Stella, Major, and I got to experience full blown VIP status at the Auto Club Speedway on Saturday, as special guests of the Lefty’s Kids Club Program. Stella and I went to our first Indy Car race last year, to go root for Charlie Kimball (a type 1 diabetic Indy Car driver). The Lefty’s Kids Club program lets kids 12 and under in for free. That is a BIG savings. About a month ago
I was working on some pictures on a Sunday night when my wife brought me the phone and said that we missed a voice mail that may have been important. I checked, and a woman from the Speedway called saying that she had something cool she would like to do for us but that she needed us to call her back ASAP. She had called us on Tuesday. The rest of that story is HERE.
Fast forward to Saturday. We received our itinerary the day before and it sounded too good to be true. We were to get the full blown VIP treatment with 4 other families. A suite for the day, catered food in the suite, a fridge full of drinks, special passes with access to the garage, pit row, and the infield, and lots of little surprises through out the day.
Our suite was perched just to the right of Charlie Kimball’s pit. Pretty convenient for us. And they had t-shirts, hats, and custom made helmets for the kids to get autographs with. Like I said, the suite was stocked with food (they served lunch AND dinner) and drinks, air conditioning (it was HOT!), a rooftop balcony to watch the whole race, and it had the big screens to watch the race and keep up with the standings. Absolutely crazy.
We probably could have stopped right there. (actually, we could have stopped with the free t-shirt and hat 🙂 ) First up we got to attend the driver’s meeting, and sit in as they discussed track conditions, contingency plans, and the like. Can you spot Charlie?
After the drivers meeting, Debby (our amazing host for the day) arranged a private meet n greet with Charlie Kimball. Stella and I were the only ones that got some scheduled time with a driver. This was the amazing highlight of an already mind blowing day. I figured we would go over there, do a handshake, pose for a picture, and be on our way. But that didn’t happen at all. Charlie invited us into his transporter (the vehicle that hauls the race car) and showed us around. He spent at least a 1/2 hour with us, talking with Stella, showing us what each person does (it was busy, this was, after all, race day) telling us great stories, and autographing gear with Stella, along with giving her a “Charlie Exclusive” baseball hat. What a kind and generous guy, a real hero to type 1’s and especially parents of type 1’s that tell their kids there is NOTHING they can’t do or be.
I knew that Charlie wasn’t on a pump, he uses the Novolog Flexpen. I asked if he wore a CGM, or how he monitored his blood sugar while he was racing. His answer is yes, he does wear a CGM. But on his dash, he has a readout that tells him what his RPM’s are, engine temp, fuel left, speed, and yes, it displays his BS level. And he has a tube that runs up to his helmet that has water he can drink, or he can flip a switch to get OJ to help maintain his BS. How awesome is that?
Charlie shared a very funny story too. He had his Endocrinologist in the pits with him, listening to him on the radio. The Dr was listening for things like slurred speech or skipped words or incoherency to indicate that his blood sugar is dropping. At this particular race, the Dr started to tell the team they needed to bring him in immediately, that he was in serious trouble. He was sounding really strange, animated, and like he was speaking a made up language or in tongues. As it turns out, the Dr accidentally switched the channel and was listening to one of the Latin drivers talking to his pit chief.
After we left Charlie’s transporter, we had to head over to the other side of the track so Stella could attend a story book reading with Josef Newgarden, an Indy Car driver that was racing that night. At this point, it was pretty hot, so we put Major’s shoes on to protect his feet.
After that, we headed into the fan zone. They had our places saved, and the kids got to go get in line to get all the autographs of the race car drivers. (they signed the helmets and hats they were given)
But wait, there’s more! We headed back to the suite after the autograph session to get ready to announce the start of the Indy Lights race, which was renamed to the Lefty’s Kids Club 100. The kids (and Major) got to go down to the winners circle, they all got on TV and head their names announced, and they got to say “Driver’s, start your engines!”. What a thrill for them!
Our day was still far from over. We headed back down to the infield. The kids were part of the driver introduction ceremony, and as each driver was announced, they came down a stairwell and high-fived the kids. This was a great part of the day. At one point, I noticed that none other than Mario Andretti was standing right next to me, so I had Stella walk over with Major. He reached right out and gave Major some pat pats (I didn’t mention the do not touch rule) 🙂
After the drivers were introduced, the cleared the track for the color guard and the singing of the national anthem. At that point, I realized we were the only ones on the track!
This was essentially the last appearance our group had to make. After that, we were free to watch the race. We headed back to the suite to hang out and cool off, and give Major a rest and some dinner. When we head out for the day, I always make sure to bring food for the dogs. I knew it would be well after his dinner time before we headed home.
Before I continue, I would like to give a HUGE thank you to Debby. She is the person that organized all of this for these kids, and hung out with us all day. She also reached out to Charlie’s PR person to arrange the meet and greet. She is one of the kindest, sweetest, most generous people I have ever met. She provided an amazing once in a lifetime experience for these kids (and me too!) and I will be forever grateful. Thank you Debby! And when you are as awesome as Debby, you get to pet Major 😉
Stella and I spent the rest of the evening checking out the race. Our passes got us right into the pits, so I went down there for some pictures. I was so close I could have handed someone a tire! We bounced from the suite to the balcony and back again. Stella was totally engrossed in the race, watching position changes, timing pit stops, and consumed with every crash to see how Charlie was doing.
Around lap 210, charlie made some strategic pit stops, and would up battling for first place. Racing side by side in some amazing (and BS raising) action at 215 mph. There was an accident (not involving Charlie) and the racers went under the caution yellow. Charlie was in first! Around lap 234 (of 250) the race started again, and at that point, Charlie’s engine blew. What a great race up to that point.
As the race was winding down, we actually got the okay to go down to the winners circle, so we headed down ther (hoping it would be Charlie, but not on this night). We took some more pictures and we were getting ready to head home when we ran into our dear friend Mike Watkins (also a T1D) and his dad David. We met them at this same race last year!
Mike was heading over to Charlie’s trailer to say goodbye, and asked if we wanted to tag along. Just 5 minutes before, Stella mentioned she was tired and cold, but after hearing that, she was in! And can I just sneak this in? Stella’s blood sugar had been pretty good at this point. Mike was petting Major, and he started to alert, so we had everyone check. Sure enough, Mike was high. (close proximity to Major). After that, Major alerted again after Charlie gave him some pets. And yep, Charlie was 208.
A huge thank you to Debby and Josh from the Auto Club Speedway and Lefty’s Kids Club for their amazing generosity, and showing us the royal treatment. And another big thank you to Charlie for taking the time out of his very busy day to make a little girl (and her dad) feel really special. It was an amazing day.
There isn’t much that tends to be cool about having diabetes to say the least, but to be able to spend time with a hero of hers, and to hear her tell everyone about her amazing day in vivid detail, has been pretty special to me.
And ALL the images from that day can be seen on my flickr page.