IndyCar Driver Sage Karam Slows Down to Get a Glimpse of God’s Greatness
Gearing Up for Sunday’s Indy 500, Karam Tells Fellowship of Christian Athletes Magazine That He Credits All His Racing Success to God
KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Life in the fast lane is nothing new for race car drivers. But IndyCar driver Sage Karam told Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA, www.fca.org) Magazine that he had to slow down to rebuild a lasting relationship with God. And an FCA Huddle along the way played an important part.
Karam is featured in the newest issue of FCA Magazine, which details his racing career and tells his faith story, both of which saw the highest highs and the lowest lows.
In 2015, a terrible 200-mile-per-hour crash at the Pocono 500 left then-20-year-old Karam shaken, but amazingly, unhurt. His thoughts immediately went to his friends, family and sponsors in attendance, as Pocono is about 30 minutes from his hometown of Nazareth, Pennsylvania. At a nearby hospital with his mother, Karam learned some devastating news. Justin Wilson, one of the drivers behind Karam, had been struck in the head by the nose-cone that had flown off of Karam’s car. The next morning, a sad report emerged that Wilson had died at the age of 37.
Too numb to completely absorb the shock, Karam felt responsible for the tragedy. Some misguided racing fans even echoed those sentiments.
At the time of the crash, Karam was already a veteran driver. He started racing at age 7 and amassed 36 national karting championships. In 2014, Karam made his IndyCar debut at the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500. Starting from the last row, he worked his way up from 31st to a ninth-place finish. The next year, Karam landed a dream spot with Chip Ganassi Racing, which signed him to a contract to compete in 12 of the season’s 16 races. He put in respectable finishes that year, then came the crash at Pocono.
Karam told FCA that at that point in his career, he was going through the motions spiritually. He wasn’t attending church like he did when he was younger. His prayer and devotional life was also on the backburner. But the crash changed everything. And to add to his struggles, Chip Ganassi Racing dropped him from the team and his racing future was in doubt.
He went home to Pennsylvania and took his family’s advice to slow down. He visited Christian sports psychologist Dr. Jarrod Spencer who implemented Scripture into his techniques. Spencer was also an FCA Huddle leader and invited Karam to Sunday night meetings with other athletes. Every week for several months, the group gathered in Spencer’s living room and studied a different Bible verse. Then they would split into smaller groups and share about the issues they were facing and how they related to that verse.
One of the verses, Psalm 27:1 (NIV), was especially impactful: “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?”
“If I have God with me, that’s all I really need to get through bad times,” Karam said of the verse. “He’s always going to have my back, no matter what.”
As time passed, Karam grew more connected to God than ever before. He consistently attended church and found himself praying and reading the Bible more.
“Many young people have questions about God,” Spencer said. “So where can you go and ask those questions openly and honestly and talk about it with your peers and some mentors? You want to seek those answers in a loving, learning environment. That’s what the FCA Huddle did for the young men and women who came to it, and particularly for Sage, at a time in his life when he had a lot of significant questions about God and about how his faith in God could help him through this tragedy.”
In May 2016, about a month before the Indy 500, former FCA President and CEO Les Steckel attended one of the gatherings at Spencer’s home. Steckel grew up about 10 miles from Karam’s hometown and connected with the young driver. That led to a moment where everyone gathered around Karam for a powerful prayer.
“That moment was so significant,” Spencer said. “It was incredible to see Sage bow his head and open his heart and just receive blessings as people laid their hands on him and prayed for him, one after another. It was a wonderful example of how the power of Christ, the power of prayer, and the power of Christian community can help an individual get through a tough time.”
After some time, Karam reached out to Wilson’s family, namely Justin’s younger brother, Stefan, who is also a race car driver. The two talked about the tragedy, which helped continue the healing process.
“It still stings every now and then,” Karam said. “You’ll come across some things that you don’t want to see—a photo of Justin that brings back memories and feelings. It took me awhile to come to terms with what happened, but I had to forgive myself and tell myself there’s nothing I could have done.”
Almost nine months after the crash, the time came for Karam to get back into an IndyCar last May. Sitting behind the wheel of the No. 24 DRR/Kingdom Racing (a Christian-based team that has sponsored four of his five Indy 500 rides) Gas Monkey Garage car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the last courageous step in putting the past behind him.
“I knew I had to do it,” Karam said. “I knew I had to prove that I still had it. It helped me come to terms with what happened at Pocono, and made me realize this is what I want to do with my life. I know it’s a dangerous sport. Obviously, I still think about Pocono from time to time, but I’m a professional driver, and you’ve got to do your best to put the bad thoughts behind you and move forward.”
In 2018, Karam will drive the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinhold Racing Chevrolet car sponsored by WIX® Filters. In tests last week leading up to this Sunday’s race, Karam ran top speeds of more than 218 mph.
“I’ve had a lot of success in racing,” Karam said. “I credit all of it to Him. He’s been with me through the good, and He’s been through the lowest of lows. I’m doing my absolute best to move on and be the best person I can be and the best race car driver I can be. I give God all the glory.”
Read the rest of the FCA Magazine feature on Sage Karam titled “Wrecked and Restored.”
Read more about Fellowship of Christian Athletes here, visit FCA’s web site at www.fca.org, its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fcafans or its Twitter feed @fcanews.