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Rio Mesa grad competes against world’s best

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© LAT USA Photography
Camarillo native Charlie Kimball is ranked eighth in the elite IZOD IndyCar Series and made history last month as the first diabetic race car driver to lead the Indianopolis 500. © LAT USA Photography
Camarillo native Charlie Kimball is the first race car driver with diabetes to lead the Indianapolis 500.

Kimball made history in the 96-year-old event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27 when he led the 500-mile race for three of its 200 laps.

“This gives me the momentum to carry through the rest of the season,” said the 2003 Rio Mesa High School grad, who finished eighth in the race, which included Dario Franchitti and 32 more of the world’s top racers.

Kimball, 27, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in October 2007, has not let the disease slow him down.

Since March, the rookie has had four Top 10 finishes in the IZOD IndyCar Series. The 16- race series is to open-wheel race car drivers what the NFL is to professional football players.

A member of the Chip Ganassi race team, Kimball placed eighth in the 2012 Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on June 3. He placed 23rd in the Firestone 550 in Texas and is ranked 14th in the 31-driver series.

During his season last year in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, a development program for IndyCar drivers, Kimball had two Top 10 finishes and was the first driver with Type 1 diabetes to post qualifying times for the IndyCar racing series.

“To be able to continue to do what I love is spectacular,” Kimball said. “To be able to blaze the trail for the whole community is very fulfilling. It’s neat to be able to prove to people you can overcome obstacles like diabetes and continue to do what you want in life and be successful.”

As a 9-year-old, Kimball began go-karting. He and his parents, Nancy and Gordon, traveled to races throughout the United States and Canada. Eventually he began driving Ford Formula race cars, winning four races, including a third-place finish in the U.S. Formula Ford 2000 Championship.

At 18, Kimball chose racing over college—he’d been accepted to Stanford University—and moved to England to participate in the British Formula 3 series, where he posted five wins and two track records. He became the first American in more than a decade to win a British F3 race.

Kimball drove in the Formula 3 Euro Series in 2006, with a first-place win in Zandvoort, place win in Zandvoort, Netherlands, making him the first American to win a Formula 3 Euro Series race.

It was around that time that he was diagnosed with diabetes.

After his diagnosis, Kimball returned to the United States to seek treatment for his condition. He eventually returned to the Formula 3 Euro Series, then moved on to the Firestone Indy Lights Series in 2008.

He is now in his second season as a professional race car driver in the Izod IndyCar series.

His goal for the rest of the season is to win one of the remaining races.

Kimball is inspired by the people he meets who share their stories with him about their struggles with diabetes.

“Their stories and courage inspire me. A woman approached me in Detroit and told me that it is so great what I do and that she is so proud to be a part of the diabetic community. I draw from that in the race car.”

Growing up in a farm family in Ventura County, Kimball learned he couldn’t control everything in life.

“Being farmers, you can’t control the weather, you can’t control freezes,” he said. “All you can do is work with what you can control. When I was diagnosed, it was out of my control, but what I could control is how I handled it and what I did with it.”

Gordon Kimball describes his son’s diabetes as an unexpected curve in the road. He said he is proud of his son’s accomplishments, both on and off the racetrack. “He chose racing, he didn’t choose diabetes,” the elder Kimball said. “As parents, we are proud of the job he has done managing his diabetes and the way he has reacted to it, by approaching it not as a problem but as an opportunity to help others.”

In addition to managing his diabetes through medication and diet, Kimball participates in PitFit, a training program focused on building upper body strength and neck muscles.

One of his major sponsors is Norvo Nordisk, a leader in diabetes medicine and maker of a prefilled insulin pen and blood monitoring equipment that Kimball uses every day.

Kimball will race this weekend at the Milwaukee IndyFest in Wisconsin.

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