For Verizon IndyCar Series driver Charlie Kimball, the past week has featured the best and worst of times.
On Tuesday, Kimball was officially named along with Max Chilton to drive in the 2018 season for Carlin, which is stepping up to the Verizon IndyCar Series after two decades as a winning team in motorsports disciplines worldwide – including the past three seasons in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, the top level of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder sanctioned by INDYCAR.
A week before that welcome announcement, however, Kimball and wife Kathleen rushed from Indianapolis to his family’s home in suburban Los Angeles to do what they could to battle wildfires devastating the area. Gordon Kimball, Charlie’s father and the noted Formula One and Indy car designer who developed the Wildcat chassis that won the 1982 Indianapolis 500 with Gordon Johncock, runs a ranch and avocado farm in Ventura County that sustained extensive damage in the fire.
Charlie Kimball said nearly three-quarters of the avocado orchard was destroyed and several structures on the property burned. The task ahead is enormous.
“My parents lived up on the ranch, so they’re currently displaced and trying to rebuild a lot,” he said. “The fire has moved away from the ranch – there just isn’t anything left to burn, so it probably won’t come back.”
While work has been nonstop trying to first fight the blaze alongside firefighters and now organizing the clean-up and rebuilding process, it’s been a drain emotionally for Charlie and sister Rachael (the assistant ranch manager) to see the damage that has been inflicted to the property.
“We both grew up on that ranch, grew up going to that ranch,” said the 32-year-old, who was born in England but raised in California. “It is tough, it is hard.
“The saving grace is we’ve been busy enough that we haven’t had a lot of time to sit and wallow.”
Still, he knows that as difficult as the road ahead is for his family to rebuild, the Kimballs have a plan in place and resources at their disposal. Gordon Kimball is keeping the ranch staff of six on the payroll. Others are not so fortunate.
“My dad has a plan on how to keep the men working, how to rebuild the ranch in a way that it will ideally be even better than it was,” Charlie said. “The outlook from my dad has been very positive and we’ve been trying to see this as an opportunity to be better.
“So many people have lost their homes or been displaced. In Ventura, there was an apartment building that burned down that was sort of subsidized, low-income housing. People like that can’t afford to miss a day of work, let alone deal with an insurance adjuster. Kathleen and I have a friend who just moved into a place and was renting, and didn’t have renter’s insurance. So he has nothing, is starting over from zero.”
It’s why Kimball continues using his platform as an INDYCAR driver to encourage people to give to fire relief via the United Way of Ventura County (vcunitedway.org) and the Ventura County Community Foundation (vccf.org). Visit either website or text “UWVC” to 41444 to donate.
“The United Way of Ventura County has been doing a great job of supporting the shelters,” Kimball said, “making sure that they have what they need as far as food and water and clothes and basic hygiene products, toys and entertainment for kids. Coming up to the holidays, this is not going to get easier for people.”
Kimball also expressed his gratitude for everyone in the INDYCAR community that has offered assistance.
“From everyone there at the INDYCAR office to all of the drivers, teams, manufacturers, partners – so many people have reached out in one way or another, offered support, asked how they can help,” he said. “At the moment, we’re just kind of treading water, but once we get a little further down the road – and not just ourselves, but our community – then we’ll start calling those people back and saying, ‘Hey, here’s what we need, here’s how you can help.’
“But the sense of support within the INDYCAR community – the fans as well as the stakeholders within the industry – has been fantastic and it is much appreciated.”