Ted Lewis: IndyCar racer Charlie Kimball finds ‘true love’ in driving, and that’s no ‘malarkey’ _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Driver Charlie Kimball of Chip Ganassi Racing took part in testing new aerodynamic body kits in advance of the racing season earlier this month at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale.

Charlie Kimball’s parents should have known better.

Even though his father was a Stanford alum, his grandparents had attended the school and his aunt was the university archivist, Charlie’s promise to defer entry into the Stanford School of Engineering for just two years while he pursued a racing career should have been taken with a major grain of salt.

“My mom said she just wanted to make sure I got a good education so I could have a real job one day,” Kimball recalled. “She told me, ‘This racing malarkey will never turn into a career.’

“I try to remind of her that every Indy 500.”

Indeed, Kimball, now 30, never made it to Stanford or any other college for that matter.

He’s entering his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series season driving the No. 83 Chip Ganassi Racing Team entry.

The No. 83 has significance. That was the year of Ganassi’s best Indy 500 finish, eighth, in a car designed by Gordon Kimball, Charlie’s father, Gordon Kimball, who also designed the 1980 and 1982 500 winners driven by Johnny Rutherford and Gordon Johncock.

Gordon Kimball now manages his son’s career while also raising avocados in Camarillo, California.

It was Gordon Kimball who gave Charlie a go-kart when he was 9 and later on, at age 16, let him test a Formula 4 car he was working on.

“My mom and some others in my family may have had different perspectives, but in my mind, I didn’t really have a choice,” Kimball said last week after he and other team members completed testing at NOLA Motorsports Park, site of April’s Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana. “Driving was my true love. There’s no place I’d rather be than in the car. Pursuing my dream was what was really important to me.”

That dream was nearly derailed in 2007.

That’s when Kimball was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes while racing in Europe in the Formula Renault 3.5 series, one of several stages in which he competed before reaching the IndyCar series in 2011.

Driving a high performance vehicle at 190 mph is no place to become light-headed due to your glucose level going out of whack.

“I’d fallen too much in love with racing to think about anything other than getting back in the car,” Kimball said. “Nobody would have blamed me if I had hung by helmet up, but I wasn’t going to let diabetes make me walk away from what I loved.”

Eventually, after consulting with specialists both in Europe and the U.S., Kimball learned to adjust his insulin control and nutrition before he ever got into the cockpit.

And when he’s driving, Kimball can check his blood sugar on his dashboard data system thanks to a specially designed monitor.

“It’s like lap time, oil pressure, blood sugar, RPMs, temperature,” Kimball said.

So far, Kimball’s driving has never been negatively affected by his diabetes while competing. But he credits that to carefully following his safety protocols.

Kimball’s dealing with his condition helped earn him a sponsorship from Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical giant that is considered the world leader in diabetes care products.

Accomplishing that, Kimball said, demonstrates the importance of paying attention to the business side of things is as vital for a race car driver as his on-track skills, if not more so.

“You’ve got to be as good in the board room as you are on the race track, because without a commercial package you won’t get anywhere,” he said. “You’ve got to understand how the business works and the expectations for you.

“Driving the race car probably is only about 10 percent of what makes up being a professional race driver.”

Thus far on the IndyCar circuit, Kimball has had modest success — finishing 19th, 19th, ninth and 14th in the points standings with one victory (in 2013 at Modesto). His best Indy 500 finish was eighth place in 2012.

Kimball did lead the IndyCar series in positions advanced relative to his starting position in 2014, an accomplishment he jokes, should be the “Bad Qualifying Award.”

But that is something Kimball and his team are working to improve for ’15. In last week’s testing the No. 83 car finished 10th at NOLA Motorsports and eighth at Barber Motorsports Park, where the testing was completed.

“Our preparation, our commitment, is to take a step forward this year,” he said. “We feel like we’ve got a good base to work from. But it’s my fifth season. It’s time to get it done and win a few races.”

And just in case it doesn’t work out, there’s always college, although Kimball isn’t sure the Stanford offer is still on the table.

“Ideally, I would like to go back to college one day,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d study engineering, maybe math or science. Maybe I will when I retire. But right now, this is too much fun.”