A horizontal “Knowledge Is Power” poster is stage right of Charlie Kimball, whose frank discussion about racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series with type 1 diabetes has the rapt attention of students at North Wayne Elementary School in Indianapolis.
The California native’s Oct. 16, 2007, diagnosis of having the autoimmune disorder began a personal knowledge is power journey, which he shares with young and old through initiatives of sponsor Novo Nordisk. Diabetes awareness and education are main topics of the programs, while Kimball’s resolve of not being slowed by diabetes is the main message.
An estimated 26 million people in the United States are afflicted with type 1 and 2 diabetes. Most of the students raised their hand when asked if they knew someone with diabetes.
“You can add me now, too,” Kimball said.
Kimball shared with the inquisitive youngsters that he “was scared with the diagnosis because it was a real unknown. But the more I found out about it, the more people I met who were living with it, the more prepared I became.”
“With type 1, I have to inject insulin because my body doesn’t produce insulin,” he said. “When the doctor first told me that, I said, ‘There’s no way. I can’t stand needles.' These days, the tools are a lot better than they’ve ever been. In fact, there are two (tools) that are different in my IndyCar than everybody else."
Click it: Chat with Kimball on April 18
Along with the other telemetry data available in the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing car, he has two drink bottles (one with water and the other with orange juice for a boost of sugar and carbohydrates when needed) and wears a glucose monitor to check his status, which also is transmitted to the pit stand for race engineer Brad Goldberg.
“I can check if the car is running right just like I can check if my body’s running right,” he said. “Because of my diabetes, it means that before I get in the car I have to be as prepared as possible. Testing my blood glucose level is the last thing I do before I put my gloves on and get in the race car, because at 220 mph racing around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway I can’t call timeout or ask the other drivers to slow down while I have a snack.
“We had to figure out how to make it work while I was racing. Part of it was my doctors, part of it was the team and part of it was my dad. He came up with some good ideas.”
Kimball relayed to the students that early in his career his parents – an engineer and a mathematician – instituted a “Bs don’t race” policy.
“I did get two Bs – both were in English – so I figured genetically it wasn’t my fault because I was more of a math and science guy,” said Kimball, who deferred enrollment to Stanford to race. “So while I enjoy drama and poetry and English, I like math and science a lot more.”
Qualifying fifth – his best in 33 races over three seasons -- and finishing fourth for his second top five (he had a career-best second at Toronto in July 2012) in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 7 gave Kimball a tailor-made answer to one student's question of why he wanted to be a race car driver.
A. "It's awesome."
B. "I love going fast."
C. "When I got in a race car, there wasn't anything else where I felt more alive. I was so happy, and I found that I started getting excited seven days before I'm in a race car."
“The progress we made in the offseason is really starting to pay off,” he added about the strong start and finish on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park road course. “We focused on working where we need to improve as a team and me as a driver. Setup-wise, we did a lot of work on the few test days we did have.
“When we got to Barber, the car was good from the start and we continued to make it better. I think some of the (practice) sessions weren’t really representative of our paces because of traffic and the red flags at inopportune times, yet we were quick enough to be in the top five all the time. That bodes well as we move on to Long Beach and Sao Paulo – a couple of temporary street circuits.”
Kimball started 14th and finished 12th in the initial street course race of the season at St. Petersburg, Fla.
“The performance in St. Pete was better than the result, so when we go to Long Beach and Sao Paulo we’ll have a really good car,” said Kimball, who climbed to sixth in the standings after the Barber result. “If we can maximize it and qualify in the top 10 we’ll run up front and finish in the top five again. That’s our goal. Once we’re in the top five then we’ll put ourselves in position to be on the podium and pick up a couple of race wins this season.”