Road To Indy: Hometown Hero Carpenter Prepares For Speedway Debut
Ed Carpenter has been waiting for this moment all his life.
The rookie driver for Red Bull Cheever Racing grew up in the shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and has attended races at the track since he was a boy.
This May, Carpenter will come to the track for the first time as a driver participating in the Indianapolis 500.
"It means everything," said the 23-year-old Indianapolis native. "Since I've been pursuing my career aggressively since I was 16, my whole drive and the light at the end of the tunnel has been the Speedway and the Indianapolis 500. It's a big step up in my career to get my first start there this season with Red Bull Cheever Racing.
"Last year was a start by running the (IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series) Freedom 100 and winning that race, but this May is what I'm looking for, and hopefully, we'll be in position for a win. But career-wise, it shoots straight to the top. It means everything."
Carpenter literally grew up in the shadow of the Speedway. The stepson of Speedway president Tony George, he spent many months of May at the track watching his racing heroes, particularly Al Unser Jr. and Rick Mears.
"I remember years, winners," he said of his time growing up around the track. "I remember spending a lot of time over in the Turn 2 suites watching. For some reason, I remember watching qualifying more than anything in '89, back when Rick Mears was driving the Pennzoil car. I remember me, my brother and cousins were all rooting for him. I've got a lot of memories."
Carpenter will add to his memories on April 26 when he turns his first IRL IndyCar® Series laps on the famed 2.5-mile oval during the Rookie Orientation Program. He will also participate in Open Testing on April 27-28.
"Just all the years I've watched (the 500) and wanted to participate in it. That's been my drive all these years I've been racing, was to get to this point in my career," he said. "Now I'm just less than a week away from turning my first lap there in an IndyCar (Series car). I'm really not trying to think too much about it other than just focusing my mind 100 percent on it, knowing what we have to accomplish, figuring out what I need to do to get all our goals accomplished."
Carpenter has experience at Indianapolis, but not in the high-powered car he will attempt to qualify for the 500. With his win in the Freedom 100 in 2003, Carpenter joined Ray Harroun, Jeff Gordon and Michael Schumacher as winners of inaugural events at Indianapolis.
"A win's a win, especially when you can dominate," he said. "I wouldn't take that back for anything. Anytime you can get a win dominating, it's great. This May is going to be a challenge with the IndyCar (Series car). We have all the tools in the team that we need and (team owner) Eddie (Cheever) has given me everything I need as a driver. I have a great teammate and great engineers, so we shouldn't have any excuses."
Carpenter isn't alone in his dreams of success at Indianapolis. Cheever won the race as a driver in 1998, and last season the Red Bull Cheever Racing crew won the annual pit stop competition on Carburetion Day.
"Just being a part of this team which has a 500 win under its belt, you can tell that there's a need to get back there again," Carpenter said. "Indy is what this whole team gets up for every season. Everybody's got their head down working. We're just getting back from Japan. We're going to start prepping everything for the month of May."
But just because he's on the cusp of fulfilling his lifelong dream doesn't mean Carpenter will approach his first "500" any differently.
"You have to approach it as another race, but you're kidding yourself if you take it as just another race," he said. "I've thought a lot about race morning. I live just a couple blocks away. All these past years I walk into the track every morning. I'll probably do the same thing this year, probably just a little bit earlier. We'll be preparing all month. Hopefully, by the time race day comes, everything will be in place. We know we will have a good car; it will just be a matter of going out and racing a smart race and putting ourselves in the right position."