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Kimball in a race to conquer diabetes

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Sunday, March 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Charlie Kimball made significant inroads in 2012 during his second IndyCar Series season with Chip Ganassi Racing.

At one point, he led with a chance to win the Indianapolis 500. Later in the season, Kimball surged ahead of his decorated teammates — Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon — in Toronto, pushing his Honda-powered car within a few laps of wrestling away the checkered flag.

“We believed in Charlie when we signed him, and he's proven he can handle the pressure,” said Fox Chapel native Chip Ganassi. “He's gotten better every year. He certainly has a bright future.”

By season's end, Kimball had become a legitimate contender nearly every weekend. He gained respect with his persistence to compete despite his unyielding battle with diabetes.

For Kimball, there are no excuses or shortcuts.

He manages his diabetes much the same way he does his racing career. He is diligent in attending to every detail, and he's prepared for the unexpected twists and turns.

Now he's prepared to live up to the lofty expectations that accompanied him when he joined CGR. However, no matter how skillful he becomes behind the wheel, Kimball's focus is helping advance awareness of an often-cruel disease that affects more than 2 million people in the United States.

“It's something I live with every day,” said Kimball, who finished eighth in only his second Indianapolis 500. “Even when I'm not at the racetrack, I'm preparing as if I'm at the racetrack, whether it's training or working on my conditioning. Every single thing I put in my body I have to stop and think about. I have to be aware of its nutritional value.

“When I get in the car, I'm not thinking about it. It's the strategy, the car, the tires, the guys around me, the lap, the race — and hopefully the win. But it's there in the back of my mind. It's there every day, every hour.”

Kimball is one of a growing number of athletes coping with some form of diabetes — including former Steelers offensive lineman Kendall Simmons, baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock and Ironman triathlete Jay Hewitt.

It was difficult for Kimball to deal with diabetes when he was diagnosed several years ago.

Today he embraces it as an opportunity to educate those who sometimes overlook the symptoms of a potentially crippling disease.

“I think it's a great platform to bring the awareness and empowerment. It increases the external contributions to diabetes research,” Kimball said. “I truly believe the science is there to work toward a cure and getting people to understand what it means to everyone affected by it.

“When I was first diagnosed, I got some good advice. I was told to treat my diagnosis like an injury. ... People want to talk about my racing, but inevitably they are going to talk about my diabetes, which has given me an opportunity to use racing as a vehicle for that message.

“The Race with Insulin program is a great conversation starter,” Kimball added. “There are so many elements of having all of Chip's different cars involved in the program.”

To increase awareness, Ganassi's racing teams — including Sprint Cup drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray — will promote the Race with Insulin program April 7 during the IndyCar Series race in Birmingham, Ala., and the Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.

“There's no place I'd rather be than in a race car. The opportunity to give back is in invaluable,” Kimball said. “It reminds that whether I have a good or bad day on the racetrack, the fact that I'm competing is a victory for so many people in the diabetes community.”

With his diabetes under control, Kimball is confident he can make a run at winning at the storied Brickyard.

“Running up front in Indianapolis and Toronto, it was a great example of fighting for podiums and top 10s,” Kimball said. “As those results prove themselves, the focus will shift to a conversation about racing and diabetes.

“This year our expectations are to put ourselves in position to win consistently. It's so competitive, we'll be happy with a win or two. Always, we want to be in the top five or top 10. We need to take what we learn last year and apply it.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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