INDIANAPOLIS — Sage Karam says that Dreyer & Reinbold Racing is going to be a force to be reckoned with this month. He notes that they now have 2 guys that have a lot of experience around here. A lot of good results and 2 guys that aren’t scared to mix it up.
He’s not wrong. Both Karam and Santino Ferrucci are hard chargers with a lot of on track aggression. They’re under the same umbrellas. The thing is, that’s just what’s on the surface.
You may see their past stats and how both were near the front on the speed chart on Day 1 of practice for next Sunday’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). They had some of the best speed in the field and look not only like sleepers, but legitimate contenders too.
If you dig deeper though, there’s actually a special bond here, one that dates back to when both drivers were just young pups and still sported baby teeth. One that takes you to a go karti track in New York.
See, we all know the story by now how Karam is from the same town in Pennsylvania as the Andretti’s. Karam’s dad, Jody, used to drive his son and Michael Andretti’s son to go kart races as the two boys would grow up hoping to achieve a lifetime goal of racing against one another decades later two states west in Indiana.
Marco Andretti, Michael Andretti and the Karam’s grew a close relationship because of this which led the two families to bond over the years. But, before they could go west to Indiana, they first went east to New York.
That go kart track?
Santino Ferrucci’s dad owned it. The Ferrucci’s were from Connecticut but his dad had a karting track and his son as a young 4-5 year old raced there. Karam and Andretti joined him. The three hit it off. While both were from opposite directions of the New York track, it was the place that molded them and sparked a friendship that oddly enough, led them to teammates here today.
“It’s quite interesting our whole story,” Karam told me on Tuesday morning from the shadows of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway victory podium. “We grew up racing at the same go kart track as each other. I’ve known him since I he like 4-5 years old. I’m a couple of years older than him but we’d race every weekend at this track in New York. He went the Europe route and I went the American route in single seaters. Then he came here, we were racing with each other and everything.
“Santino’s family owned the go kart track that me and Marco would grow up racing out. So it was me and Santino and Marco in the same go kart track and that’s rare in itself. It’s rare for the same state to have multiple people in the Indy 500 together let alone 3 from the same track. We were real young. We’ve known each other our whole lives basically. We were teammates in go karting a little bit and now we’re teammates in the Indy 500. It’s come full circle.”
Ferrucci smiled when I asked him about that. Good memories come up.
“My dad owned a little track in upstate New York for a couple of years and me and Sage were up there every weekend,” he told me a few minutes later. “We’re back being teammates after 16 years.”
That’s led to both to take varying approaches on how they tackle practice this week. Ferrucci wants to focus his No. 23 Dallara-Chevrolet on race trim. Karam wants his No. 24 Dallara-Chevrolet on qualifying trim.
“Funny we were actually just talking about that in the engineering office, me and Santino, we have kind of a little different views on it,” Karam told me. “Santino wants to work on race setup and I want to work race setup too because I don’t want to qualifying on the Last Row like I have here the last several years.
“I told him dude, we can sit here everyday and work race setup but if you qualify 31st you’re going to hate it. It’s not any fun back there. He said well I qualified 22nd or something and I was like I’m telling you dude, it’s not 31st. When you’re back there you have to take that many risks early on in fear of not going a lap down early. It’s not fun and it’s a long day and need everything to go perfect.
“Me personally, I’d like to spend a little more time in qualifying trim this year to figure it out. I think the main thing is that you don’t have that added pressure of worrying about you not being in the race but I still feel like I can focus on qualifying better because years past it’s been more of a track position race. When I first came in, you could start anywhere in the field and still make it in. Now it’s like very important. I think you see that drivers making more of a risk on restarts.”
Both say while the fear of not making the show is gone and the pressure of qualifying is lower, you still can’t risk tearing up your car in a crash by being too aggressive because your best car is your car now. You can swing for the fence but these are your best parts on the cars for how they’re currently constructed. You can get a wrecked car close to current one, but it’s not all the way there.
“I think they want to start trimming out the race,” Ferrucci told me. “I want to make sure the race car is solid. That’s what I really care about it.
“No pressure to really do anything. Lets really dive deep on ourselves. There’s no pressure to not do anything at all.”
The thing is, their bond is so close but their driving style is even closer. It allows both to go down opposite paths because in theory, they can meet in the middle at the end.
“We could but right now the cars are identical,” Karam said. “That’s how it is. That’s what we like and that’s great. When I was teammates with JR (Hildebrand) he liked the car a lot different than me. We’d go so separate from each other that it’s almost like you’re not even teammates. With having Santino as a teammate that’s very similar to mine, it’s comforting and a positive. That’s what’s going to be fast in traffic. That’s what’s going to be fast in qualifying. For us to be able to both work with that maybe I can go out in aero and he can work on more mechanical stuff and I think that’s what’s going to make the difference in the team.”
“I mean having grown up at the same track and learning the same style, we can basically tell the engineers hey if he didn’t like it I won’t like it and if he likes I then I would,” he said to me. “We can accomplish things now twice as fast and not have any repercussions of having to put it on my car and retest it. I had to retest a lot of things at RLL last year because working with Graham he drives completely different. What he liked wouldn’t necessarily work for me. Honestly I’m pretty pumped.”
Last year, Ferrucci finished 6th. Karam? 7th.
They can’t get away from another. That could lead 1 of them to victory lane next Sunday too.