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Charlie Kimball

Charlie Kimball: Racecar driver tells
Rotary diabetes didn’t slow him down

May 09, 2014
Santa Paula News

Even for the Rotary Club singing “Camptown Races” in honor of a special guest was a bit of a nostalgic stretch, but the song was the perfect welcome for famed racecar driver Charlie Kimball, the club’s featured speaker.

His father, Santa Paula Rotarian Gordon Kimball, introduced Kimball at the April 14 meeting.

Charlie, said Gordon Kimball, had been accepted to Stanford University’s mechanical engineering program when, “My son decided he would rather drive racecars than go to college... and he’ll tell you how that worked out.”

Actually, it’s worked out rather well for Kimball in spite of the fact the day before his Rotary appearance engine failure had knocked him out of the Toyota Grand Prix where he was running in 6th place.

Tomorrow, May 10, he will be racing in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and later this month at the Indianapolis 500. 

“I took the road less traveled,” not one only shorter as a racetrack but one that became a shortcut to success and personal happiness.

Charlie, who was racing miniatures and go-karting at 9, now gets to do what he loves to do and gives it his very best.

He was a champion early on: he won 7 National Go-Karting championships by the time he was 16. 

For his 16th birthday his parents-Nancy and Gordon-gifted Charlie with a two-day test in a Ford Formula car... when Charlie pulled off the Buttonwillow track his fate was sealed.

In 2002 Charlie began open-wheel racing, won his first car race ever and set a new track record and in 2003 he competed in US Formula Ford 2000, won four races and finished third in championship.

In 2004 Charlie moved to Europe to pursue his Formula One racing dream and competed in a British Formula Ford, winning two races and in 2005 he graduated to British Formula 3. He won five races, set two track records... and being the first American in 13 years to win a British F3 race proved American drivers can be fast. In 2006 Charlie moved to Formula 3 Euroseries and in spite of tough competition became the first American ever to win a F3 Euroseries race.

The next year, in 2007, during the racing season Charlie went in to see a doctor, “Because I had a skin rash... and I came out with Type 1 diabetes,” and no idea if he would ever be able to race again.

With strong family support, a dedicated health team and self-determination Charlie was able to race again.

He had to take six months off and now-as the first IndyCar driver in history with Type 1 diabetes-”Each corner, each lap, each race,” has a much deeper and different meaning.

“Just as a mechanic knows a car I know my own body,” said Kimball, who has special equipment in his racecar to monitor his blood sugar and in addition to the straw providing water to thirsty drivers has a second straw for orange juice. 

Charlie was quick to tell Rotarians the, “Diabetes community is the strongest in the world,” not only including winners of Iron Man competitions and Super Bowls but also children.

He has become a spokesperson and advocate even testifying in front of Congress on the disease.

Charlie said his trip to Washington, DC was “surreal” as elected officials “Wanted to have their picture taken with ME!”

As the spokesman for Novo Nordisk, the famed insulin pen company that is a Kimball sponsor and partner, Charlie travels to make appearances to raise awareness of diabetes and visits children’s hospitals.

Kimball believes that such outreach offsets the solitude and “selfishness” of racing: “There’s one car, one winner, you leave champagne drenched with the biggest trophy,” but he believes he is sharing his victories with youngsters, and “the next stars are coming through... “

A common question is “What single thing helped you drive again... I say it was growing up in Ventura County,” and the family’s farming history that has relied on unknowns such as weather and “Overcoming that unexpected challenge,” even diabetes.

And blown engines: Charlie said the April 13 incident was the second California race ended abruptly for him by mechanical failure.

“I think me and California have to talk,” he joked, although Charlie’s done just fine since he returned to racing in 2008 with the Formula 3 Euroseries-he finished second in the opening round-his first race with diabetes. 

The next year Charlie returned to US racing with Team PBIR in Firestone Indy Lights and scored season best 4th place finish at Watkins Glen. In 2010 Charlie finished the season strong with 4th place in overall points and is honored with the 2010 PNC Community Leader Award as the driver who best displays community service or community outreach.

In 2011 Charlie joined the newly formed Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team and recorded two top-10 finishes in the No. 83 Novo Nordisk sponsored car in his rookie season in the IZOD IndyCar series... he became the first driver in history to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 with type 1 diabetes, finishing 13th in a field of 33.

The next year Charlie secured his first career IndyCar podium, finishing 2nd in Toronto after starting 13th; he posted six Top-10 finishes. Last year Charlie made history by becoming the first driver with diabetes to win an IndyCar race and also won his first Rolex 24 At Daytona driving for Chip Ganassi Racing with teammates.

Charlie told Rotarians that after his engine blew during the Toyota Grand Prix his goal remains winning the Indy 500 and “I told my crew we’re saving all our luck for that race... “

And speed: last year he qualified for the most famous race at 224.5 mph, traveling “The length of a football field every second... it’s awesome! A NASCAR race is like driving a taxicab, you go about 185 mph, but with Indy it’s like jets on the ground.”

Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes said Charlie, “Was just a speed bump... it never slowed me down.”





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