It has not been an easy ride for Ed Carpenter.
Over his 113 races in the IZOD IndyCar Series, he’s been derided as someone that was only in the series because his stepfather, league founder Tony George, was his car owner. He was involved in the 2006 crash that claimed the life of Paul Dana at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He’s had to watch his family’s team, Vision Racing, fade into memory and then see Tony change from the sport’s leader to car owner and then, simply a supporter.
Carpenter had every right to curse the racing gods for his past troubles. But that isn’t the kind of person he is. No matter the problems, he kept the faith.
“I always believed that I belonged and have known that I could win races,” he said on Sunday. “Until you actually win one, there's always going to be people that think something different, and there probably will still be people that think something different.
“We're all extremely lucky individuals to be able to compete in this sport, do what we love to do. There's plenty of people out there that are capable that aren't doing it. That's the way it is in all sports. It's tough to make it to this level.”
But Carpenter has indeed made it. And now, he’s an IndyCar race winner. The American battled wheel-to-wheel for the win in the closing laps of Sunday’s Kentucky Indy 300 with two-time defending series champion Dario Franchitti, and in the end, it was Carpenter triumphant on the high line by .0098 of a second – the sixth-closest finish in series history.
IndyCar’s ultimate underdog has finally won. Actually, make that underdogs, plural. Also victorious was Carpenter’s car owner, Sarah Fisher, who has put her own team on the track in a part-time schedule since 2008 and handed over her machine to Carpenter when she retired from driving competition last November to start a family with husband and team manager Andy O’Gara.
Recently, she’s had to put racing on the backburner in order to become a mother. On Sept. 13, she gave birth to a baby girl, Zoey. Both were at Kentucky to witness Carpenter and her squad deliver the feel-good story of the IndyCar season.
“The big ovals were 100 percent of our focus this year,” Fisher said. “We started off at Indy and did really well there, leading laps, and continued that here. Gosh, I still can't believe it. It's just unreal. I've already had somebody ask me, ‘What do you think, being a driver, having a finish, or being an owner, having a win, is it just as special?’ It absolutely is.
“I cannot be happier and more proud of the group that we've assembled to accomplish this today.”
As for the future of Carpenter and Sarah Fisher Racing, that’s a bit tougher to say. Fisher revealed on Versus that her team’s current sponsor, Dollar General, would not return in 2012, citing a “really big roll-out announcement” that required all of the company’s capital.
Perhaps this win will change some minds back at DG HQ in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. But those worries were for another day. Both Carpenter and Fisher had earned their vindication.
Not that Carpenter was going to gloat about it, even though he had that particular right as well for all the crap he’s taken over the years. Again, that isn’t the kind of person he is.
“Winning just feels good for myself, my team, my family,” said Carpenter, who had finished second the last two years at Kentucky before Sunday’s breakthrough. “I don't care what everybody else thinks at this point. It took me 113 tries. I've been working at it a long time, I'm just going to enjoy it.”
With all due respect to the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500, which featured perhaps the most simultaneously amazing and heartbreaking finish in the lifespan of the storied race, this fantastic outcome in the Bluegrass State may be the biggest single story of the year in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
As time has gone by, Carpenter has become a hero to many in the IndyCar fan base who yearn to see somebody break the dominant “bloc” of Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Joining forces with Fisher, the series’ first true breakout star and an enduring fan favorite, was a home run when it was first announced and considering Carpenter’s past efforts at Kentucky, this race was circled as a potential opportunity for him to topple the giants when SFR’s part-time 2011 docket was revealed.
Carpenter didn’t have a perfect day, but he managed to get into the right position when it counted. And at the checkered flag, after going mano-a-mano with one of the greatest drivers that open-wheel racing may ever see, he rewarded everyone that had kept the faith in him.
Just as he’d kept the faith in himself.