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Personal Stories

Race Car Drivers with Type 1 Diabetes

It’s the start of race season—no better time to celebrate these daring professionals who careen around tracks at upward speeds of 200 miles per hour. Ryan Reed, Charlie Kimball, Conor Daly and April Welsh—all feel the need for speed, and despite having type 1 diabetes, they have gone through roadblocks and limitations to conquer and thrive in the high-energy world of speed racing. 

Race Car Drivers with Type 1 Diabetes

With torpedo speeds over 240 mph, IndyCars and F1 cars can produce up to 1,000 horsepower. NASCAR racers rattle the cages of other drivers by bumping and scratching fenders. The adrenaline rush and visceral thrill have most drivers living on the edge of their seats. 

While high-speed racing is a contest of wills to see which driver has the best driving skills, engineering teams and tactical endurance, type 1 diabetes (T1D) is also a serious test of wills. The 24-hour medical condition is difficult to manage at times. Keeping blood sugar levels in a safe range is a daily challenge, not to mention when burning rubber around a race track. 

Check out these gutsy competitors who bravely face the nuances of both. These hotrods test the limits daily on and off the race track. 

T1D IndyCar Driver

Charlie Kimball

When he was only nine years old, Charlie Kimball decided to be a race car driver. Like other racing enthusiasts, he got his first thrill jockeying go-karts in Camarillo, California. Kimball forwent his admission to Stanford to fulfill his racing dreams and become the first licensed American racecar driver with type 1 diabetes to win the NTT IndyCar Series. 

In 2007, at the age of 22, Kimball was diagnosed with adult onset type 1 diabetes, which forced him to leave his racing program mid-season. The following year, he returned and claimed a podium finish. Kimball began racing in the IndyCar series in 2011 and is the first licensed driver with diabetes in the series' history. 

Interesting Fact: Driver Howdy Wilcox hid his type 1 diabetes in the Indy 500 and was barred from competing when officials uncovered his diabetes before the 1933 race. 

Kimball’s diabetes treatment plan includes insulin pens and a basal/bolus program. He uses two Novo Nordisk insulin pens, one long-acting and one fast-acting for meals when racing. Kimball wears the Dexcom continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to manage his blood glucose levels. 

In an interview with Between the Lines, Kimball stated that he adjusts his mealtime insulin before racing so that his blood sugars are slightly higher in the car than on a normal day. He uses a unique system to combat hypoglycemia with two drink bottles, one full of water and a second full of orange juice, with added glucose. Kimball’s father engineered the two-drink (water and orange juice) bottled system to come together at a valve and tube that runs into his helmet like a long straw. 

The insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk became Kimball’s full-time sponsor during his racing program in 2011. Early in his career, Kimball drove the No. 4 Chevrolet for A.J. Foyt Racing in the NTT IndyCar Series. Following his A.J. Foyt Racing deal, Kimball began a new commentary role with NBC Sports in the Indy Lights series. 

Kimball is passionate about spreading diabetes awareness and uses racing as a platform to inspire others. 

Read on for more drivers who aren’t afraid to push the high-octane limits while promoting T1D healthy living. 

T1D IndyCar and NASCAR Driver

Conor Daly

Like Kimball, racing competitor Conor Daly started racing go-karts at 10. The IndyCar Grand Prix driver, born and raised in Noblesville, Indiana, was a hometown favorite at the Indy 500. 

Diagnosed at age 14, Daly embarked on a racing career in 2007 and has competed in over 100 NTT IndyCar Series races. Daly drove the No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet for the Ed Carpenter Racing team, and in 2023, he reached a career milestone, marking his 100th NTT IndyCar Series and competing in his 10th Indy 500. Daly recently qualified to race in the 2024 Indianapolis 500.

In 2018, Daly made his NASCAR debut, driving in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. He drove the No. 6 Ford Mustang for Roush Fenway Racing with Eli Lilly Diabetes sponsorship. However, Lilly withdrew Daly’s sponsorship before the race after racial allegations emerged surrounding his father. 

Daly made his second NASCAR start in 2020, this time in the NASCAR Truck Series. Most recently, Daly made the 2023 Daytona 500 starting lineup. Daly is among 62 drivers to compete in the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500. 

His career has also traversed into the entertainment world when he guest starred in CBS’s Amazing Race and NBC’s American Ninja Warrior

Daly strongly supports diabetes advocacy. He participated in Sanofi’s The1Pledge, a challenge to talk to your doctor about being screened for type 1 diabetes. Today, Daly is an Afrezza® (inhaled insulin) spokesperson who has participated in numerous T1D charity events where he shares his medical condition and words of encouragement to young T1Ds. 

T1D NASCAR Driver

Ryan Reed

Speed racer Ryan Reed has competed in the NASCAR Xfinity Series over ten times and raced professionally in NASCAR for six seasons, including two victories at the legendary Daytona International Speedway. 

The NASCAR driver told KGUN News that at the time of his diagnosis at age 17, doctors said he would never race again. But thanks to a supportive endocrinologist and renowned diabetes clinician, Dr. Anne Peters, he returned to the driver’s seat stronger than ever. 

At the height of his career, Roush Fenway Racing and Lilly Diabetes sponsored the professional speedster when he drove the No. 16 Drive Down A1C Lilly Diabetes Ford stock car, qualifying in North Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway. Later, Tandem Diabetes Care sponsored Reed to drive the “Tandem Blue” No. 66 Chevrolet Camaro for MBM Motorsports. 

Fun Fact: Check out the NASCAR documentary series on the YouTube channel called “Road to Road America.” To learn the journey of Reed and Daly and their #TEAM DIABETES. 

Reed wears the Tandem T:slim X2 insulin pump and said he finds it 'life-changing.' In car racing terms, Reed said the T:slim is “High performance and high precision, and the control IQ technology and exercise feature allow him to train at the highest levels.”  

T1D Formula Vee Driver

April Welsh

April Welsh became the first female T1D to race in the Western Australian Championship Formula Vee class. The young Australian was diagnosed with T1D at three years old. Today, the Novo Nordisk-sponsored driver has lived with diabetes for over 20 years. 

Welsh is a third-generation motorsports competitor, following in her father and grandfather’s footsteps. Welsh wears an insulin pump for her insulin therapy and has been an ambassador for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), raising awareness and representing the T1D community on Capitol Hill. 

Welsh has also been involved in the Adolescent Type 1 Diabetes Cardio-renal Intervention Trial (AdDIT), an ongoing study that measures the effect of severe hypoglycemia on brain development and driving performance. 

T1D Racing Advocate

Lacy Kuehl

Another female speed racer making a difference in diabetes circles is Lacy Kuehl, a teenager from Sarasota, Florida. In 2022, Lacy came to Alaska to race in the Alaskan Jr. Iditarod. At the time, she discovered a love for dog-led sport, dryland mushing. 

Kuehl’s other passion is to raise diabetes awareness. After losing a young brother to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), her family founded Drive for Diabetes Awareness. Since 2014, the Florida native has raced for her charity and to honor the survivors of DKA.  

Dangers of Driving with Diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), drivers should check their blood glucose levels before driving to make sure they are at a safe level. 

The dangers of diabetes include both low and high blood sugar levels. When an individual’s blood sugar is high, the patient risks long-term complications (heart disease, eye, nerve and kidney damage) and DKA. This life-threatening side effect may result in a diabetic coma or possible death. With low blood sugar, the person also risks severe side effects, like seizures and loss of consciousness. 

Life Without Limits

Akin to having an ideal pitt team behind you, it’s essential to have a diabetes healthcare team that supports you with resources, education and encouragement. Learning the nuances of diabetes management and controlling your blood glucose level is a full-time job that requires resilience and a little bit of mettle.

Whether these IndyCar Grand Prix competitors are driving, coaching or participating in sports reality shows—they have all led outstanding careers and used their platforms to make a difference for others with type 1 diabetes.

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