|Charlie Kimball has a birthday today and he’s packed a lot of living into his 23 years, including behind the wheel as a member of the Prema Formula 3 Euro Series racing team, despite being diagnosed last year with Type 1 diabetes, which almost put the brakes on his promising career. But diabetes isn’t going to force Charlie off the road to fame as Kimball, a resident of Camarillo whose family ranches near Santa Paula, has always had a love of speed and fast machines.
“I was racing miniatures, go-karting when I was 10 years old,” noted Charlie, who won seven national championships by the time he was 16. For his 16th birthday his parents - Nancy and Gordon Kimball - gifted Charlie with a two-day test in a Ford Formula car, and when he pulled off the Buttonwillow track, “Dad said he knew he was in trouble when he saw my smile as I drove up... it was obvious racing was where I wanted to be.”
Although accepted to Stanford’s mechanical engineering program, Charlie moved to Europe to race, knowing the university would always be there. “I underestimated the challenges of the racing culture,” including the weather and weaving through the bureaucracy, challenges that Charlie said are “more diverse and numerous than I imagined,” even though he was born in England and had lived in Europe as a child.
“Racing in Europe is more intense than the NFL,” as Europeans rank only soccer higher as a spectator sport. “The competition is so much more concentrated.”
But Charlie was determined, and in 2005 he was selected Rookie of the Year, winning five races, and was the first American to win a Formula 3 race in 13 years. “I still hold two track records from that season,” said Charlie.
The next year he competed in the F3 Euro Series and became the first American to win one of the series. “The progress we made from then on was phenomenal,” but while a competitor in the 2007 World Series by Renault, Charlie became ill.
“Dad was in England for the race when I was hospitalized” in October, and when the news spread there was an outpouring of support from fans. “There were two weeks that were very dark; I honestly and frankly evaluated my life,” said Charlie. “There was always the option to hang up my helmet,” but “I’m so in love with being in a race car that it gave me the impetus” to carry on.
One fan who communicated with Charlie “said he dug his head in the sand and couldn’t cope at all for four to six weeks” after being diagnosed, but Charlie knew “I didn’t have that kind of time... I had to get back into a race car as soon as possible.”
Charlie missed the last 20 percent of the season while he and his family “learned everything we could do to get me back into racing. As far as racing is concerned, as long as I can manage it” and consistently prove same, “I can compete.”
There is no history of diabetes in the Kimball family and they sought out the best, Dr. Anne Peters of the USC Diabetic Center, who has specialized in balancing the needs and requirements of athletes’ with the disease. Charlie now races with a “cnstant blood sugar monitor that wirelessly transmits” data, so if his level falls he can drink sugar water.
“Dr. Peters has given me the confidence to know that I can compete without being a danger to myself or others,” said Charlie, who must inject small does of insulin five times a day. “I’m pleased with the progress that Dr. Peters and I have made,” as well as the work he has done with a psychologist, “my mental trainer... if you don’t have the whole package, someone else will.”
And that includes relationships with the award winning, Italy-based Prema Powerteam - owned by Angelo Rosin - with whom Charlie will race a Mercedes-powered Dallara 308. Formula 3 “brings all their own money,” and Charlie has been working to put together his career business program offering sponsorships - Calavo Co. has been a sponsor - and investors who receive a return on his future earnings.
Through his investment group, Charlie’s Racing Career (CRC), “everyone is a part,” he noted. “I can even see being a spokesman for diabetes as a racer... the attention I’ve gotten in the motor sport press has been significant.”
Through his trials and tribulations, Charlie has remained upbeat and confident: “I still look back and think wow, this is a fairy tale, there’s not a day that goes by without my thinking how fortunate I am, that I get to be what I want to be. This is my dream and what I really want to do with my life.”
Meeting petite racing idol Jackie Stewart is a fond memory of the lanky Charlie. “I asked him if he had any advice, and he looked me up and down and said ‘Stop growing.’”
Charlie’s goal is to be Formula 1: “Racing is who I am, it’s everything,” now more than ever. “When it’s really good it’s like driving in honey, the fastest feels the slowest. When that happens I feel so alive... there is nothing like it in the world.”