INDYCAR Voices: Kimball works to inspire on and off track

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You’ll never convince Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Teams driver Charlie Kimball it was a tough break.

The year was 2007 and, then 22, he was chasing a career in Formula One. Having worked his way through various open-wheel series including F3, where he was the first American driver in 11 years to post a race win, Kimball competed in 13 World Series by Renault events in Europe. Then came the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes.

The question obvious to most, “Will this end my career?” Hardly.

Thanks to a connection made through his physician, Kimball is now in his eighth year of a partnership with Novo Nordisk, a multi-faceted effort activated on and off the track. Clearly, he wanted to continue his racing career, but more important, Kimball said, “I wanted to serve as an example, motivation and as inspiration to those with a similar diagnosis.”

Thanks to technology and the work of his doctors, Kimball was fitted with a continuous glucose monitor that transmits data wirelessly when he’s racing to his steering wheel. If there is an issue with his glucose level while in the car, he has the ability to drink sugar water through a tube.

So, problem solved? In part, yes. The continuation of the Formula One dream beckoned.

In 2008, Kimball made six F3 Euroseries starts, finishing second at Hockenheim, and competed in A1GP for Team USA. Realizing that any success he enjoyed as part of the European ladder series didn’t guarantee a spot in Formula One, the California native shifted his efforts back to the United States in 2009 and competed in Indy Lights with Team PBIR. Kimball and his Novo Nordisk partnership landed at AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport in 2010 and his four second-place finishes secured fourth in the point standings.

Following the 2010 season, Kimball and Novo Nordisk decided it was time to take their message to a larger stage, the Verizon IndyCar Series with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams. While his 2011 rookie campaign produced only two top-10 finishes, he gained valuable seat time and set the stage for a breakout 2012 during which he increased the number of top-10 finishes to six, led his first laps (three at the Indianapolis 500) and received the Tony Renna Rising Star Award.

The 2013 numbers were better still: his first Verizon IndyCar Series win after an impressive drive at Mid-Ohio, three top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. He also began the racing season winning the fabled Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance sports car race with Ganassi teammates Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. The 2014 and 2015 seasons produced seven more top-five finishes, including a third-place result in the 99th Indianapolis 500.

Now in his sixth full Verizon IndyCar Series season and closing in on his 100th career start – slated for the season finale at Sonoma Raceway – when did Charlie Kimball feel he had “arrived?”

In other words, when did he feel confident enough to compete with the likes of Team Penske and Andretti Autosport, not to mention the impressive list of teammates at Ganassi like Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan?

“Being introduced as a starter for the Indianapolis 500 in 2011, as one of only 33 in the world standing in that spot, made it very real to me,” Kimball said.

More  important, Kimball cited being mentioned along with retired NFL player Kendall Simmons as athletes with diabetes who have competed at the top of their respective professions, as well as those who have made significant contributions to the diabetes community, like Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock.

As he returns to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this week driving the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet at The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, in search of his second career win, Kimball does so in the midst of arguably his best season to date: seven top-10 finishes in 11 completed races; two top-five finishes in May’s races at Indianapolis; tied with Helio Castroneves for the second-most laps completed this season; and ahead of drivers the caliber of Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastian Bourdais, Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti in points.

When asked about the perception of his competitors, Kimball was very matter of fact.

“I don’t worry about it,” he said. “Like them, I have a job to do but I do hope they view me as someone who races them hard and clean.”

What fans think of him, though, is an entirely different matter.

“I take my role seriously. I enjoy using the platform of the Verizon IndyCar Series as a means of helping people around the world with diabetes manage it and realize their hopes and dreams. They’ve inspired me and hopefully I’ve inspired them.” 

From the fans