For Ed Carpenter, Indianapolis means a little more than most.
Added to the fact he is a Butler University graduate, Carpenter’s stepfather is Tony George, the former CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Racing since he was eight-years-old, The Indianapolis 500 was always the motive for Carpenter to get behind the wheel but education was of importance, so the 32-year old received a degree in marketing.
“I had always wanted to race cars even when I had started at Butler,” Carpenter said. “My plan and dream was always to race Indy Cars, so I wanted to do something at Butler that would complement what we do here in racing with sponsorship dollars.”
Carpenter joined the IZOD Indy Car Series in 2004 after racing for A.J. Foyt Enterprises in the developmental Indy Lights series, where he won at Indianapolis in 2003 after graduating from Butler. After a long stint with Vision Racing, Carpenter spent one year with Sarah Fisher/Hartman Racing until 2012, when he started Ed Carpenter Racing with Fuzzy Zoeller‘s Fuzzy’s Vodka as his primary sponsor.
Almost a 10-year veteran, Carpenter reflects on when it first set in that he was going to race in the 500 as a rookie and how he approaches the race nine years later.
“Just getting qualified is such a big accomplishment for your first time. That relief of getting in, that’s the first time you get a sense that you’ve accomplished part of your dream … Now, it’s closer to the start of the race. Leading up to the race you’re just trying to stay relaxed and calm. 500 miles is a long race so I don’t think it’s a good thing to get too amped up because if you get too excited you can make a mistake early. As long as you come out of the last pit-stop with the leaders in sight, you’ve got a chance.”
The last two 500’s have seen two of the most memorable finishes ever. In 2011, J.R. Hildebrand was leading in his 500 debut when he hit the wall coming off of turn four on the last lap. He was passed by the late Dan Wheldon 200 yards from the finish line, losing the lead and finishing second.
Last year’s 500 featured a dominant performance by Target Chip Ganassi Racing as former winners Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti set the pace for most of the afternoon. But on the last lap, Takuma Sato was running second headed into turn one when he got a good enough tow from Franchitti in the draft to dive underneath for the pass. Franchitti held his line and Sato lost control, spinning out and bringing out a race-ending yellow flag.
With the two previous years coinciding with the speedway’s “Indy 500 or Bust” campaign, would it be worse to lose the race in dramatic fashion on the verge of victory or out of contention early? What price is worth paying for the greatest spectacle in racing?
“If you’re in a position to win the race you have to go for it. We’re not here racing for points, we’re here racing for the Indianapolis 500 win … you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to give yourself the best chance to win.”