of motorsport competition.
While Peter Parker’s superpowers were transferred to him when he was bitten by a radioactive spider, O’Keeffe was stung by the sort of racing bug that inhabits a rather more natural environment.
“Dad competed in speedway when I was very young, so there was always an interest in motorsport within the family. Hanging out at racing events was just a normal part of life in our household, so it was natural for me to become interested in having a turn,” O’Keeffe recalled.
Like many junior racers, O’Keeffe competed in go-karts early in his career, concentrating on club meetings at the popular Oakleigh circuit, where he was quite successful. But when the time came to progress to car racing, O’Keeffe didn’t go down the normal Formula Ford route, instead opting to move into the Victorian Porsche 944 Challenge.
Despite only being 16 years old, O’Keeffe was immediately a front-runner in the category, finishing on the podium in his debut weekend, and winning a race in just his third start at Phillip Island, after an intense wheel-to-wheel battle with multiple champion Chris Lewis-Williams.
“The 944 series wasn’t really a conventional pathway, but it was a really good development category,” O’Keeffe explained.
“The cars weren’t too expensive and they weren’t particularly powerful, but they had really good handling and taught me how to maximise corner speed. I was racing against good drivers as well – Chris and I had some really close battles, and every time I see him, he reminds me that he was the one who taught me how to race!”
O’Keeffe’s rapid adaptation to car racing caught the attention of successful Porsche racer Tony Bates, and next thing O’Keeffe knew, he was testing a Carrera Cup car.
“Tony was racing in Carrera Cup at the time, and he was friends with my Dad and Uncle,” O’Keeffe said.
Clearly, O’Keeffe’s performance in the Cup car wasn’t too shabby, because the decision was made to fast-track him to the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge in 2015 rather than spending another year in 944s. It turned out to be a smart move, O’Keeffe recording numerous podium finishes and race wins as he took the fight right up to the ultimate champion Ryan Simpson, a driver with experience head-start of more than a decade.
Where other drivers often needed multiple seasons to learn their craft in the junior Porsche ranks, O’Keeffe had clearly demonstrated his driving was already at a stage worthy of the highest level of Porsche competition in Australia. And so it was that O’Keeffe made his debut in Carrera Cup in 2016 at just 18 years old.
Considering he was learning most of the circuits on the calendar and racing against a field that included Bathurst winner Steven Richards, 10th overall in his debut season was a commendable performance. In 2017, O’Keeffe improved to sixth outright, taking his maiden podium finish at a special Carrera Cup Australia v Asia event in Sepang and in 2018, he was in the thick of the title fight for much of the season, scoring a race win, round win and numerous top-three finishes on his way to third in the points.
These results caught the attention of the Porsche Motorsport head honchos overseas, and O’Keeffe was selected to represent Australia in the Porsche Junior Programme Shootout in both 2017 and ’18. But his racing ambitions were centred on the local scene.
“I loved my time in Porsche racing, and I worked with some terrific people, but ultimately I wanted to chase a professional career here in Australia, which meant I needed to be aiming for Supercars,” O’Keeffe said.
So, in 2019, O’Keeffe made the transition to the Dunlop Super2 Series, driving for Garry Rogers Motorsport. So far, he is the highest-placed rookie in the standings, and has already recorded a top-three qualifying performance and top-five race and round results against opponents who have far more experience in Supercars, which are renowned for their unique driving styles.
Super2 was to be O’Keeffe’s sole focus this season, but then he was presented with an opportunity to compete in the new TCR Australia Series aboard an Alfa Romeo run by his old Carrera Cup team, Ashley Seward Motorsport.
It’s in TCR where O’Keeffe’s abilities have perhaps shone brightest of all. One of the hallmarks of a talented racer is one who can adapt quickly between different types of cars, and while a number of well-credentialled drivers have been caught out or struggled to adapt to the TCR cars’ front-wheel-drive handling, O’Keeffe has qualified in the top four at every round and won four races.
There’s no doubt O’Keeffe’s raw talent has been supported by some commercially-savvy people in the background, who have worked tirelessly to ensure he has been in the right environment to perform at his best, while also creating other opportunities such as drives in the Bathurst 12 Hour (where he won his class on debut in 2017) and Australian Endurance Championship (where he qualified fastest at Phillip Island in 2018).
But it’s also true O’Keeffe has been very appreciative of the opportunities he has been given. He has a way of making all those around him feel like their efforts are always worthwhile. And unlike other drivers who are quick lose their temper when things aren’t going their way, O’Keeffe remains level-headed and analytical even in the face of adversity… just like a certain Peter Parker.
Aussie motorsport, your next superhero is standing by.