INDIANAPOLIS — A lot of drivers were happy to witness Marco Andretti earn the pole for Sunday’s 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). But, one could arguably say that no one was happier outside of the Andretti family than the Karam family.
Yes, the same Karam family as fellow driver Sage Karam.
See, Karam is the “other” Nazareth, Pennsylvania driver in the field. It’s not just Marco. In fact, not only do their both hail from the same town, they were basically neighbors growing up. In turn, they’ve grown close over the years as Karam considers Andretti as a brother.
That’s why Karam found himself on the Turn 2 spectator mounds last Sunday watching the Fast Nine Shootout before practice. He said he was cheering loudly for his neighbor to get the pole.
But, the friendship goes deeper. It goes back to when they were little in fact.
“My dad was Michael Andretti’s fitness trainer when he was full time,” Karam said. “We lived a minute away from them. When dad would be training him and when Michael was racing, he basically didn’t have time to take Marco go karting since he was full time in IndyCar. He just asked dad to get me into go-karting when I was super young, so when he’d take me up to go go-karting every weekend in New York, to take Marco with us. So, me, Marco and my dad would load up in a truck and go up to New York and go go-karting every weekend.”
A fond memory of those childhood trips with Marco to New York was his dad Jody saying that they they’ll be back with trophies in hand. See, his dad, now a hell of a wresting coach back home, took up racing too so he could join them. The three would enter the same races. The funny thing was, they’d bring back trophies alright, but only two of them. One for Marco and one for Sage. Jody was outdueled by his own son and his sons friend. Sage still laughs about that on Media Day for the Indianapolis 500, a race that he will compete in for a seventh time.
The first six races showed that Karam has the speed to win here. It’s that experience factor to why he’s more confident this year than in years past.
“I guess I have the experience now of somewhat of a veteran but I still feel like super young and leaning super much here at the Speedway,” Karam said. “This will be my seventh ‘500 and only 25 years old, so I definitely know a lot more than when I first came here.
“I think some of the major things I’ve learned is just how long this race is. I think when I first was in here I would push 110% every single lap and lose track that it was 200 Laps. I think I would just go and drive and sometimes that led to some incidents and stuff. I’ve learned to reel is in and learn to look at the big picture.
“Now, it’s more or less you want to save the right fuel and pick the fights you want to.”
What’s ironic is, Karam starts 31st on Sunday. He’s started 31st two other times too and one of them was as a high school senior in his rookie start to where he finished an impressive ninth in his first ever IndyCar starts.
“This will be the third time that I’ve started from 31st so I know what it’s like to start back there which is good,” he continued. “I think when I first came in I didn’t know what to expect. I think now having six other ‘500’s under my belt I have a better understanding going into the race.”
Now, he and Marco will compete for a bigger trophy — the Borg Warner. There’s a chance one of their faces could be on there and one could bring a Baby Borg back to Pennsylvania where Karam says it belongs.
But, to watch Andretti win the pole, it was an iconic moment for him. He would love nothing less than the two of them duking it out for a win this weekend.
“I look at Marco like a brother,” Karam said. “I grew up racing go-karts with him. I grew up as his neighbor. I would consider him a best friend now. When we’re back home in Nazareth, we basically hang out every single day. He’s been a really good friend of mine. To see him get that, for an Andretti winning the pole for the first time in 33 years, it’s almost like Tiger (Woods) winning the Masters. That’s what it meant I think for our sport. I think all the drivers were happy for Marco. It’s a long time coming for him.
If I can’t win this thing, I’d like my buddy Marco to win it because it’s ben since ’69 since the Borg has come back to Nazareth, Pennsylvania so it’s overdue to come back.”