Charlie Kimball

(This is the latest in a series of stories tracing the roots of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers through their own words. writer Phillip B. Wilson asks drivers where they grew up and what first sparked their interest in racing. Today’s subject: veteran Charlie Kimball, who joins the new Carlin team this season.)

Wilson: What’s your earliest memory?

Kimball: For me, having been born in England, I remember playing with friends in England and then moving to Italy. We’d go to the grocery store – my mom, sister and I – and going to the grocery store and not speaking a lick of Italian. There was this woman from New Jersey who had married an Italian man (who would help them). 

Wilson: You were so happy.

Kimball: She was great. My mom could not have been happier. We built this great friendship. They realized we were American, my mom didn’t speak Italian and the kids were blond, they put it together that we were in racing. Because my dad was the American engineer at Ferrari, he was technical director and we lived near the factory, they understood we were Gordon Kimball’s family. Then, all of a sudden, we’d walk in and they gave us treats and it was a whole different world.

Wilson: You got the red-carpet treatment.

Kimball: I remember playing with kids in Italy and learning Italian over the course of a summer just by playing with them. Not in school, but learning the language by being immersed in it. I can hardly speak it today. I remember the memory.

Wilson: How old were you?

Kimball: I was 5.

Wilson: What else?

Kimball: I do remember California, we’d come home for the summers. I love California.

Wilson: You always light up when talking about California.

Kimball: It’s hard because I love Indianapolis (where he and wife Kathleen live now). My sister (Rachel), she’s been in England for 10 years and is coming back to California, she said, ‘No matter how far you spread your wings, your roots still call you home.’ Kathleen and I want to start a family here in Indianapolis and live here while I’m racing, but we also feel the pull of going back to California. We have family here, we have family there, but it’s a pretty nice life there. It’s beautiful. I remember going to my grandparents’ house in Santa Paula, and going home for the summer. And going to my other grandparents’ house, which had a pool. I’d go swimming with my cousins until the sun went down and until were almost blue because the pool wasn’t warm enough. We’d go to the ocean, going out to the beach.

Wilson: Where was this?

Kimball: Ventura County, between L.A. and Santa Barbara.

Wilson: If you win the Indianapolis 500 someday, you’d make enough to where you could afford homes in both areas, right? Or would it take multiple Indy 500 wins?

Kimball: I don’t ever think about the prize money. I think about winning to win. 

Wilson: Win three Indy 500s, you buy a jet.

Kimball: My wife and I are too rational, too logical to spend money that way. If we could timeshare a jet and save it, we can build our dream house.

Wilson: Where would the dream house be?

Kimball: I think ideally she and I would love to live out there and retire on the ranch. To me, there’s something nice about that foil to racing. It takes 18 months to build an avocado. It takes 10 years for an avocado tree going from planted to producing. So you can’t work in seconds or tenths of a second like you do in racing. You have to work in a lot longer time frame.

Wilson: At an early age, you were in the avocado fields?

Kimball: Orchards (he says to correct the terminology), yes, they’re trees. We always talked about doing a big barbecue up there. It’s still very special, still very grounding, still very rejuvenating.

(Note: The Kimball family avocado orchard sustained significant damage along with much of Ventura County from wildfires in December and flooding in January. The United Way of Ventura County and the Ventura County Community Foundation are still accepting monetary donations to assist in the relief effort.)

(Check out Kimball's biography. Also read previous “Racing Roots” entries on Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter, Josef Newgarden, Spencer Pigot, Carlos Munoz, Ed Jones, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.)