Cavin: Sage Karam trying to bounce back from tragedy
LONG POND, Pa. — There are reminders of Justin Wilson’s passing all around Pocono Raceway, including a ‘JW’ painted on the front straightaway.
Sage Karam’s reminder of Wilson is personal. As the IndyCar Series driver whose crash created the debris that fatally struck the popular Englishman, Karam’s emotions are rooted in his heart and head.
Karam spent an hour watching NASCAR’s Xfinity Series cars practice here earlier this summer, but Saturday was a different experience for him — these were Indy cars circling the track.
Karam described the butterflies he had coming into the facility, then spoke of his concern for Wilson’s wife and two young daughters.
“I think about Justin every day and how hard it must be for his family,” he said.
The post-crash stress Karam has dealt with has been unfair given the fluke nature of the incident, but it’s understood, which is why his father, Jody, insisted his son, then only 20, move back into the family’s home, start seeing a sports psychologist and find a routine allowing him to regain his own sense of normalcy.
Karam is trying to move on. Last winter, he assisted with the Liberty High School wrestling team his father coaches in Bethlehem, Pa. Karam weighs about 15 pounds more than he did as a prepster, but he hasn’t forgotten what made him a varsity athlete; thus, he’s relatable to the current wrestlers. Lately he’s been helping with the golf team.
Karam drove in this year’s Indianapolis 500 for Dreyer & Reinbold/Kingdom Racing – he crashed mid-race in Turn 1 – and his pursuit of another IndyCar Series ride is full throttle. His father said they nearly had a Honda ride for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500, and their attention is now on securing a deal for the series’ season-ending race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
Karam described his chances as “50-50.”
“You never know until the ink is on the paper,” he said.
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Karam, who is under contract to drive sports cars for Lexus, will race a Legends car next week in Las Vegas, and there could be more of those races to come. Meantime, he focuses on keeping his weight, fitness and nutrition on the right path in case another IndyCar opportunity presents itself.
Jody Karam insisted his son is ready, willing and able to drive anything anywhere.
“The perception is that he doesn’t want to drive anything but an Indy car, but my kid will drive anything,” he said.
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Awaiting an opportunity, Karam has filled his time with, of all things, playing golf. He hadn’t much held a club before a month or so ago, and his first few outings produced scores “in the 120s.” No longer.
Karam’s work with Liberty coach Steve Bradley has led to remarkable improvement. While unverified, Karam said he shot 85 earlier this week.
“I won the longest drive (award) at the last tournament I played in,” he said. “I play every day. My girlfriend will tell you I play too much.”
She nodded her head.
“(Golf) and remote control cars,” Karam said of his interests. His father added cycling.
Still, it’s racing that drives Karam, and he was hoping to use a ride this weekend to ease some of the pain of the crash that led to Wilson’s death.
“Put it all behind me is the biggest thing,” he said. “I wanted to go through Turn 1 again flat and I could have said, ‘I’m back, I’m over it.’
“I’m doing everything I can to try to get back to my old self.”
Russian driver Mikhail Aleshin of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports won the first pole of his IndyCar Series career Sunday, averaging 220.445 mph for the two qualifying laps. Honda took five of the top seven starting positions.
There will be former champions in the back of the 22-car field. Scott Dixon had the second-slowest qualifying average (215.337 mph) and Ryan Hunter-Reay did not make a qualifying attempt after crashing hard in the morning practice.
Will Power confirmed Saturday what has been known only in the IndyCar paddock: He and wife Liz are expecting their first child in December. Power said tests show it is a boy.
IndyCar rookie RC Enerson, who was impressive in his debut last month at Mid-Ohio, will return to Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 car for the season’s final two races, both road courses, team owner Dale Coyne said Saturday.