The sidelight of Kimball’s popular and first win in the IZOD IndyCar series is that he’s a Type 1 diabetic who’s overcome a potential career-ending health issue with perseverance and a big assist from his sponsor, Novo Nordisk.
Thanks to the Novo Log FlexPen, which produces the perfect mixture of insulin before Charlie straps in, he was able to run full bore to the checkered flag in a caution-free race on one of the most physically-demanding road courses in North America.
When the 28-year-old Californian hopped out of his car to begin celebrating, he looked like he could have run another 90 laps.
“Today was pretty physical, as cool as it was, because I was running high 66s and low 67s and this place can wear you out but I feel great,” said Kimball, who was diagnosed in 2007 while competing in junior formulas in Europe.
“I could have gone another hour and been fine and it (diabetes) wasn’t an issue. My Novo FlexPen made sure of that.”
Obviously, he and most of today’s drivers are way too young to have any knowledge of Branson, but Kimball can certainly appreciate what the guy they called “Pappy” went through back in the 1960s.
One of the best in USAC from 1960 until his death at Ascot Park in 1966, Branson was also a diabetic but didn’t share that fact with many people since it could have prevented him from getting a license.
“I’ll be damned, I had no idea,” said Mario Andretti, who revered Branson on the dirt. “He was known to have some issues with stamina and that explains it.”
Driving a champ dirt car at DuQuoin in 90-degree temperatures or running 50 laps on the high banks of Salem with no power steering required tremendous stamina and yet Branson scored 28 sprint wins, 15 midget victories and six Indy-car triumphs.
“Pappy was a tough SOB and a real close friend of mine and he told me about his diabetes but hell, I was a kid, I didn’t know anything about it or understand it,” said Bobby Unser. “I figured he just needed to quit eating so much sugar or drinking too much whiskey.
“But as great as he was, and he was one of the best, Pappy would start fading late in some of the races and now we know why.”
When Kimball struck a small sponsor deal with Novo in 2009 for Indy Lights, it was the beginning of a relationship that would blossom into national television commercials, speeches and an awareness program.
He couldn’t imagine Branson’s plight or where he’d be without Novo Nordisk.
“It seems like a long time ago but it’s only been five and a half years so it’s really nice to be able to come back from that diagnosis, rebuild and find a whole incredible community to be part of,” said Kimball, whose father Gordon was a respected designer/engineer in Formula One and CART.
“The diabetes community is one of the strongest out there and one of the best and to have Novo Nordisk’s support to reach out to that community and prove those message points that you can still live your dream with diabetes and that modern insulins and delivery devices like the FlexPen are the keys.”
Still, even with his spirit and Euro experience, not many people were convinced this guy had the chops to be a factor in IndyCar. He looked more field filler than contender until an aggressive run at Toronto in 2012.
And this season he and engineer Brad Goldberg have started to click. A fourth at Barber, second at Pocono and the Fast Six at Mid-Ohio. He’s on Chip Ganassi’s B team, in title, but has earned the respect of his talented teammates.
Scott Dixon made a beeline to congratulate Kimball afterwards while Dario Franchitti gave him big props.
“Charlie is a smart guy and a quick learner and I think right now his strength is road courses,” said the three-time Indy winner who finished third on Sunday. “He’s getting rid of his weaknesses and taken full advantage of the fact he’s a member of this team.
“His team called the right strategy today but he executed it and drove a damn good race so full marks to him.”
More importantly, Kimball made a bold pass on Simon Pagenaud to snatch the lead and the victory a lot of people never saw coming.
“I don’t worry too much about what people think but I don’t show up every weekend to run second,” he said. “This is a special day and I’ve got a lot of people to thank like my family and Chip taking a chance on me, my crew and Novo Nordisk for believing in me.
“Getting a win quiets a lot of voices but I really thought we were ready to win.”