Race Day Dreams & Diabetes

Ah, Race Day in Indianapolis.

Nothing like it.

I've been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway several times for other events, and have been at a couple practice and media preview runs for the Indy 500 in years past. But haven't had much interest in actually braving the mass crowds and craziness on Race Day in the past. We've been fine watching the highlights and even listening by radio from home... until this year.

My photo from an Indy meetup in 2010.
That's because of a particular highlight: the first-ever licensed driver with Type 1 diabetes was making his debut run in the race. Yes, we're talking Charlie Kimball - a fellow PWD who I had the honor of meeting back in 2010, and also was featured in many recent interviews such as this one here.

His involvement got me excited to actually tune in and follow his progress, and so a chance that came up earlier in the week presented a chance to actually be there to witness this first-hand.

Suzi and I answered a call to volunteer with the American Diabetes Association, at a booth sponsored by Novo Nordisk, featuring Charlie Kimball's newest initiative known as "Drive The Switch." We were to promote the ADA and upcoming Tour de Cure, and it was just a great chance to finally partake in such a globally exciting event based here in Indy where we live.

But it wasn't meant to be.

Some logistical challenges created by what I'd describe as last-minute volunteer coordination and inadequate response time presented challenges, and we ultimately weren't able to secure our tickets to get into the race to be at the ADA booth. So, a late night Saturday conversation that came as a result of my reaching out via Facebook and Twitter led to the conclusion that we'd pass up this opportunity and instead just tune in from home on Sunday.

Of course, the stupidity that is the Indy 500 means that if you actually LIVE in Indianapolis where the event is happening, you can't actually see it LIVE. No, there's a local market blackout and so your only option is to attend and watch live or tune in by radio. Watching the race on TV means tuning in many hours later into the evening, when it's re-played on the local ABC affiliate. This is the only major one-day national sporting event in the country that isn’t televised live in the local market. That's the definition of stupid in my opinion, but that's not the point here... /EndDigression.

So, as Sunday race time got underway, I fired up the family heirloom in my living room: an old tube radio that my great-great grandmother had owned in the 1930s. Given the history of this Race Day and all the tradition involved, it only seemed appropriate to use this method rather than tuning in via live radio-cast online.

About 300,000 attended the race, which marked the 100th anniversary since it had begun and the 95th time it had actually run (not counting five when our country was at War).

This was the debut race of one of our own in the Diabetes Community, as IndyCar racer Charlie Kimball qualified for his first-ever 500. The 26-year old from California was diagnosed with Type 1 about four years ago. He drives the No. 83 car for Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Now, one thing all readers should know: I am NOT a race fan. Just because I live in Indianapolis, and just because I'm naming other drivers and provided Twitter updates as the race was happening.. Doesn't indicate my expertise or interest, by any means.

With that in mind, I found it pretty exciting to actually follow the race. I didn't care at all who was actually leading, but was watching our guy Charlie and rooting for him the entire time. At the half-way point, he jumped up to the 5-7 spots but consistently held steady in the teens and keeping pace for the most part with Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan, Vitor Meira, and Buddy Rice.

In the end, it was 2005 winner Dan Wheldon who secured the win after one of  the most dramatic finishes of the Indy 500 when rookie JR Hildebrand hit the wall on the fourth turn of the final lap. Charlie finished 13th of the 33 racers - after starting out at 28th that day.

What. An. Amazing. Debut. Run. Marvelous job, Charlie. Congrats, and thank you for being who you are. Something that impresses me beyond anything is that Charlie puts his diabetes out there and wears it on his sleeve, and lets the chips fall where they may. He doesn't hide his diabetes or try to sweep it under a rug, as I've heard others do. The rational is that they don't want to be "judged" by their diabetes and so they keep it hidden. But not Charlie. He does what is needed, and proudly displays that to not only keep himself accountable but also serve as an inspiration to others that you CAN do something even when you are Living With Diabetes.

That's an important message to have out there. He's making history, both as an incredible race-car driver but one who is doing it with diabetes.

At one point, we cut to a video interview of Charlie talking about how he has his Dexcom CGM attached to the steering wheel so that he's got that on his dash with the car info. The interview cut back to an announcer, who then talked about how Charlie started the race at 200 ("right where he wants to be") and then had gone up to 225, before the half-way point where his BG was at 250 and stable. If he hit 300 mg/dL, then they'd use the Levemir Flexpen while the tire change happened in the Pit Lane and he'd get an injection through the fire-suit. Very cool little explanation there during the Race!!

Charlie was tweeting in the days, hours, and minutes before the race began. About his practices, qualifying, appearances, and 500 Parade activity. One from that Sunday morning stood out to me

"17 years of racing. Blood, sweat, tears. 3.5 years with diabetes. Multiple victories. Many friends. The first Indy 500. A dream come true."

That about sums it up right there. Dreams CAN be achieved and diabetes doesn't have to interfere.

Way to go on an inspirational and competitive debut in the Indy 500, Charlie! You are awesome and doing great, and it'll be fun to watch you keep up on this track as the years go on!

Now, since it's Memorial Day -> Thank you to all those service men and women who have done and are doing what you do for all of us. We cherish and thank you, today and always.


Diane D said…
I watched the whole race for the first time in my life! I loved that he put his numbers out there & Julia was so proud that he has diabetes just like her. He is such an inspiration!
Unknown said…
I shared the story with Joe. I love all of these great examples of PWDs living life to the fullest hand-in-hand with "D". I will focus on that today...not on my anger that I was experiencing last night.

Have a wonderful day Mike!
Meagan said…
This was awesome to read Mike! I love when people in the public eye are open about their diabetes.

I'm also not that into racing, but now I totally want to see him raace! It's only about four hours from me so I'll have to try to get to a race to watch him someday. Very exciting!!!
Martin Wood said…
Thank you for writing this Mike, and capturing the perspective that is SO important to us with diabetes, as well as to those who are parents. "Impossible" should be removed as a word in our vocabulary.
Crystal said…
Great post, Mike. Come on over East, you and Suzi can watch the race with me. Ha.

As a whole this race was Amazing. Add in Charlie making history and I was blown away. So very proud of that man.
Awesome!! I think you said it perfectly and hit on just what I was trying to get across... Charlie wears diabetes on his sleeve. I love that. I love that he's stepping up to be a spokesman, to be a person who is not afraid to say "I have diabetes and I can do anything. Watch me.". Love that!!

Great post, Mike. And yeah.... That REALLY sucks that you get blacked out.
Holly said…
Wow-thanks for the details!! And you'll have to head out of town to watch it on tv next time! (or plan to BE THERE!) : )
I'm thrilled for Charlie, and the hope he gives our kids!! Thanks!!
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the read, and good to see another T1 D racing *thumbsup*

There is another T1 D (diagnosed in 2007) racing in the V8 series here in Oz.... link to an article: http://www.drive.com.au/Editorial/ArticleDetail.aspx?ArticleID=55365

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