<
>

Ryan Reed's race against diabetes

4/24/2013 - NASCAR
Ryan Reed's diabetes diagnosis at age 17 proved to be merely a speed bump in his NASCAR career. Courtesy Sandra Vorse

There is the possibility, however remote, that at some point in the Nationwide Series race at Richmond International Raceway on Friday that 19-year-old Ryan Reed will pit for four tires, fuel and insulin.

A crew member normally tasked with tearing a protective film from the windshield of the No. 16 Roush Fenway Ford might inject a needle through a target fashioned to the left middle thigh of his firesuit. And then Reed will carry on with his race just as he has his career, despite being told two years ago that a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes would preclude his aspirations.

As barriers of race and gender continue to tumble in America's most popular form of motorsports, Reed arrives at RIR this weekend as the embodiment of empowerment against a disease that affects 26 million Americans, just as Charlie Kimball has in open-wheel racing since 2009.

"It's not just a selfish motivation to go out there," said Reed, who formed a partnership with the American Diabetes Association to create the project that will sponsor him for five Nationwide races this season. "This is something that can help the whole diabetes community, raise awareness, show everyone in the diabetes community you can go out there and do what you want."

Reed wants to race. From Bakersfield, Calif., he was set to drive a Late Model in a developmental deal with Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2011 when his father demanded he see a physician after he lost 25 pounds in three weeks and displayed other typical signs of onset diabetes, including extreme thirst and frequent urination.

"Diagnosed on the spot," Reed said.

He said he was told by the physician that racing would be too dangerous, with the all-encompassing nature of monitoring and mitigating blood-sugar irregularities. He didn't care for the opinion.

"I think it was my stubbornness at 17 that kind of helped me prevail there," he said. "I guess it comes in handy sometimes. It was absolutely devastating. It was one of those things where it was the most trying time of my life. My dream was hanging in the balance."

So he went looking for answers he liked better. An Internet search of "Type 1 diabetes and motorsports" quickly revealed Kimball, a fellow Californian who at the time was making his IndyCar debut with Ganassi Racing, where he still races with the backing of a diabetes-care-related sponsor.

The search also revealed Dr. Anne Peters, an endocrinologist and director of the USC Westside Center for Diabetes who helps maintain performance and health in diabetic athletes. Reed soon became one of her patients and calls her "a backbone for me."

"I saw she treated Charlie, and I figured that was probably my safest bet maybe getting inside the race car," Reed said. "I know it's a different world [between] IndyCar and NASCAR and there's different challenges, but it was definitely interesting to see how we could use Charlie's notes and how they've done different things with Charlie to try and help me and see how it translated into NASCAR. Honestly, most of it did."

Kimball and Reed talk but have not met in person. Reed speaks of him like a friend and mentor, though.

"It was definitely nice to have that to fall back on and the barrier he'd already broken," Reed said.

Reed is continuing the work off the track. He formed a nonprofit foundation, Ryan's Mission, to promote diabetes awareness and partnered with the American Diabetes Association for the Drive to Stop Diabetes program that sponsors his car. American Diabetes Association CEO Larry Hausner is scheduled to attend this weekend, and area health care providers and social media platforms have come aboard to further awareness efforts.

"Ryan Reed is an inspiring individual, and his voice is critical to spreading awareness and educating communities across the country about this disease," Hausner said in a release.

As with Kimball, Reed's blood sugar is monitored constantly while in the race car. A hair wire inserted into his stomach feeds information to a wireless transmitter allowing the team to assess his condition just as they do his lap times. Several members of his team -- including crew chief Seth Barbour -- have been instructed on how to inject insulin, even practicing on oranges.

"It's funny because all the guys are jumping up and down for the opportunity. They're all 'Pick me! Pick me!' ... I'm kidding," Reed joked. "I trust them. It's one of those things where I am going to be so jacked up on adrenaline I probably won't even feel it. But like I said, that's the joke around the shop, who gets to stab Ryan.

"But the main thing is we go to extraordinary lengths for safety. The last thing we want to do is go out there and have a problem and have it be a setback for the diabetes community."

Officially, Roush Fenway has designated engine tuner Craig Herrmann as stabber. Reed has never needed an injection in a race before, however.

I think it was my stubbornness at 17 that kind of helped me prevail there. I guess it comes in handy sometimes. It was absolutely devastating. It was one of those things where it was the most trying time of my life. My dream was hanging in the balance.

-- Ryan Reed

"I don't have any issues with that responsibility. It's something I'm actually familiar with," Herrmann said. "Although the circumstances were a little bit different, when my wife was pregnant she developed gestational diabetes, and I gave her the shots because she did not want to."

With his health needs addressed to his and the team's satisfaction, Reed gets to be gloriously normal on Friday, as normal as a teenager could be making his first start with one of NASCAR's most invested driver-development operations and Nationwide/Sprint Cup outfits. He also must qualify the No. 16 on time because it is a part-time operation.

Reed had a top-5 and six top-10s in 14 ARCA races for Venturini Motorsports last season and finished 17th in a Truck series start for Wauters Motorsports. He won the Super Late Model season opener at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway this season.

Introduced to Roush Fenway executives through a relationship with Ford and able to bring funding from the diabetes campaign, he is tentatively scheduled to contest Nationwide races at Charlotte, Homestead and perhaps Chicago, Phoenix and Iowa. He hopes his performance in the microschedule -- coming off an encouraging test at Gresham (Ga.) Motorsports Park -- will convince RFR to hire him full time next season, but that's a worry for later.

"All the effort has been into Richmond," Reed said. "I think it's one of those deals where no one wants to overcommit to anybody until we actually get on track for the first time. You can tell the energy at the shop. You could tell there was a lot more confidence after the test.

"I think after Richmond we'll have a pretty good idea about '14 and the future and see where we stack up with each other."

Performance will decide, not the disease.