It isn’t always an easy road, especially in the world of racing. There are a number of drivers throughout the country, and the world, that aspire to have the opportunity to compete at the top levels of motorsports. Some make it to the big leagues, but aren’t able to stick around, while others that can stick around, can’t produce the results to justify their long tenures.
For Sage Karam, the opportunity was – and still is – present, but has become increasingly difficult in recent years, as a general lack of funding in an industry dominated by dollars and cents, has prevented the 26-year-old from competing in more than four Indy Car events in over a half-decade. Climbing the Series’ “Road to Indy” ladder, Karam arrived at the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500, with championships in Indy Lights and U.S. F2000 National Championship.
Jump seven years into the future, and Karam is an eight-time starter of the Indianapolis 500, most recently picking up a seventh-place finish for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the 105th Running of the prestigious event, doubling as Karam’s best-ever finish in the 500-mile contest, in what is currently scheduled to be his only Indy Car event of 2021.
Now, with opportunities scarce in open wheel racing, Karam is shifting his focus – at least for the time being – to other forms of motorsports, specifically the NASCAR Xfinity Series, where he’ll team up with Jordan Anderson Racing to participate in the Pennzoil 150 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Road Course on August 14.
Driving the No. 31 Chevrolet Camaro, Karam will have backing from Montage Mountain Resorts, along with numerous other partners originating from the Pennsylvania-area.
“We’ve got some really cool sponsors on-board this year,” Karam told TobyChristie.com. “Montage Mountain Resorts is going to be the main sponsor on the car and they’re a local company by me in Pennsylvania, so it’s really cool to see local companies help me out, and I really appreciate what they’re doing for me.”
In addition to Montage Mountain Resorts’ primary sponsorship of the No. 31, IMSI Springs, Scott White Career Institute and Pro Resources Staffing Solutions will serve as associate sponsors for Karam has he makes his maiden voyage in NASCAR this August.
“A lot of good people on-board to make this happen for me, and Roly at Shelby Park has been really great in facilitating this and making sure I can get on-track in this Jordan Anderson Racing car, and I just can’t thank everyone enough for giving me this opportunity.”
For Karam, a lot of factors went into the selection of his debut race, with him and his group deciding on Indianapolis for a variety of reasons, including the weekend’s on-track schedule, which will include practice and qualifying, something very valuable to a driver making their series debut.
“I was looking at the schedule and what road courses I like, compared to the ones that I didn’t and for sure I pushed more for Indy over Watkins (Glen), just because of the whole practice and qualifying situation,” said Karam. “I ran at Indianapolis last year in Indy Car, so I’m more familiar with the track, whereas the last time I ran at Watkins (Glen) was 2016.”
While dealing with the massive undertaking that will be the process of learning to drive a brand-new type of vehicle that drives totally different than an Indy Car, Karam’s prior experience at the facility, will help to ease the burden on the 26-year-old’s shoulders.
“I wanted to try and stay more on road courses to start, just because that’s my background coming from Indy Car and go-karting my whole life growing up as a kid,” Karam continued. “So, I felt like I would be more comfortable getting into a road course straight off the bat.”
As far as the organization that Karam would join, the selection didn’t seem to be one that was overly difficult, as many on both the NASCAR and Indy Car side of the industry continuously pointed to Jordan Anderson as someone to contact. So, Karam did, and “it just kind of worked out.”
“I contacted him and it seems like it was going to be a good fit, and after talking to him, I’m really, really happy that I’m on-board with his program, he’s just a very good guy and reminds me a lot of what I’m used to in Indy Car with Dreyer & Reinbold, Dennis Reinbold has been a great team owner to me for seven years now, and it just reminded me a lot of that, so speaking with him on the phone, it felt very family-like and felt like home.”
In a way, it was Karam’s close friend, Marco Andretti, that originally got him ready to peruse a partial schedule in NASCAR, after the high praise Andretti gave stock car racing, after his participation in the Camping World SRX Series over the summer. Yet, Karam wasn’t the only one with aspirations to run in NASCAR, as Andretti mentioned in a media availability the week before his win at Slinger Speedway, that he was in the closing stages of a deal to run in the Xfinity Series.
“I think Marco, he had so much fun in the SRX and you see him doing that, you saw him doing some LMP3 racing, I think he’s just at the point where he’s really starting to have fun now with racing and driving different things and learning and just having fun.
“I think the SRX really opened his eyes to wanting to go try some more stock car stuff and the Xfinity conversation came up a little bit, and at the time, when he mentioned it to me, I wasn’t in talks yet with Jordan, so I was just kind of listening and just, ‘yeah, that’d be cool man, that’d be really awesome for you’, and then it kind of happened a couple of days after we spoke about it.”
The relationship between Andretti and Karam is a close one, in the sense than each of them consider the other to be a member of their family and have been looking out for each other and willing to help the other out throughout the duration of their friendship.
“He was the best man at my wedding, so he supports me and I support him,” Karam said. “We’re basically family, whatever he can do to help me, he’s always done, and what I can do to help him… I mean he helps me more than I can help him, I don’t have much to offer as far as help for him, but he’s always been a great friend and a great brother to me, whether it’s getting me to races when I wasn’t planning on going, he just gets me there to kind of stay in everyone’s eyes, just helping me out with tips and pointers, he’s got a lot of experience and he’s also got a very big heart as well.
“If there’s any way that I can help him, as far as making an introduction, I’m sure a lot of people would love to have Marco Andretti driving a car for them. I would love to do whatever I could to be sharing a track with him, I think it would be really cool to team up with him, since we do know each other well, I do think we’d work really well together, but it would be really cool to be on-track together in something that would be completely new to both of us.”
When asked who would win in a NASCAR Xfinity Series event, himself or Andretti, Karam admits that the additional experience from the Camping World SRX Series would be an advantage to Andretti, but didn’t totally count himself out, mentioning that drivers in the SRX Series, no matter the accolades, still had to learn the cars and how to drive them to be successful.
Karam says that he’s been trying to call anybody who has ever participated in open wheel racing, as well as NASCAR racing, in order to try and do his homework, in what the main differences between the cars are. Last week, the 26-year-old spoke to seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Jimmie Johnson, who currently competes in the NTT Indy Car Series.
“Obviously, the biggest thing is the weight of the car, it’s a lot heavier than an Indy Car,” said Karam. “When you have a heavier car, obviously the braking capabilities aren’t as good, the tires wear a lot quicker and it’s steel brakes compared to carbon fibre brakes that we have in Indy Car, so those are pretty much the big things.
“For me, at least, the biggest thing would be braking, it’s just in an Indy Car you drive in so late and you get on the brakes so late and you do your downshift so quickly, whereas in this it seems more, whenever you see the brake markers you start braking, and it’s an H-pattern, I haven’t driven an H-pattern since 2010, so the downshifts are slower, so he said to watch out, you’ve got to match your blips. I haven’t blipped a race car in so long either, everything’s been electronic, so you don’t have to match your blips, you get some wheel-hopping, he said to watch out of that, that’s a pretty big thing over there, he was telling me all the little things, but they’re little to him, but for me, coming in not doing any of this before, it is so big.”
Despite all of the things that could potentially go wrong, Karam remains fairly relaxed entering Indianapolis next month, with there being no expectations from himself or the team on where he’ll finish in his series debut, but just hopes that he can run all of the laps and soak in all of the information that he possibly can.
“I think for me, the main goal is to just complete all of the laps, bring the car home in one piece. I know Jordan’s got some good equipment and I think if I can do that and learn throughout the weekend, I think I can come home with a pretty strong result. I’m just going to show up and start out slow and chip away at it and learn, but I have to learn pretty quickly as well, but I think if we check off all of the things on the boxes, it could be a really strong weekend.”
“I would love to finish in the top-15, but I show up wanting to win in anything I drive, so I’m going in there with the mentality of winning, but for what this is, so new to me and everything, I think a top-15 would be pretty good, but a top-10 would be great. I think in Jordan’s car, with my comfort level on the track, I really don’t think a top-10 is out of the question.”
Looking ahead to Karam’s future in NASCAR’s top-three series, simply put, he isn’t sure right now, but says that he would love to snowball this opportunity into additional races with Jordan Anderson Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, through the attention of local and / or national sponsors. While only Indianapolis has been confirmed at this time, Karam has an additional two races that will “very likely” be on his schedule for the remainder of the year, both at tracks he’s never raced on before.
When it comes down to it, Karam’s career goal is to be a champion of the Indianapolis 500, meaning the driver will likely attempt to enter the prestigious event each season, regardless of his participation in other series, but is also open-minded when it comes to running “The Double”, and flying to Charlotte, North Carolina after the Indy 500 to participate in the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“I’m at the point where, I still feel like I’m young enough to have a great career in something and I’ve just been struggling to obtain something in IndyCar, more than just the Indy 500, obviously my biggest goal in life is to win the Indianapolis 500, so I see myself trying my absolute best every year to still race in the Indy 500, but as a race car driver, I want to be racing full-time, I want to be racing every weekend, so if that means it’s in a sports car, or NASCAR, or IndyCar, that’s just what I want to do, that’s my dream to always be racing, that’s when I’m at my happiest and since I’m not getting an opportunity like that I have to look elsewhere”
It’s clear that there is no point in stopping a racer from doing what makes them happy, racing, and it’s evident that Sage Karam is willing to diversify his racing resume by racing in multiple disciplines, across different tracks and surfaces. In fact, Karam says he’d even like to try the Chili Bowl, an event he’s watched closely over the last couple of season, but says that he’d have to do it properly, meaning getting the opportunity to test a midget on the dirt first.