Sage Karam: Wrestling, Daytona and Sebring Part 1

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Wrestling was something I went into this year with the thought that it would keep me in good shape for racing. However as the season progressed, I was winning big matches against quality and state ranked opponents. Before I departed to compete in the Daytona 24 Hour event, I won the championship of one of the most prestigious wrestling tournaments in the country. I was wrestling way beyond the expectations I set for myself. My teammates, coaches and family started to get excited about my wrestling and the expectations went to the next level. The confidentiality agreement in my racing contract won’t permit me to go into the details, but basically wrestling during the Daytona race timeline isn’t permitted and I had to stop wrestling.

Sage wrestling

Courtesy: Sage Karam

My team earned a spot in the state championships and I surprisingly went undefeated in the tournament. But, I recall one match I was losing to a nationally ranked opponent and I caught him in a high-risk move and pinned him! But in my mind, I knew picking up where I left off, before the Daytona race, was like mission impossible.

I tried hard to get back in shape, but making my weight class became a problem because of the time off. Losing 10 pounds the night before a match or two, took its toll on me, and my conditioning and strength suffered even more. As the District and Regional tournaments pursued, my endurance suffered and I was eliminated before the state tournament.

Looking back, I proved that I could compete and beat the best, but wrestling is like racing, and neither can be done without complete dedication and commitment.

sage daytona

Courtesy: Sage Karam

I was very appreciative of the patience and effort that Scott Pruett put into working with me on the procedures and techniques of driving the 01 car. Up to this point I never experienced a pit stop in my life.

My first pit stop during the race was a measure in staying focused and calm while overcoming adversity. The team radioed to me to pit. As I approached the pits, they told me to hit the fuel button. Unlike an Indy Lights car, there are like 50 buttons and switches on the dash and steering wheel of a sports car. I switched on what I thought was the fuel button, and it was the windshield wiper. I quickly turned it off and of course it stopped right in my field of view! I tried another button and the car shut off. I quickly hit that button again and the car fired back up. Keep in mind that all this is happening as I am rapidly approaching the pits and I am braking hard and downshifting.

Courtesy: Sage Karam

Courtesy: Sage Karam

This was also the first time I ever downshifted in a car with paddle shifting, not to mention I had never driven Daytona Speedway before. Finally I located the correct fuel button and eased into the pits. I refueled and pulled out of the pits without a problem. The only person who had any idea what I went through those 30 seconds was my engineer who saw everything on his laptop in the data. To the onlookers, it looked like a perfect pit stop haha!!

We didn’t win the race but I learned a tremendous amount about sportscars racing and developing a new engine package. The Ford EcoBoost engine is an amazing piece of engineering and this is the first year for the program. I feel we made solid progress. Everybody at Ford takes winning seriously and I could really sense their desire to succeed.

The team Chip Ganassi experience was unlike anything else I have ever seen before. It was my first experience as a professional driver, and I was teamed up with top-notch professional drivers. The professionalism and attention to detail on this team was just amazing. Everybody knew their role and executed it to perfection. At the end of the day, looking back, I can sum up the team’s effort as one that strives for excellence.
Make no mistake about it, my dream has always been to race in IndyCar. I am still doing everything I can to fulfill that dream. I don’t believe I will be doing a full season of IndyCar, but I think a partial season is a strong possibility.

I could be the first driver to compete in all levels of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder program if I get into an IndyCar this season. The complexities of why I am not in a IndyCar is a whole other blog. But, rather than wasting energy on what I don’t have, I’d rather focus on getting done what needs to get me into IndyCar as soon as possible.

Tony Tellez

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