Indy driver and diabetic Charlie Kimball, who be racing during IndyCar's Championship finale weekend in Homestead, uses a glucose monitor strapped to his steering wheel.
The sound is what gets you first, as the engine cranks up. It's a deep roar that comes right through your body, rattling your bones as the acceleration pins you back in the seat. Blink your eye and the straightaway is gone. The ridiculously steep curve is in front of you, and as you hurtle through the turn, the G-forces push your body into the side wall of the car. It's intense, dizzying, simply overwhelming.
That's what 180 miles-per-hour feels like in an Indy car specially outfitted with a passenger seat, flying around the Homestead Miami Speedway, with Mario Andretti driving. Yes, the Indy Car legend sometimes takes reporters for thrill rides around the track, to give us a true understanding of how physically demanding the sport is on its drivers.
That knowledge makes Charlie Kimball's accomplishments even more impressive.
Kimball is one of the top drivers in the Indy Lights series, which is like the AAA farm league for the Izod IndyCar Series. Unlike every other driver, Kimball has much more to think about than his car, the track, and the competition. He has to race against diabetes at the same time.
"With good healthcare and good management, you can do almost anything, even drive in a race car with diabetes," said Kimball, who was in Miami Thursday.
How does the 25-year-old Kimball do it? With an intense, obsessive focus on his diet, his physical conditioning, and his blood sugar levels, especially on race days.
"All preparing," he says, "for the moment I put the gloves on, get in the race car, and if I've done my job right, the only thing I should have to worry about is winning. I actually think I'm a better athlete because of diabetes, because I'm more proactive about my healthcare, I'm more aware of how I feel."
Even when he's racing, Kimball keeps one eye on the track and the other on his glucose monitor. It's mounted with Velcro right on his steering wheel. If it shows his blood sugar's getting low, he just sucks on a drink tube he's got mounted in his helmet. It's connected to a bottle of orange juice in the car.
"It's not like I can call time out, I had to find a way to get sugar without taking my hands off the wheel," Kimball explains.
"It's very commendable that Charlie's even doing this, honestly," Andretti said. "He is absolutely sending the message that diabetes doesn't have to set you back."
Kimball embraces his status as a role model. He speaks at diabetes conferences, meets kids with the disease, supports research efforts to find a cure. Heck, his car is sponsored by NovoNordisc, the insulin maker. Kimball says when he was diagnosed three years ago, the "diabetes community" helped him, and he relishes the chance to give back.
"It's not something you have to be afraid of and your world's not over if you have diabetes," Kimball said, hoping other diabetes patients hear his message.
Next year he moves up to the big leagues. Charlie Kimball's goal is to be the first driver with diabetes to race in the Indianapolis 500. He's getting there, fast.
"I'm living proof," Kimball said, "that diabetes doesn't have to slow you down."