Charlie Kimball is a highly motivated Firestone Indy Lights driver with a life-long goal of competing in the Indianapolis 500. Growing up in a motor sports family, the articulate driver has had many memorable experiences in Europe and the United States and thought he had experienced it all until being diagnosed with type-1 diabetes two years ago.
The diagnosis caught him by surprise and he pulled out of racing midway through the 2007 season until he could get the situation under control. “The diagnosis got my attention, but I have been able to manage it,” Kimball said. Once the initial shock was absorbed, the likable driver set about educating himself about the disease and learning how to take care of it. Once on course, he returned to racing and his career dreams resumed on fast-forward.
“My doctor (Dr. Ann Peters of the USC Medical Center) is my biggest fan and she has told me she wouldn’t let me drive unless she knew I was responsible,” the California resident said. She told him, “I will be your biggest critic and if you aren’t doing a good enough job, I won’t let you get into the car.”
Kimball watches his diet closely, exercises rigorously and adheres to his doctor’s orders. He says his biggest risk comes if his blood sugar level drops during a race. To monitor his blood sugar level, he wears a glucose monitor that is attached to his steering wheel. Should the numbers drop below a certain level, he can drink orange juice through a tube connected to a drink bottle.
“I haven’t had to use the juices yet, but they served as a safety net of precaution,” he said. “I have put the protocols in place, so when I move up to the IZOD IndyCar Series I will only have to learn the car and not be worried about the diabetes.”
Kimball also believes he can capitalize on his condition. “It has given me an extra story and helped me round up sponsors like Novo Nordisk and Dexcom,” he said. “We have partnered to get my name out, and I do a lot of health fares, telling others how to take care of their themselves,” he noted. “Also, I get to tell my racing story and to help prove to others that diabetes won’t slow you down.”
Recently, a mother emailed him to say her 18-year old son was diagnosed with diabetes and as a result, he was afraid to drive a car. Kimball asked her to have the young man contact him, “so I can tell him I can drive 180 miles per hour, so he can drive 60 on the highway.”
Kimball keeps in contact with his fans and those in the diabetic community by tweeting on a regular basis.
Dr. Peters has told her patient he is doing amazingly well and he overheard her telling someone that diabetes is lucky to have Charlie, as he does such a good job taking care of himself and others. “Her quote gave me goose bumps,” Kimball said.
Last weekend, the doctor and a host of cheering fans watched Kimball race through the streets of Long Beach and excitedly saw him finish a close second in the 45- lap race. Afterward, several dozen of the noisy admirers worked their way to victory lane to applaud their driver’s performance.
“I could see them on the parade laps as I knew where they were seated,” Kimball said with a smile. “And I was pretty sure I could hear them as well, and to have them come to the podium was pretty special.”
Kimball has been around racing all his life as his father, Gordon Kimball, was a F1 engineer for McLaren, Ferrari and Benetton, plus he also worked for Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers and helped design the Chaparral that won at Indianapolis 30 years ago.
“My father taught he how to be a professional driver,” he said. “He let me know there’s more to racing just what you do behind the wheel.” For several generations, the family learned the fruits of hard work as avocado farmers in California. “My father’s work ethic as a farmer coupled with his love of racing built me into who I am.”
Kimball started racing in the American Formula Dodge series in 2002 and moved to Europe two years later where he competed successfully in Formula Ford and Formula 3 action before returning to the United States in 2009.
For the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights season, Kimball drives for AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport, the same team that has won the championship with Raphael Matos and J. R. Hildebrand in the last two seasons.
Gary Peterson owns AFS Racing and he’s impressed with his new driver. “Charlie reminds me of J. R. Hildebrand, as the feedback he gives engineers is phenomenal,” Peterson said. “We watched him do well last year and are glad to have him on our team. Charlie’s been spot-on for us everywhere we have gone. And his diabetes doesn’t concern us as he has it under control. My grandmother had diabetes and I know what he is going through.”
A year ago Kimball finished 10th in the standings driving for another team. “I have been able to take what I learned last year and apply it,” Kimball said. “AFS Racing and Andretti Autosport are the best I’ve ever worked with. They have the heritage and two consecutive championships. You can see why, as they work harder and do better than most. It is a dream come true to race with this team.”
The owner-driver combination is off to a great start with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth place in three races. They are second in the point standings.
Kimball is focused on the 2010 series championship and he believes he has an edge when the series moves from the road and street courses to the oval tracks. And he hopes this season’s success will allow him to move up the ladder. “My next step is to the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. I would love to become the first driver in the 500 with diabetes.”
With Kimball’s motivation, his future seems to be a bright one and he is fast becoming a poster boy for those afflicted with diabetes.
By Joe Jennings – Motorsport.com