Nazareth High School senior to start in 2014 Indy 500
Sage Karam says he was "kind of joking around, but being quite serious" when he told his Nazareth High School friends that one day "I want to be in the Indy 500 my senior year in high school."
|Karam will still be in high-school if he enters the 2014 Indy 500|
"Nobody believed me. They kind of laughed about it," Karam added.
After what happened on Saturday in Fontana, Calif., Karam's friends won't be sloughing off those kinds of remarks anymore because the possibility of their buddy competing in arguably the world's best-known open-wheel race became much more realistic.
Karam is now officially the Firestone Indy Lights Series champion for 2013, and one of the perks of his achievement is a $1 million racing scholarship that could open a door for him to be hired by an IndyCar Series team in 2014.
The Nazareth High School senior is taking cyber school courses because that form of education allowed him to race while also working on his final year of school. He will still be considered a high school senior next May when the 98th Indianapolis 500 will be run.
"We'll see," Karam said in a press conference following the final race of the Firestone Indy Lights season Saturday at the Auto Club Speedway. "Hopefully, we can make the step up. That would be a pretty cool story, I think."
Actually, racing in the Indy 500 might be the perfect next chapter of what is already a pretty cool story for Karam, who has grown up in the same town that is home to two of Indy Car racing's legends, Mario and Michael Andretti, as well as a third-generation driver who is only eight years older than Karam, Marco Andretti.
Karam was dropped by car owner Michael Andretti at the end of the 2012 season and almost had to set aside his IndyCar dream before being given an Indy Lights ride with car owner Sam Schmidt and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
That meant that Karam would have to fight off the challenge of other Andretti Autosport drivers Carlos Munoz and Zach Veach, as well as a couple of talented youngsters who were also his SPM teammates, Gabby Chaves and Jack Hawksworth.
Karam won three races and entered the series finale with a 16-point lead over Chaves. They were the only two drivers with a chance to win the title, and Karam's bid wasn't helped when he was forced to start last after the crew had to make an engine change.
Munoz won the race, but when Chaves and Karam finished 2-3, that was good enough to give Karam the championship.
Within an hour or so of the race, the congratulatory messages were pouring in, and two of them came from the Andretti family.
"Way to go Sage Karam new Indy Lights champion! Only the beginning …" Mario Andretti tweeted.
"Congrats Sage Karam. You did exactly what you had to do," Marco Andretti tweeted.
Karam was asked in the postrace conference about the Andretti connection and said, "Yeah, Michael got my career started, really. Started me off in USF2000. Got a championship with them. Then did two years in Star Mazda with them. Can't thank them enough for having the faith in me."
But as of Monday evening, he had not heard anything from Michael — and he didn't expect to.
Life has been pretty much of a whirlwind for Karam since winning the championship.
On Sunday, he was honored, along with Izod IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, at the IndyCar Championship Celebration at the Globe Theatre at Universal Studios Hollywood.
There, Karam received a miniature version of the Firestone Firehawk Cup as the series champion, the Firestone Indy Lights Rookie of the Year award, a Jostens Champions Award valued at $5,000 and an original artwork by motorsports artist Jim Swintal, commissioned by Firestone.
Then on Monday, he was honored at a media event staged by Mazda, the presenting sponsor of the Mazda Road to Indy, which includes Indy Lights, the Pro Mazda Championship and the USF2000 series.
"I'm ready to come home," Karam said when he was reached Monday evening by telephone while sitting in an Orange County, Calif., airport waiting for a red-eye flight to Philadelphia.
Reliving the Saturday race, Karam said, "The defining moment of my life happened on the last lap. Everything started happening in slow motion. I went into a flashback of my career, seeing things that I went through to get to this point.
"So close to attaining my dream. I knew my parents were going to be so happy for me and I knew they wanted it so bad. They sacrificed so much for me to do this. I was emotional for myself and everyone who has supported me and gotten me to where I am today."
Karam said his management team, including primary sponsor Michael Fux, owner of Comfort Revolution, have been in talks about the 2014 season and a possible IndyCar ride.
"Hopefully, we'll be doing a full season of IndyCar; it's looking really good," Karam said. "I'm not too informed on it yet."
Schmidt is very familiar with the workings of the $1 million scholarship. Actually, the amount of the scholarship depends on the level of IndyCar team Karam might sign with.
"We were able to work that to our advantage a couple years ago with Josef Newgarden," Schmidt said on Saturday. "He's done a phenomenal job in the IndyCar Series, thanks to Sarah Fisher for taking that risk. Last year with Tristan Vautier, it was close. We really wanted a second car with our team. It was really close to not happening. But because of the scholarship, that kind of pushed us over the edge to be able to do it."
Does Schmidt have a car for Karam?
"[His management team says] there are some options on the table," Karam said.
In the meantime, Karam will get very little rest. In fact, he said he'll be at Nazareth High wrestling practice Tuesday.
Life in the fast lane. Mcall.com
Retired sports columnist Paul Reinhard is a freelance writer.