Yes, you can be a professional race-car driver speeding around a track at more than 200 miles per hour, even when you're living with type 1 diabetes!

With the Memorial Day weekend each year signaling the start of "Race Season," it's notable that we have a few guys who happen to be members of both the professional racing and diabetes communities. The Indianapolis 500 is always set for the holiday weekend, and our community has THREE T1D-peeps who've made appearances in that signature IndyCar race over the years -- Charlie Kimball, Ryan Reed, and Conor Daly. Each of these men have been (or currently are) sponsored by insulin manufacturers and that can be a controversial point in itself, but we tend to focus on the inspirational aspect of having these PWDs sharing their stories and a "You Can Do This" message to the world and D-Community.

We've long considered Charlie and Ryan friends of ours, as we've chatted with them and met in person multiple times through the years -- and I've had the fun of seeing them race in the Indy 500 since I used to live not far from there. In fact, for the historic 100th running of this iconic race, Novo Nordisk shared news that several D-advocates, industry folk and diabetes orgs would have their names displayed on Charlie's car at the Indy 500 -- and I'm honored to be one of the 42 names included!

How freakin' cool!

 

Charlie Kimball's 'Racing with Insulin' Inspiration

For those who don't know Charlie's story: the thirty-something Indianapolis resident was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2007 at age 22, and since then he's been proving that his dead pancreas can't stop him. Charlie was the first-ever driver with T1D allowed to compete in the Indy 500, and he's been making that racing run every year since 2010.

We've interviewed Charlie in the past, hearing how the European-born professional racer got his start even before T1D came into the picture. Beginning with go-kart racing at age 9, Charlie sidestepped his admission into Stanford to follow his dream. He started racing in Europe in 2002 and built up an impressive racing resume, before his type 1 diagnosis derailed his racing program in the middle of the 2007 season. But he didn't let that stop him, and he returned in 2008 to compete in some of the most competitive racing categories in the world and proving that life with diabetes won't restrict him from traveling at more than 200 miles an hour or prevent him from reaching his dream.

As far as diabetes duties while behind the wheel, Charlie's pretty well-known for how he's managed that through the years -- at one point, his CGM was Velcro'd to the steering wheel right under the car data input so he could see it at all times. "It's just another part of the dashboard I have to watch," he told us, admitting that his Endo came up with the idea. He also has hooked up into his helmet packs of orange juice so he can respond quickly to a dropping BG by sipping through a straw. Over the years as technology has evolved, Charlie's tweaked that setup and now he has his smartphone-connected CGM worked into his setup; he now has two water bottles connected -- one with water, the other with sugar-added OJ inside. With his dad being a mechanical engineer expertise, they developed a special 3D-printed valve for the bottles to connect to the seatbelt for a quick "flick of the switch" and trigger a liquid glucose boost.

"It's between 35 minutes and one hour, and it's really physical," he told DiabetesMine previously. "It's really hot; there is a lot of exertion and the mental focus needed to control the car at nearly 200 miles per hour burns blood sugar off, so I typically try to get in the car a little higher than I would on a normal day and I will get out after it is burned off," he said, noting that he tries to keep his levels at 180-200 at the start of a race, and that they usually drop to 100-130 by the end. If it came down to using the orange juice through a straw tool and he couldn't boost his BG in time, Kimball says he wouldn't hesitate to park his car.

Charlie's been partnered with Novo Nordisk in the Race with Insulin program since 2008, and his racecars display the company's logos (mostly Levemir and Tresiba, the long-acting insulins Charlie's been promoting; but also the fast-acting Fiasp later on). He goes by @RaceWithInsulin on Twitter.

For the 100th running of race, Novo and Charlie's racing team (Chip Ganassi Racing) decided to do something special. They changed up the number of his car from his traditional #83 -- which has meaning to his family as that year was the best Indy 500 finish with a car designed by his racecar designer dad, and was also fondly adopted by the diabetes tech innovation #WeAreNotWaiting movement (every time 83 popped up via Nightscout / CGM in the Cloud, the system displayed a fun "pedal to the metal" message).

Instead for that year, Charlie was sporting #42 -- a number tied to diabetes in that it represents Novo's Tresiba basal insulin that lasts 42 hours, and also happens to be the racecar number of fellow Chip Ganassi driver Kyle Larson, who has a cousin with T1D. Larson's car carried Charlie's name during the Coca-Cola 600 race in North Carolina in May 2016, too.

On his car, Charlie also added those 42 names from the D-Community -- including well-known PWD advocates like Kerri Sparling, Scott Johnson, Anna Norton of DiabetesSisters, and Dr. Anne Peters who is Charlie's endo, along with the JDRF and ADA and others like longtime Novo exec Camille Lee. I can still barely believe that I was included...

With that, Novo made a $4,200 donation to the ADA's Indiana chapter on behalf of the winning driver after 42 of the 200 laps. The company matched that donation to the Charlotte chapter of the ADA on behalf of the leading Coke 600 driver after 42 laps as well. Pretty awesome gestures, Novo, and some smart goodwill PR!

We have to assume this was inspired by the interaction with patient advocates at the first-ever Novo D-advocacy forum hosted by the company this April, where we had the chance to meet Charlie and even watch him compete in the Phoenix Grand Prix.

{Disclaimer: I actually started using Novo insulin products shortly after that meeting, which I'd like to take the opportunity here to clarify was a complete coincidence having to do with changes to my insurance formulary; I was not pitched or swayed by anything that happened at the Novo advocacy forum.}

 

Ryan Reed Drives Diabetes Awareness

When Ryan's T1D diagnosis came from his family physician in 2011, the first thing the doctor said was that this teenager could kiss his dream of being a NASCAR race car driver goodbye. He was 17 at the time, and had just started making waves in the racing world and hitting a stride at the start of his career. The diabetes news devastated him -- but only for about two hours, until Ryan decided that he'd do whatever it took to get behind the race car wheel as he'd dreamed about since age four.

He turned to the Internet, and although he couldn't find any other NASCAR drivers who were living and driving successfully with type 1, Ryan did find the story of another race car driver that showed him his dream wasn't off limits.

That was Charlie Kimball's story.

He reached out to the respected Dr. Anne Peters at the USC Clinical Diabetes Program in California where Charlie also went, and Ryan managed to get an appointment for the following day despite the typical five-month wait. That was a turning point for Ryan, because her positivity and encouragement gave him the power to reach for his dream once again.

The rest is history, as the saying goes.

Ryan's gone on to achieve notable NASCAR wins and make it to the Indy 500 racing level -- and just like Charlie inspired him, he's been sharing his story to inspire others, including sparking up a good friendship with fellow T1D racecar driver Conor Daly.

Ryan drives the #16 For Mustang, and for years he was parted with the American Diabetes Association and sported that org's logo on the hood as part of his sponsorship deal being a part of the ADA's Drive to Stop Diabetes campaign. While he isn't working directly with ADA any longer, Ryan was partnered with Lilly Diabetes since the start and that sponsorship lasted through 2018. Much like his T1D racing colleagues, Ryan travels the country sharing his D-story, doing various educational, awareness, and wellness events on and off the track.

"I feel that I've got a personal obligation and responsibility to help tap into this community, because I'm affected and directly living with it," Ryan has told us.

In the past, Ryan shared with DiabetesMine how he handled his diabetes when behind the wheel.

With race car temperatures getting up to 160 degrees, Ryan believes there would be some challenges with insulin pumping, so he'd rather stick with daily injections that work well for him. He's used the Dexcom CGM over the years, from the Seven Plus and G5 Platinum and G5 models, to most recently upgrading to the G6 approved earlier this year.

He used to have his CGM hooked up to the steering wheel just like Charlie Kimball has done, but Ryan tells us now he has that connected to his dashboard for easy glances while he's driving. He also has a water bottle with sugary-drink next to his left leg while driving, and he says it's easy to manage if any Low alerts come his way while driving.

"It's amazing to see how it's evolved over the years, and to see the difference it's made in my own diabetes management and my performance in the racecar," Ryan said by phone recently. "The biggest difference has been that we don't mount it on the steering wheel anymore. We built an aluminum bracket to go there with my other dashboard gauges. It's all very fluid and seamless, so I can scan my blood sugars along with everything else when I look over at the dashboard."

When he starts a race, Ryan makes sure his BG levels are between 120 and 140 mg/dL before he gets into the car. With adrenaline, he ends up between 200 and 220 once the race ends, he says.

Most recently, Ryan says he's teamed up with Beyond Type 1 to raise awareness and help advocate on big issues -- along with inspiring people in the D-Community. They have a deal with new BT1 shirts, where half of the proceeds from each shirt go to the group.

We also asked Ryan about how he uses his platform to advocate and talk about tough issues, particularly insulin pricing as it relates to Lilly Diabetes and CGM access with Dexcom. Ryan said those are issues that are often discussed, and he's had conversations with industry folk using his platform.

"Each year, we try to make more of an impact and breach topics and make impacts that maybe we haven't before," he said.

Overall, Ryan insists that his bigger message is all about empowerment for everyone with diabetes.

"My message all along has been that this is a life with no limits," Ryan says. "This isn't just about what I'm doing, it's about what they can do. I am just an example, just like Charlie was an example for me. That's what I needed to hear at the time... And now I want you to go out and chase your dreams. You can do it!"

Ryan also shared that he's good friends with Conor, and they see and hang out with each quite a bit while out on the racing circuit. They also try to take pictures together when they have a chance, and they started using the #TeamDiabetes hashtag -- first as just a joke, but on social media it's really exploded on social media as an inspiration.

"It's really empowering," Ryan says. "The more people who stand up and tell their stories, and just be an advocate for not letting diabetes stop you, it's encouraging to others. That's not just race car drivers or other athletes and celebrities, but everyone who shares their story."

 

Other Racecar Drivers with Diabetes

Over the years, other fellow type 1s have also made it into the Indy 500 as well as other big races across the country.

Conor Daly: As mentioned, one of those is Conor Daly, who's from the northside of Indianapolis and was diagnosed about a decade ago as a teenager. Conor also happens to be a second-generation race driver, as the son of pro driver Derek Daly (who reached the pinnacle of the sport, competing in Formula One and Indy Cars for well over a decade).

Years ago, Conor's dad was a guest speaker at the Diabetes Youth Foundation of Indiana (DYFI) camp I was attending, where he shared his son's story -- and I've been following Conor's career with interest ever since.

Conor has competed in the Indy 500 off-and-on since 2013, and 2016 was particularly newsworthy as Lilly Diabetes became his sponsor for the first time that year. That didn't last, though, and the Pharma company dropped that sponsorship in early 2018.

 

Dylon Wilson:  We're also excited to know about Dylon Wilson, who is from North Carolina and competes in the Whelan all-American Series of NASCAR. Dylon is probably the least-known of these PWD drivers, but has been making the news more in recent months with efforts share his diabetes story and how he handles the challenges of racing.

Now in his 20s, Dylon was diagnosed on his 13th birthday back in 2009. Our friends at Pump Wear had a great Q&A with him earlier in the year, and we connected with Dylon by email to hear details of his BG management and what inspires him. He told us in 2016 that he'd been using Medtronic's 530G insulin pump and Enlite CGM, and was bouncing around between different BG meters while racing; he also uses Glucerna's Carbsteady drinks and snacks on race day to keep his BGs boosted.

"Other racers that have (diabetes) are inspiring to me. But the real inspiration to race comes from the tons of children that get diagnosed every single day, and have to go through school, and team sports growing up and having to learn the disease all at the same time with them thinking, 'Why me?'

"When I'm in the car, and things aren't going right, all it takes is me thinking about a little boy or girl that can't sleep at night because the disease isn't cooperating... I've been through that and I know how hard it is, and that's what drives me," Dylon wrote in an email.

 

We're thrilled to see PWDs competing at high levels of racing, along with the many other sports feats we hear about. While most of us don't have the Sammy Hagar issue of I Can't Drive 55, it's pretty awesome to see D-peeps like Charlie, Conor, Ryan and Dylon hitting those 200s on the speedometer while keeping their blood sugars in check behind the wheel.