Month Man of May
May in Indianapolis. The month that Ed Carpenter ’03 lives for. The month that drives him.
In Carpenter’s world, everything—his marriage, his family, his friendships, his livelihood—revolves around May.
And the arrival of May this year brings the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 and Carpenter’s 16th attempt at what he hopes will be the culmination of a lifetime of hard work, determination, and the realization of life-long reverie.
Carpenter has made it his job to win the very race that has made everything possible for him. The very race that is, well, more than a race to him. A task derived from a single burning desire.
One man’s mission to master one month.
Bulldogs Aren’t Born, They’re Made
Carpenter wasn’t born a racer, nor was he born in a racing family. He was acquired by one.
Born just across the Indiana state line in Marshall, Illinois, Carpenter caught the racing bug in grade school. The year was 1989, and Carpenter’s exposure to the sport came when his family moved to Indianapolis and his mother, Laura George, married Tony George—a name also synonymous with May in Indianapolis.
George is the son of Elmer George, a late 1950s and early 1960s era Indy 500 driver, and Mari Hulman George, the late matriarch of the Hulman George family which has owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1945.
With the George’s racing connections, and Carpenter’s desire to try his hand at his new family’s business, young Carpenter quickly discovered he had a knack behind the wheel.
So, Carpenter spent his formative years on local dirt tracks and backwoods ovals, turning circles and honing his craft, all while attending school at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, 16th & Georgetown became Carpenter’s playground, spending the May months of his youth amidst Gasoline Alley, and occupying his summers by cleaning golf carts at the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course.
“I was just having fun as a kid in Indy,” Carpenter says. “I wasn’t fully processing what it could be or what it takes to get somewhere like that. I always enjoyed being at the Speedway, but I don’t think I realized what it could be until I got a little further along in my career. As I moved through the ranks, then I really started to get it in my head that I could do that.”
Carpenter’s progression moved steadily. Racing quarter-midget cars led to midgets cars, then Silver Crown, and then sprint cars as Carpenter climbed the USAC ranks. And as the racing became more serious, so did Carpenter’s focus. From then on, his sights were set on the Indianapolis 500.
But, there was school, too. The parallel trajectories of racing and education would come to a head as Carpenter finished high school.
Carpenter was ready to continue racing. His mother had other ideas. They both got what they wanted.
Butler Bound for Indy Crown
“My choice in Butler was really just a matter of logistics,” Carpenter says. “It was the closest to my race shop. I wish there was a better reason as to why I chose Butler, but I’m still really happy with the decision.”
So in fall 1999, just a few miles from his childhood home and the historic speedway, Carpenter moved into his new home, Ross Hall.
The marketing major made quick work of his studies and homework so he could spend as much of his free time on racing as possible. Still, the classroom served its purpose for Carpenter, perhaps initially in the form of discipline and a worldly perspective, and later in the form of preparation for a career in racing beyond driving.
“Beyond just the learning that took place in the classroom, Butler really prepared me for the dual role situation that I’m in now,” he says.“I was a professional student and a professional racecar driver, so I had to learn how to manage both of those things stay on top of school work, the racing, and everything else I was doing. I don’t think I would’ve been able to sustain the type of career I’ve had without that experience.”
Carpenter raced all throughout his time at Butler and by May 2003, Carpenter’s mother got her wish as her son walked across the stage at Hinkle Fieldhouse to receive his diploma. A week later, Carpenter got his wish by driving to victory in the Freedom 100 at Indy. While it was a win in the Indy Lights Series, a step below Indy cars, it was still his first taste of winning at the Brickyard.
Later that fall, Carpenter made his first NTT Data IndyCar Series start at Chicagoland Speedway. The following season, Red Bull Cheever Racing signed Carpenter for his rookie season, and he’s been driving in IndyCar ever since. As Carpenter found success behind the wheel, he also set his sights on new opportunities outside the cockpit.
The Butler Way
In late 2011, Carpenter had the opportunity to partner with step-father Tony George, and local businessman Stuart Reed to start his own team, Ed Carpenter Racing. The multi-car operation, complete with full crew, equipment, and resources, has allowed Carpenter to secure his seat at Indianapolis for the foreseeable future.
And with that, Carpenter not only became one of the few college graduates in the field, he also became the only driver/owner in IndyCar. Because of his dual role, Carpenter holds a unique position in the paddock. In one instance Carpenter may be head-to-head with his driving competitors, and the next he’s shoulder-to-shoulder with the sport’s other powerful team owners.
That can be heady stuff for a thirty-something in any profession, but Carpenter understands that racing is a people business, no matter his role. Whether as driver or owner, Carpenter is focused on how to be operate, manage, and motivate his own team. His Butler experience offered him insight into his approach.
“I think there’s a Butler influence, at least in a subconscious way,” Carpenter says. “The emphasis that Butler puts on culture, especially in athletics, is something I subscribe to and believe in. A lot of people talk about culture, but it’s something that really requires follow through and trust. That’s my focus as a leader of my team.”
Carpenter’s ability to motivate and retain his crew at Ed Carpenter Racing is evident in the familiar faces that have been with the team since the beginning. That continuity has also attributed to the team’s recent success at Indianapolis which now boasts multiple front row starts and Top 10 finishes at the Brickyard.
In Ed Carpenter Racing, Carpenter has found strength in numbers. By sharing his vision for success at Indianapolis, he’s brought his team along for the ride. Each May they are serious contenders. This year more than ever.
Carpenter’s Front Row starting position for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 will be his third consecutive at Indianapolis, and his fifth time in seven years. Moreover, teammates Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones will start just behind him in positions third and fourth, making Ed Carpenter Racing the collective best in the field.
Results like this are proof of Carpenter’s hard work, determination, and Bulldog mentality, which is fitting for a guy that will don a Bulldog logo and other Butler marks on his helmet for this year’s race. In 16 tries at Indianapolis, Carpenter has gone from Indy 500 back-marker, to underdog, to black horse, and now perennial favorite, in more than one sense of the word.
Certainly, his speed makes him a likely winner, but it’s Carpenter’s humble and relentless pursuit of success at Indy that has endeared him to those that fill the stands on race day; to those that revere this race just like he does.
“I dream about winning at Indy all the time. So, I just stay focused on that and do the work necessary to make that dream a reality.”
Anything can happen over the course of 500 miles, including victory. That’s the only outcome that will appease Carpenter this May. And it’s just the sort of outcome to expect when you unleash a Bulldog with a dream and a really fast car.
Photo Credit: IMS Photography