Interview with Ed Carpenter

Photography by Tad Fruits

For a guy who keeps his foot pressed on the gas pedal in a race car going over 230 mph, you might think that Ed Carpenter would be excitable, fast talking, and reactionary. In a hurry, you might think. But instead, he’s thoughtful, deliberate, and a team builder who genuinely loves his family, Indianapolis, and his sport. He shared some thoughts about it all just before he started his 19th Indianapolis 500 this Sunday. He’s not only a driver but also a racing team owner that has three cars in the race. 

Richard McCoy: The Indy 500 is such a long race; what are the things that you’re doing to get ready for the intense experience?

Ed Carpenter: Physically, at this point, the preparations are complete, other than just being rested and recovered as much as I can be going into the race. It’s like cramming for a test … there becomes a point in which you can’t do any more and just have to rely on the preparation that you’ve done. We’ve worked the whole off season and a lot during this month of May. Now it’s just about managing my time and energy to the best of my ability and staying sharp for Sunday. 

RM: When I saw the final round of qualifying in which everyone was vying for those top six spots, in the pit area there was a kind of little community of drivers, spouses, and children that were all together sharing the experience. You were there with your wife, three kids, and others. Is that normal?

EC: I think it’s normal. My family is always around me and our team. There’s kind of two halves in the paddock right now — my generation (like Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan who have wives and children) and then there’s the younger group that are single or have girlfriends (Like Colton Herta and Alex Palou). And then you have a guy like Josef Newgarden in the middle, who just had his first child. 

For me, it’s always been a family scene in the paddock, but it goes in waves where generations move on and people don’t have families. But there’s always been that family vibe for me.

RM: For most of us, we just know a driver’s name and the color of their car; we don’t see the human aspects that are behind all of it, but if you are up close it looks like it might be a real community. 

EC: It is. Really in the whole IndyCar season every team has crew members that are friends with the other teams. We travel the country and more together, so there’s a lot more camaraderie between teams than what you would probably realize. People bounce around over the years and know people everywhere. So it is a tight-knit community inside IndyCar. 

At the end of some days, when we are in our motorhomes at the tracks, there are genuine congratulations being shared between competitors and different teams and people that you’ve developed relationships with over the years.

RM: How have you evolved in thinking about being on a team over your career?

EC: I think that has been one of my strengths, even when I was driving for other people’s teams, recognizing the importance of team, and creating real relationships that help create a culture of teamwork. That’s something that came naturally to me, but I do put my focus on it. 

On a team ownership side that’s what I enjoy the most, the aspect of working with a group of people and having cohesiveness and growing a culture that encourages people to stay within our team and grow together. 

RM: That sounds like true CEO leadership.

EC: Yeah, I think everyone recognizes it, and I don’t think everyone does as good a job actually being genuine with it. You can read books about leadership, and you can do different things, but people can tell what’s genuine or not in the good times and in the bad times.

RM: Does most of your team live in Indianapolis?

EC: The majority of our team does. We have one engineer that works remote in Colorado, but he still spends quite a bit of time in the shop here in Indy. I’d say 98% percent of our full time people are Indy-based.

RM: Your shop used to be on Main Street in Speedway, and now it’s up on Georgetown Road. Is there a difference between those two places?

EC: It’s a little different. When we were in Speedway, there were more places where we could walk to lunch. But outside of that I wouldn’t say it’s a big difference. It’s a shorter commute for some and longer for others. We’re pretty happy in our current location. 

RM: What was the Speedway lunch spot for the team?

EC: The Famous Tomato is our favorite spot, and we still try to get over there nowadays. Not as much as we used to. When we were in Speedway it was a 3-4 days a week lunch spot. There are great people over there. Have you ever visited?

RM: I haven’t, but now I’ll have to go. 

EC: It’s like a little farmer’s market. They have a salad bar and soup and tons of soda and candy. And the owners are great people. 

RM: If you were trying to get a new team member to move to Indy, what would you show them to convince them to move here?

EC: Oh, It depends on who they are and where they are in life. If it’s someone new to this sport, I’d definitely get them to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If it’s a younger person, in an earlier phase of life, I would direct them towards downtown Indy. If they have a family and kids in school, I would probably direct them to the northern side of Indy: Washington Township or Hamilton County. Maybe I’d show them downtown Carmel, Williams Creek, or the Broad Ripple type of area. 

RM: I saw the other day on your instagram, you and your other two drivers, Rinus VeeKay and Conor Daly hanging out with the Butler Bulldog. 

EC: Oh it’s an annual tradition. I graduated from Butler University in 2003 and try to keep a strong connection there. They have done such a great job with the live mascot program, so we’ve always tried to set up an appearance. 

RM: Can we get you driving a Butler IndyCar with a giant bull dog on the front?

EC: The idea has been discussed, but Butler has to protect their budget, being a relatively small school. At the end of the day, Butler is a great community and I’m passionate about it. 

RM: What’s your go-to hang out as a family? 

EC: It’s hard to hang much anymore because we’re all so busy with our own activities, but when we do get downtime, we are either hanging at the house or taking the boat out, whether it’s Geist Reservoir, Morse Reservoir, or our favorite place, Lake Salamoni. That’s the activity we agree upon the most outside of our own individual sports. 

RM: Do I remember right that you’re somewhat of a competitive water skier? 

EC: I wouldn’t go that far, but I do enjoy it. I have friends that are very good at it. I would say I’m an average everything-er when it comes to water sports, from wakeboarding to surfing to skiing. We all love being on the water. We’ll try anything on the water though; me and my oldest son are beginner bare-footer skiers as well. 

RM: Where do you and your family like to go out to eat?

EC: We really like Depri at 71st and Keystone; it’s kind of a weird location but it’s one of our favorite casual-to-nicer restaurants. We like Canal Bistro in Broad Ripple a lot. My wife Heather and I like 3Up, a rooftop bar in downtown Carmel. That’s one we’ll go to without the kiddos. Sun King in Carmel is a good one, because everyone can get something they want and it’s a good atmosphere for the kids to run around and not just be stuck at a table.

RM: You do so much media, is there anything that interviewers don’t bring up that you wish they would? 

CM: I think everything gets covered that needs to be covered. I’m a man of few words, mostly. I appreciate representing the community and all the support I receive, especially in the month of May. 

I recognize how important this month is, not just for us drivers, but for all the fans and family members that get out on the track, and those that are introducing their kids to it for the first time. I want it to be a good experience for everyone, so that people come out and share the same passion we all have. 

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