Charlie Kimball had a memorable day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – on and off the racetrack.
In addition to scoring Carlin’s first top-10 finish in just its third start in the Verizon IndyCar Series, the 33-year-old Californian welcomed a firefighter who battled the Thomas Fire that damaged much of Ventura County in suburban Los Angeles, including much of the Kimball family’s avocado ranch, in December.
Mike Fuller, who works at Station 54 in Ventura County, was one of 8,500 firefighters who combated California’s largest wildfire in history, which spread over 283,000 acres.
An avid racing fan who had attended previous Long Beach races, Fuller brought nephews Jace, 3, and Harrison, 11, to Long Beach on Sunday. The chance to meet Kimball and the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team at the Carlin transporter before the race made for a one-of-a-kind experience.
“It’s hard to imagine what they’ve gone through,” Fuller said of Kimball’s family. “We’ve had our own firefighters suffer damages at their houses, too, and we’ve had some that have lost their house. So just talking to them and everything that they’ve gone through, it’s going to be years before they can get everything back together. Losing some of those valuables – clothing, memorabilia, family heirlooms or whatever it may be.
“I’m sure (Kimball) had trophies or stuff that came from racing when he was younger that he lost, just personal items that you just can’t replace.”
Kimball continues using his platform as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver to help raise awareness about relief assistance for those affected by the wildfire. The opportunity to meet Fuller allowed for a proper thank you.
“One of the things I was saying to Mike and the AMR Safety Team is that no matter what we feel was our loss, from the house and the (avocado) orchard and everything from the fire, a big part of it is that the firefighters in the county that fought the fire feel every loss,” Kimball said.
“It was the largest fire in California history and these guys did everything they could, evacuated people. Compared to other fires, there was a minimal loss of life and that’s something that, while rebuilding is hard and replacing stuff is really hard, especially memories, you can’t replace that loss of life. These guys get a lot of credit, but I don’t think you can ever give them enough credit.”
Tim Baughman is manager of the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team that tends to drivers at every series event. The team consists of men and women whose fulltime jobs are firefighters, EMTs and paramedics. Baughman appreciated Kimball’s desire to show support for the first responders.
“To see him reach out to someone that served his family in a bad situation and say, ‘OK, let’s bring first responders in and give them a little bit of the taste of the world, a thank you for what they do,’ and then to think in the back of his mind, ‘We’ll bring the INDYCAR (Safety Team) in here; I know they’re firefighters and paramedics’ – it was kind of cool that Charlie thought about doing this and it’s nice to be sharing our worlds a little bit.”
Kimball followed up that prerace meeting by putting together a strong race effort, climbing from 23rd starting position to finish 10th in the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet.
“It’s important for these guys,” Kimball said, pointing to his Carlin team that has excelled worldwide in junior open-wheel series and made the leap to the Verizon IndyCar Series this year.
“In the race, yeah, we got a little lucky and caught a yellow here or there, but that’s Indy car racing. It all comes out in the wash; sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t. When you do get lucky, you’ve got to be ready to take advantage of it, and we did.
“We ran up front and had the pace to stay up front. Even at the end when I didn’t have (push-to-pass) overtake left, I was able to hold off a couple of guys and finish in the top 10.”
Team Principal Trevor Carlin called the top-10 effort “a relief as much as anything.” Kimball was proud that it could come in his home race as repairs and reconstruction continue at the family property. Kimball, who now lives in Indianapolis, visited the ranch while before the race weekend.
“I know they’re coming in the next couple of days to clear the debris and move the rubble,” he said. “I know that is going to be hard on the family as well because, at the moment, the memories are still there, they’re just all ash.
“I hope (Sunday’s) result just helps stabilize that a little bit and helps remind them that life is going to go on. They’re going to rebuild, and we’re building something pretty special here.”
Kimball and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action this weekend with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham. A pair of practice sessions Friday start at noon and 3:50 p.m. ET. A third practice begins at 11:50 a.m. Saturday. All practices stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.
Verizon P1 Award qualifying airs live at 4 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN. Race coverage commences at 3 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.