INDIANAPOLIS – He’s the hometown hope, the Butler University alum and die-hard Indiana Pacers fan who has put his modest, one-car program on the pole for the Indianapolis 500 ahead of powerhouse programs from Penske Racing and Andretti Autosport.
There’s more, though, and it runs as deep as blood.
The unflappable Ed Carpenter is also the stepson of series founder Tony George. That means his family tree has roots tracing all the way back to Tony Hulman, who bought Indianapolis Motor Speedway after World War II, and includes Mari Hulman George, who on Sunday will proclaim once more, “Gentleman, start your engines!”
So to say that much of Carpenter’s life has been lived in Gasoline Alley, where he spent his formative years, is about as fitting for him as the maxim that “haste makes waste.”
It also means that Carpenter is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“I started racing quarter midgets when I was 8 years old, and at that point I was already part of the Hulman family. That’s the way it’s always been for me,” said the 32-year-old Carpenter, whose quiet voice and disarming smile belie a fierce competitive streak.
He’ll be making his 10th start in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” but his first from the pole. And while peering eyes have been trained on him all his life, Carpenter insists that the pressure he endures daily has never overwhelmed him.
“I don’t like to say it means more to me because I’m from here,” Carpenter said, “but it does mean a lot because of how much I love this place.”
His first memories of Indianapolis go back to 1991, when he sat in the balcony overlooking the track and watched Rick Mears qualify for the pole. Even then, Carpenter knew that he wanted to one day drive over the hallowed ground that has been in his family for decades.
He proved at a young age that he could find victory lane. He graduated to Indy Lights and made his IndyCar debut in 2003, when he was hailed as part of the next wave of young U.S. drivers.
But things got sidetracked along the way, as they often do in racing, and Carpenter became an after-thought.
It wasn’t until 2011, when he hooked up with Sarah Fisher Racing, that he won his first IndyCar race. And last year, after founding his own team, he surprised everyone but himself when he took the checked flag at the series finale at California.
That success would eventually come to Carpenter didn’t come as a surprise to those closest to him. They point out that he never gets too high or low — that he keeps an even keel in the roughest of waters, and remains grounded during the best of times.
“He doesn’t run hot and cold, like 90 percent of athletes do. He’s very, very calm,” said golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, whose spirits company sponsors the No. 20 car that Carpenter will be driving Sunday. “He doesn’t get too fired up, he doesn’t get too down, and that’s very impressive.”