IndyCar Q&A: Diabetes not a deterrent for driver Charlie Kimball

first_imgCharlie Kimball promotes the Race with Insulin campaign for sponsor Novo Nordisk at Iowa Speedway. (Mike DiNovo, USA TODAY Sports)Charlie Kimball promotes the Race with Insulin campaign for sponsor Novo Nordisk at Iowa Speedway. (Mike DiNovo, USA TODAY Sports)Chip Ganassi Racing driver Charlie Kimball is happy to talk about how he has overcome the challenges of a diabetes diagnosis to establish himself as an IndyCar driver. But ultimately, he wants to be known for his results on the track. Kimball spoke about his career with Chris Jenkins, Special to USA TODAY Sports.Q: Obviously, a lot of people are familiar with you and your story as somebody who is racing with diabetes. Either physically or mentally, how would you describe the challenges you’ve overcome?Kimball: “I think the biggest challenge you deal with physically with diabetes is it’s something you deal with every moment of every day. For me, if I’m at the racetrack, or traveling for events for Novo Nordisk or even just at home, in the gym, in the office, I have to think about my blood sugar. I have to think about my nutrition. I have to think about taking my insulin with my Novo Nordisk flex pen, balancing my blood sugar so that I’m still healthy and able to do what I want in life. And then when I get to the racetrack, that becomes even more critical. It’s one more sensor for me to check in the car, but getting ready to climb in the car, I have to make sure that I’m preparing my body to the same level that the mechanics prepare the race car.”GRAHAM RAHAL: We’ve found ourselves in middle of championship raceQ: So you wrote a story in The Players’ Tribune that was really well done. It seems like this just sort of came out of nowhere when you were 22 years old. Is that how it went down?CK: “Yeah, it was a big shock. I had no family history of diabetes. I had very limited knowledge of what it was. In fact, when the doctor said, ‘You have diabetes,’ I went, ‘OK, great. What’s that?’ I really didn’t know, and one of the things about the Race with Insulin program is trying to drive awareness, and prove to people out there that yes, you may get diagnosed with diabetes, but at the same time, it’s not the end of the world. You can overcome that challenge and still live your dream. It was a total shock, really, when I went into the doctor’s office because I thought I was going in for a skin rash, an unrelated skin rash on my arm and just happened to mention that I’d been kind of thirsty. And that started a whole line of questioning.”Q: Initially, you were concerned that you wouldn’t be able to keep racing. But clearly, you’ve learned how to manage it. Today, does it affect you when you’re in the car?CK: “As I said, I think it’s one more sensor for me to look at. And I have to think about it and keep an eye on it for sure. But I have to keep an eye on lap time, I have to keep an eye on fuel load, I have to keep an eye on where we are in the race, and weather and wind conditions. It’s one more piece into the whole puzzle. And I think 20, 25 years ago, maybe I’m not able to get back in a race car, at least not safely, with diabetes. But the modern technologies, the meters, the continuous glucose monitors, the insulin, the delivery devices like my flex pen, one-touch device, all those things, when they’re put into a program that I developed with my doctors and with the race team, mean that when I get in the car, I’m just like all the other drivers. I’m out there to win.”Q: For people who don’t know, you actually have a sensor that’s wired into you and a readout on the steering wheel? CK: “Correct. I wear a sensor on my body and it transmits through to the display and that display plugs into the data system. On my electronic dash, I have speed, lap time, rpm, oil pressure, blood sugar, water temperature, gear. Quite literally, my car and body data, right there together.”Q: And your father is an engineer, and he designed a device that helps you switch between water and orange juice?CK: “I have two drink bottles in the car. Most IndyCar drivers have a drink system so they can stay hydrated throughout a race, especially a hot race like we had last weekend at Iowa, where it’s 90 degrees, 90 percent humidity, you have a three-layer fireproof suit on and wrestling 650 horsepower with no power steering, you tend to lose some weight and water, so you try to stay hydrated as much as possible. My system is a little different in that I have two drink bottles. The water, and as you mentioned, orange juice. The orange juice has a lot of fast-acting carbohydrates in it, so if my blood sugar is getting low, or lower than I’d like, during the course of a race, I can flip a valve that my dad designed and we got 3-D printed, mounted right on my seat belt, out of that valve the tube runs right into my helmet, just like a really long straw. Depending on what my body needs, I can give it what I need to I can focus on driving. Now, knock on wood, I’ve never needed the orange juice during a race to keep my blood sugar where I want it. The preparation that I do before I get in the car has meant that I’ve never needed that backup plan.”Q: And does your crew have a pen available? And I’d imagine the safety team might, too?CK: “The safety team is well aware of my diabetes, my condition, and they have all the medical devices they need. And my team, if need be, if my blood sugar got too high to the point where I was affected competitively, we have a plan where my inside front tire changer would get me an injection of insulin if I needed it. So he would change the front tire, turn around, grab the insulin pen, give me an injection. Having said that, a typical IndyCar pit stop, four tires, 18 and a half gallons of fuel, is done in eight, eight and a half seconds. So to spend the extra time to give me an injection would lose me ground on the racetrack. So I do everything I can to not need that. And at the moment, it’s all gone to plan, and if you’ll pardon the pun, everything’s stayed on track.”Q: For those who don’t know, your sponsor is a company that specializes in diabetes care. Now, it’s no secret that sponsorship money is hard to come by. In an odd way, did having this disease actually help your career?CK: “You talk about Novo Nordisk being a sponsor, but for me, they’re a partner. I knew who they were and I’ve used their products since the day I was diagnosed in 2007. And we’re now seven years into a partnership. They’ve stood by me from Indy Lights and moved up to IndyCar with me, formed a partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing to run the 83 car. And it’s so much more than just the racetrack. Being able to use their resources, their field sales team, to talk to different people around the country. Be it families, be it kids with diabetes,  doctors, health care assistants, so that they have a first-hand anecdote for health care professionals to take to their patients when they get diagnosed. And for other families to encourage them to help their family members with diabetes to live their dreams. So partnering on diabetes has been great, because it’s allowed me to live my dream and fuel my passion on the racetrack. But at the same time, it’s been very fulfilling to be able to tell my story across the country.”(Greg Hester, USA TODAY Sports)(Greg Hester, USA TODAY Sports)Q: Meeting families, and kids, is that rewarding?CK: “I’m full of bad jokes, and my favorite one is that getting diagnosed is a speed bump but not a road block in my career path. And yes, when I get the opportunity to meet those families and meet those kids and look them in the eye and say, welcome to the cool kids’ club. You have diabetes, I have diabetes. I drive race cars. What do you want to do in life? If it’s playing in the major leagues in baseball, or football. Two-time Super Bowl champion Kendall Simmons is another ambassador for Novo Nordisk. He’s another example. If you want to play football, you can do that with diabetes. If you want to drive a race car, if you want to be in the boardroom and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I look them in the eye and tell them that, and see their world expand and open up in front of them is extremely fulfilling. I think it’s made me a better athlete and a better racing driver. Because it’s given me balance. If I finish first on the racetrack, or don’t have a great day and finish 21st, the fact that I’m out and successfully competing is a victory for a lot of these families out there and for a lot of people within the diabetes community.”Q: I’d imagine you want to be known as a racer, not just a racer with diabetes. What are your long-term career goals, and what do you see developing now that is getting you toward those goals?CK: “The biggest thing for me in terms of being seen as a racing driver first and diabetes, having it along for the ride, is my results on the racetrack. If the team and I can work together to produce good results, that’s what people will want to talk about. And the cool anecdote alongside that, the sidebar, so to speak, is that I have diabetes and have overcome that challenge. But I’m a competitor. I didn’t want to be a driver with diabetes that was just getting a participation medal. I wanted to be out there competing for race wins and fighting through the field of the best open-wheel racers in the world, or at least in North America. So to be able to do that, and get the results, that should drive the conversation. And long-term goals, people have asked me if I’d like to try other forms of racing, and I have a lot left to accomplish in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Picking up third place at the Indianapolis 500 this year was a great result. But at the same time, as soon as I got out of the car, I was eager to go back and do it again and do what I needed to do to drink milk in victory lane. Those are the goals, and to be in championship contention at the end of the year, that’s what we’re aiming for. I think we have all the pieces, and Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing has been great in helping me get to this point. We just need to put those pieces together, put a full season together.”Q: Couldn’t get through this week without asking about the new driver comment policy. Do you have any thoughts?CK: “So I made a flippant remark at (Indy 500) media day this year to one of the journalists after Marshawn Lynch’s Super Bowl media day, I’m just here so I don’t get fined. And that made everybody laugh, and it was good to pull that out. But honestly, I can see both sides of the coin there. The energy, the enthusiasm, and the drama and tension of IndyCar racing is part of what makes it what it is. At the same time, we need to grow this sport. And all of the drivers, the series, the teams, even sponsors and partners are invested in IndyCar racing. So the more we can all work together the grow it, and highlight drama and rivalries, but at the same time do it in a respectful way that grows the sport. Is that a knife edge? Probably. And is the new policy meant to limit drivers’ passion? I don’t think so. But is it meant to help grow the sport? Probably.”Charlie Kimball finished third at the 2015 Indianapolis 500. (Andrew Weber, USA TODAY Sports).Charlie Kimball finished third at the 2015 Indianapolis 500. (Andrew Weber, USA TODAY Sports).SPEED ROUNDQ: Favorite track you’ve ever driven on?CK: “My favorite racetrack of all time has got to be Spa in Belgium. Going through Eau Rouge and Blanchimont and La Source, there’s so many corners in one track, every lap is a blast. I love racing at Monza, Watkins Glen and Road America are still highlights. On the current IndyCar schedule, I think Mid-Ohio, probably because I won there in 2013, is one of my favorites as well.”Q: One track you’ve never raced on that you’d love to try?CK: “The full LeMans circuit. The endurance circuit at LeMans. And Bathurst. Two big endurance races. I hope to one day get the opportunity to race the 24 Hours of LeMans and the 12 Hours of Bathurst.”Q: First street car you ever owned?CK: “In high school, I drove my dad’s car, so I never owned that. But when I moved to Europe, I bought about a 10-year-old BMW 318i, and it was great. That thing went all over Europe with me and lasted really well. Now, I’m fortunate with the Team Chevy deal to drive a nice Silverado pickup. I like to do DIY, so it’s nice to go to the hardware store and be able to fit a four by eight piece of plywood in the back.”Q: Favorite city in the world?CK: “My favorite place to visit in the world is Barcelona. The only place outside of the U.S. where I would want to live would be Northern Italy. I love Italy, and spent a little time there as a kid and it was great. But for a long weekend or vacation, the people, the art, the food, the weather, the racetrack, Barcelona is always top of the list.”Q: If you weren’t racing, what would you do for a living?CK: “I’ve always thought that if I couldn’t drive cars for a living, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. But with diabetes there are some additional restrictions there. But at the same time, I’ve fallen in love with racing. If I couldn’t drive cars, I’d like to design cars like my dad did, and be a mechanical engineer and still be at the racetrack one way or another.”Q: So your dad actually designed race cars?CK: “That’s right. In fact, the reason I run the number 83 car is because 1983 was Chip Ganassi’s best finish as a driver at the Indy 500, driving a car that my dad helped design. So it was important to recognize Chip’s history as a driver and my dad’s history as an engineer when I started in IndyCar racing.”last_img