“We went to the same high school,” was the simple answer from Charlie Kimball, on how he and wife Kathleen met.
It was Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, Calif., the Verizon IndyCar driver added. “We were friends.”
Although Charlie did have a bit of a crush on Kathleen, he knew, as he once told The New York Times, “she was just too cool and had too much going on to ever have the time to be interested in me.”
That changed in December 2008, more than five years after graduation, when Charlie and Kathleen reconnected during an outing with high school friends. By then, Kathleen had completed her degree at the University of Southern California and was working at the jewelry store owned by her father.
Charlie, who had started driving go-karts in high school and quickly developed a passion – and a talent – for the sport, was fresh off a four-year stint competing as an open-wheel racer in Europe. Charlie was, Kathleen recalled, “a completely different person. So confident and so himself.
“He wasn’t the same guy he was in high school,” she added and, soon, the two were dating. “It just felt like it fit.”
That’s not to say things were easy. Within weeks, Charlie was deep into the 2009 Indy Lights racing season.
“We didn’t see each other a huge amount,” he said. After the season, when Charlie, who by then had moved to Indianapolis for work reasons, finally had some downtime, “it was the run-up to Christmas,” Kathleen’s busy time at the store.
Something had to give. So when a friend who owned a jewelry store in Lafayette, Ind., offered Kathleen a job in early 2010, she and her rescue dog, Taj, moved to Indiana. It brought them closer but still not close enough, so when Kathleen’s father offered her the opportunity to work remotely as a buyer for his store, she moved to Indianapolis to be with Charlie and pursue an MBA at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.
Around the same time, Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical company that manufactures medications and devices for diabetics that had sponsored Charlie – who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2007 – struck a deal with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams to move Charlie up to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2011. He’s been with the team ever since, earning six podium finishes and one win, in 2013 at Mid-Ohio.
Before long, Charlie and Kathleen bought a home on Indianapolis’ near north side. They adopted a second dog, a black lab Lilah, to keep Taj company. In other words, life seemed settled, except one thing. When would Charlie propose?
“I always had a plan,” he said. “I wasn’t going to propose until I had a job, a little bit more stability, a multi-year contract and had bought a house.”
By the end of 2013, Charlie concluded, it was time. He devised a plan to surprise Kathleen with a hot air balloon ride over Bloomington, Ind., with the idea of proposing in the air. Unfortunately, it was too windy to fly so Charlie improvised. He took Kathleen hiking in Brown County State Park.
“I was super nervous,” he recalled. When they happened upon a picturesque lake, Charlie got down on one knee and proposed. “I think she said yes,” he said with a laugh. “But it was at a frequency only dogs could hear.”
Their friends assumed they’d tie the knot in California. Not so. They opted for Indy.
“We love it here and we wanted to show our friends and family why Indianapolis is so special,” said Charlie. Plans for the Sept. 27, 2014, event quickly fell into place.
“What we wanted,” said Kathleen, “was just a big party where two people happened to get married”
As for the wedding itself, the pair achieved maximum fun by tapping fellow Verizon IndyCar Series driver and notorious cut-up James Hinchcliffe to officiate (photo at right).
“Groovy,” Hinchcliffe said at the start of the ceremony. “Let’s do this.”
Charlie is flat out with his racing career, but Kathleen is also busy with Porch Light Public Relations and Marketing, the company she launched after completing her MBA. “It’s kind of taken off,” she said. “I’m maybe busier than I want to be. I love having my own thing and something that we can talk about at the end of the day.”
Do Charlie and Kathleen regret not dating in high school? No.
“I just don’t think it would have worked,” Charlie said, and Kathleen agreed.
“I needed to grow up a little bit so that I could appreciate the good man that he is,” she said, adding, “Charlie needed to come out of his shell.”
But as high school friend Dana Walk told The New York Times, “When you take those high school blinders off, you realize that Charlie and Kathleen, two highly motivated people who share an entrepreneurial spirit and are determined to be successful, well, they’re perfect for each other.”