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May 19, 2013

Carpenter arrives as Indy 500 threat

INDIANAPOLIS — And the crowd went wild.

Not only did Ed Carpenter win the pole for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500, he is the hometown son. Carpenter, the stepson of Tony George, completed his rookie orientation in 2004 and has spent the last several years, proving he deserved to be the IZOD IndyCar Series. There is no questioning his credentials now.

He did it in a big way on Pole Day. Carpenter’s first run in the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet put him in the Fast Nine.

Because of the rain delay, the program was altered, allowing the Fast Nine only one attempt at the pole. Carpenter hung it all out with his four-lap average of 228.762.

Then the waiting came as he and his wife Heather stood by watching four other drivers nipping at his heels in what turned out to be called the Chevy Shootout with all nine drivers sporting a Chevy engine. “I wasn’t sure we could do a 229, but we did two,” Carpenter said. “It was a lot of fun. I knew we had a shot.”

Will Power was the last to go, and on his first lap around, the camera spotted Carpenter with his fingers crossed. Shortly after that, Power’s speed kept dropping, and Carpenter’s smile kept getting larger and larger. Carpenter admitted that on Power’s first lap, he was fairly sure the pole was his.

“Knowing what Helio’s and A.J.’s cars dropped off after the first, I felt like we were in really good shape,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter is the only current only owner/driver in the series, and the team is in just its second year of operation. Former champion PGA golfer Fuzzy Zoeller came on as a sponsor with his vodka company, and they haven’t looked back.

He came up the old way, through the USAC Silver Crown and Sprint car series, running on ovals both dirt and pavement. In 2001, he won his first USAC Sprint race in the season finale at Salem, In. He moved on to the Firestone Indy Lights Series and won the inaugural Firestone Freedom 100 in 2003.

The early years in IndyCar were not easy. He spent the first year in 2004 with Red Bull Cheever Racing in a season of poor starts and only one top-10 finish. When George started Vision Racing in 2005, Carpenter became the primary driver for the team’s five seasons of operation. When Vision Racing ceased operations after the 2009 season, Carpenter ran just four races the following year.  

In the seat for Panther Racing, Carpenter started on the pole at Kentucky, led 11 laps near the end of the race before finishing second to Helio Castroneves. That may have been the turning point for Carpenter.

In 2011, he drove for Sarah Fisher Racing, getting his first series win at Kentucky, while giving Fisher her first win as an owner. Last season, he won the series finale in Fontana.

Prior to his pole win, Carpenter’s best start at Indianapolis was eighth in 2010 and 2011. His best finish was fifth in 2008.

Winning the pole at Indianapolis is special, but for Carpenter, a father of three, that is only a start.

“I hope this is part one of a magical May,” he said. “I love the race a whole lot more than qualifying, but this is huge for the team.”

Carpenter emphasized that winning the pole won’t mean much unless they do well on race day. It won’t be easy. “This race means a lot to 32 other guys too,” he said.

Carpenter has been a longtime favorite of IndyCar fans. He has lived in Indianapolis since he was 8 years old. The Butler University grad has no plans to live anywhere else. He appreciates the support.

“It gives you confidence knowing that people are cheering for you,” he said.

 

 

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Tribune-Star/Bob Poynter Fetch and fire: Rex third baseman #15 Ryan Sabo looks to first base after fielding a line drive down the baseline during game action against Quincy. Sabo got the runner for an out.

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