Karam grappling for success on, off track

Sage Karam is one of the top young racing drivers in the United States, but that doesn't matter to the Liberty Hurricanes wrestler the other side of the mat.

To Liberty's wrestler, Karam is the guy wrestling in the 125-pound weight class for the Nazareth Area High School Blue Eagles JV team. He doesn't care that Karam was the USF2000 National Champion for a team owned by local racing hero Michael Andretti.

He doesn't even care that Karam's dad, Jody, is the coach for his school. He's the opposition, and he wants to beat him.

Such is the life in the offseason for Karam, high school wrestler during the fall/winter and professional racing driver for Andretti Autosport during the spring and summer.

"My dad and his brother have been wrestling all their lives, and they ended up being coaches, so I guess it runs in the family," said Karam, who at 15 was one of the youngest champions in any professional auto racing series in the U.S. "I actually started wrestling at the same age as I was when I started racing (at age 4). To be successful at both, you had to be pretty committed, and I had more fun racing, so wrestling is more of a hobby for me now."

For Karam, the routine of training for wrestling translates to racing. Wrestling emphasizes upper-body strength, balance and endurance, but the young racer said it also gives him an advantage over the rest of the drivers he races against.

"Wrestling keeps me really humble," Karam said. "I know there are a lot guys out there who may beat me, so it teaches me the value of hard work. I work out twice a day for wresting. I work out in the morning and I have practice after school. I'm up at 5 a.m. to go running or for weight training and practices are tough. At the end of the day, I may have lost 3-4 pounds. It's very tough in practice and a tough sport but it's a great way to keep in shape."

Karam will need that advantage as he steps up to the Star Mazda Championship in 2011 driving again for Andretti Autosport. Karam had his first taste of his No. 88 Andretti Autosport car in Florida earlier this month and is anxiously awaiting the start of the season on the streets of St. Petersburg in March.

"The tests at Sebring and Homestead went great, but I'm still learning the car quite a bit," he said. "It's a great machine and different car than the F2000). We were right there with (defending series champion) Juncos guys. It's going to be a long, hard-fought season."

Until then, Karam will continue to use his other helmet – his wrestler's protective headgear.

While his Andretti Autosport team prepares his race car for the season, he'll keep training with his Nazareth Area High team early in the morning and working hard in practice after school.

It's paid off in the wrestling season. He beat Liberty's racer by pin. He hopes to repeat the feat when it's time to go racing.

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