Before too many pages get torn off the May calendar, IndyCar team owner and driver Ed Carpenter is trying to enjoy his free time away from race tracks.
Wednesday afternoon was an example of that.
The Wabash Valley native — born in Paris, Ill., and lived in Marshall, Ill., until he was 8 — signed autographs and granted media interviews while the car he drove in the 2008 Indianapolis 500 sat in the parking lot of the 500 Automotive Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership in Vermillion County.
“[Tuesday] and today, the team’s been moving all of our equipment and cars out to the [Indianapolis Motor] Speedway,” Carpenter told the Tribune-Star between autographs. “Then we’ll work from there for the rest of the month.”
That includes getting his driver Mike Conway, who won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach earlier this season, prepared for Saturday’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS Road Course, starting at 3:50 p.m.
“We’re all looking forward to that,” said Carpenter, who’s in his third season as owner of Ed Carpenter Racing.
After this weekend, the 33-year-old Carpenter will focus on driving and finishing preparation for the rest of his team in the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 25.
“I’m the only owner-driver in the [Verizon IndyCar Series] right now,” he pointed out. “But we’ve got a great group of people … so most of our preparation for May happens in the offseason. So now it’s just a matter of finishing everything, putting everything together and executing the plan.”
This will be Carpenter’s first 2014 race as a driver.
“The past two years, I’ve run all the races [even while owning the team],” he explained. “For this year, we hired Mike Conway to drive the road and street courses and I’m racing all the ovals … and the Indy 500 is the first oval of the season. When it comes to oval racing, I’m the same as everyone else. I’ve tested a couple times out in California and once in Texas three weeks ago. So I feel prepared and just excited to get back on track.”
Carpenter’s best Indy 500 finish came in 2008 when he placed fifth. In 2013, he qualified for the pole position for the first time in his 10th Indy 500.
Not surprisingly, he’s targeting 2014 for his first Indy 500 victory.
“I’m always looking for a win,” Carpenter emphasized. “That’s the goal every year in May. We had a good chance last year. We led the most laps, but we ended up 10th. I’m hoping to come back this year and finally be able to capture the win. … I feel like our preparation’s been good. I never expect that it’s going to be easy. We just try to continue working hard and be prepared and hopefully we’ll be good on race day when it counts.”
Asked to look into his mythical crystal ball for a few seconds, Carpenter isn’t sure how many more years he wants to race. But it doesn’t sound as if he wants to remove the “driver” part of his “owner-driver” title anytime soon.
“Racing’s a tough sport,” he said. “There’s never any security. Every year can be your last. I try to enjoy it and make the most of it while I can. If I’m capable and have the opportunity to do it, as long as I’m competitive, I’ll keep doing it.”
On a personal note, the stepson of longtime IMS president and chief executive officer and IndyCar founder Tony George says he tries to get back to the Valley whenever possible, especially since he still has family in Clark County.
“I bought a car over here [at 500 Automotive] for my wife last year,” Carpenter mentioned.