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In Charlie Kimball's No. 83 car Sunday for the start of the Indycar season at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.), the rookie will see sensors for oil pressure, gas, water levels and his blood glucose level.
Yep. In 2007, Kimball was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which means he has high blood sugar and his body doesn't produce insulin. But the lifelong disease, which affects about 26 million people in the United States, hasn't stopped Kimball from racing. This weekend, Kimball will drive for Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series and is the first licensed driver with diabetes in the history of Indycar.
"That gauge is just one more thing to look at while I'm driving. It's really no big deal," said Kimball, a 26-year-old who was born in England and raised in California. "Every few laps, I check the oil pressure and the gas and the tire pressure. And now my blood sugar level. This is something I live with every day. If I need a little pick-me-up, I'll drink some orange juice through my helmet."
At age 9, Kimball started racing go-karts as something to do with his father, who was a Formula One design engineer. Kimball excelled at that, moved on to Formula Fords and then won his first open-wheel race in 2002. He moved to Europe to pursue his Formula One dream, won a few races and returned to the United States in 2009 to race on the Firestone Indy Lights series. Now he's on to the big circuit.
"I've always been into racing cars, and when I got sick I wanted to get as healthy as quickly as I could, because I wanted to be out there again," Kimball said. "I kept pushing forward, moving up rung by rung. I knew I had to stay healthy to accomplish that."
And now one of his racing sponsors is Novo Nordisk, a healthcare company focusing on diabetes.
"The greatest thing about working with Novo Nordisk is that it's not your typical Pennzoil, McDonald's or a phone company," Kimball said. "It's an organic partnership in that I use the insulin they make to keep me healthy and keep me in the car."
And Kimball has become a role model for people with diabetes: "I'm facing this, I'm taking control of it and I'm owning it."