Security is tight
and a veil of secrecy permeates throughout the caravans of massive,
18-wheelers at the Long Beach Grand Prix. Whats at stake is
the protection of each teams coveted racing technology, for
one change in the engineering can alter the outcome of a race. But
secrecy aside, on this particular day, members of Team Kimball, including
the successful race car driver Charlie Kimball, his father Gordon,
and his public relations manager, Tip Nunn, met up with Team ABILITY,
including human relations manager Donna Mize, medical editor E. Thomas
Nancy Villere and editor-in-chief Chet Cooper.
Five years ago, Kimball, then 22, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes
and was forced to abandon his racing program midseason. Undeterred,
he climbed back into the cockpit the following year and claimed a
podium finish in his first race after returning. Traveling more than
200 miles per hour, hes the force behind car No. 83 for Novo
Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing. He is also the first licensed driver
with diabetes in the history of IndyCar racing.
While Mize and the others waited for Kimball, who was in a meeting,
Nunn shared interesting stories about the young racers upbringing:
Charlie and his parents, for example, struck a deal while he was growing
up. His mom always said, Bs dont race. Youve
got to get As if you want to keep racing.
Kimball was later accepted into Stanford, but deferred entry for two
years in an arrangement with his parents. His mother advised, You
can give this racing thing a try, but if it doesnt work out
in two years, get your butt into Stanford.
Cooper: Whats his likely major?
Tip Nunn: Possibly engineering. You know, I wanted to mention something
about the way Charlie found out he had diabetes when he was in the
UK. He went to the doctor for one thing, and the doctor asked, Is
anything else bothering you? Thats when Charlie said,
Yeah, Im really thirsty. So he looked at him and
said, Have you lost any weight? He said, Yeah, like,
20, 25 pounds. Its not unusual for a driver to lose a
lot of weight. When they weigh in for their physical in February,
they want to be the heaviest they can be, because the weight of the
car is based on that weigh-in, and they know theyre going to
drop weight during the season. But they diagnosed him almost immediately.
It was an interesting situation which he just happened to be at the
right place at the right time.
In the UK, they have diabetes centers. Charlie was immediately put
on the FlexPen (a pre-filled, dial-a-dose insulin pen). He was never
given a vial and syringe, never given a pump. Novo helped create a
A lot of teams will let their whole staff go at the end of the season
on September 15th, and one of the great things about Charlies
team is that everyone stays year-round. You have that camaraderie
and teamwork. You end up getting the best guys. Also, I love seeing
more women involved in racing. J.R. Hildebrand, on the National Guard
Panther team, has a woman who works in a key position on their crew.
Years ago, women werent allowed in the pits.
[Charlies dad, Gordon Kimball arrives.]
Nunn: I was telling them about how Charlie first got diagnosed.
Gordon Kimball: My wife claims credit for connecting Charlie with
Dr. Anne Peters. We went on the Internet and started looking for diabetes
and sports, and because she had worked with Gary Hall,
the Olympic swimmer who won a gold medal and was diagnosed with type
1, we sought her out. But when we called to see if she would take
Charlie as a patient, the woman at the desk said, Yeah, but
its about a two or three month waiting list for a first appointment.
I said, Okay, do you mind if I bring some information down?
She said, No, thats fine. So I took one of his racing
brochures down and a couple pictures, because I thought, if she got
a kick out of helping Gary Hall, shell enjoy working with Charlie.
After I dropped the material off, she called the next day and said,
How about three weeks from now? She found a spot for him.
Charlie was on his way to New Zealand to do a race at the time, so
he went to the appointment on the way to the airport. She sat and
talked to him for half an hour and they made a connection.
Cooper: Did Charlie get the racing bug from you?
Kimball: Yeah, its my fault.
Cooper: I heard youve been in the business for a while now.
Kimball: My father brought home a soap box derby rule book when I
was 10 or 11, and I discovered racing. Thats what I wanted to
do. I got a degree in mechanical engineering and started begging for
jobs in racing. I was fortunate enough to work in IndyCar and Formula
Cooper: Were you successful? Feel free to brag about yourself!
Kimball: I designed two cars that won at Indianapolis in the 80s,
and then went to Europe and worked on a Formula 1 for McLaren, which
was the premier team. So, yeah, I had some success.
Cooper: How do you think your experience influenced your son? You
were in racing and engineering. He races and is likely to study engineering
Kimball: When I was growing up I had a fun go-cart that I drove around,
and after wed moved back from England, my younger brothers had
left it in severe disrepair, so I gave it to Charlie for Christmas
as a project to rebuild. We straightened it all out, fixed it all
up. My mistake was that I said, It doesnt have a seat.
Lets go see if we can find a seat for it. So we went to
a go-cart shop in Van Nuys, and they had a race car for sale. We got
the seat and went home, but Charlie just kept bugging me about buying
the race car. I thought, Thats something that I can at
least help him with. So thats probably how he got started.
We did go-carts together, and that was a great father-son thing. We
had an awesome time. I fully expected that when the time came, hed
go away to college and thatd be the end of it. Then I made a
second mistake, which was, for his 16th birthday, I gave him a test
in a Formula 4. He did six or eight laps and came back and said, Thats
the most fun Ive had in my whole life. And thats
how it started. And he just loves it.
Cooper: And I assume he was fast, and you kept supporting him because
Kimball: He was good. We went to an institute that evaluates that
sort of thing, because I thought inevitably we needed to find out
before we spent a lot of money that he had what it takes talentwise.
He ranked right up with some of the best Formula 1 drivers. So I thought,
OK, hes got the talent.
[Charlie Kimball emerges from his meeting to join us.]
Cooper: A career as a race car driver is demanding enough without
a health condition. How do you deal with the complications of diabetes
while staying competitive?
Charlie Kimball: The big difference for me is the adjustments weve
madefor instance, my glucose monitor literally mounts on the
steering wheel. So when Im driving, I can check my speed, my
lap time, my gears, the revolutions-per-minute lights, and my blood
sugars all on one monitor.
Were currently working on integrating it into the cars
telemetry so itll come up on the dash as miles per hour, miles
per gallon, and a blood-glucose number. And once its in the
cars telemetrythe cars data system-we can transmit
it live back to the pit lane so my engineers will be able to keep
an eye on it and track the lows or highs, even at different points
during the racelap 20 is this number; lap 50 is that number...
Dr. E. Thomas Chappell: Most people dont monitor their blood
glucose quite that tightly.
Kimball: True, but most people dont drive an Indy car at 220
miles per hour, either.
Cooper: You havent seen Tom [Dr. Chappell] drive.
Chappell: I have a Tesla!
Kimball: Nice. With me, monitoring closely is a necessary evil.
Chappell: You dont want to take any chance of a lapse in concentration,
much less a lapse of consciousness, obviously.
Cooper: I imagine that having this equipment is a condition of having
a license to race and staying on the circuit.
Kimball: Thats right. Because I monitor my condition constantly,
they have the confidence to give me a license to compete. With that
comes the responsibility of treating myself or stopping if the numbers
arent what theyre supposed to be because its not
safe. I cant put other drivers at risk on account of me.
Cooper: That device (large patch, pictured) goes into your arm?
Kimball: Its essentially a sensor.
Cooper: So its just external?
Kimball: No, theres a subcutaneous wire that monitors my glucose
levels. Its an injectable device. One of the keys to monitoring
is having a backup plan that gives me the confidence that I can always
keep track of whats happening. So, if Ive done my job
before I get in the race car, its literally just a backup plan,
and additional reassurance for myself, for the team, for my competitors.
Cooper: Do you have the sensor on all the time?
Kimball: A sensor lasts seven days, so I change it out every week.
I wear it every time Im in the race car, and sometimes when
Im struggling with managing my condition in everyday life, and
things arent going quite the way Id like them to. It keeps
track of whats happening.
Cooper: But you can put it on and take it off easily?
Kimball: No, once you take the unit out, it goes in the trash, so
you have to put in a new sensor. But I do shower with it, swim with
it, work out with it. Obviously in the race caras much as we
sweat, as gross as that isits not unlike a shower, and
its not uncommon for drivers to lose 10 or 15 pounds just through
When you think about it, we wear long-sleeved fireproof underweartops
and bottomsand then our race suits are three fireproof layers,
with gloves, fireproof socks, race boots and a helmet. We may get
a bit of a breeze, but theres no air conditioning, no cool suit,
and its not uncommon for cockpit temperatures to reach triple
Cooper: No air conditioning?
Kimball: Its just the air over the car. My helmet has ventilation
designed into it to move air through my head to keep me cool, but
theres no designed air conditioning unit, because its
an open-top race car.
Cooper: Note to self: Invent air conditioning...
Kimball: Every pound in a race car has a purpose, and an air conditioning
pump and unit are unnecessary weight. Its not worth it. The
other adjustment is actually here in the cockpit. Ill go around
the other side. If you guys want to step in here, Ill show you.....
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