Sage Karam has found only one speed bump in landing a ride in the Indianapolis 500: He can't go to the prom.
Karam was set to bring girlfriend Anna de Ferran, daughter of 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran, to his Nazareth Area High School prom, until his new job got in the way. The 19-year-old Karam, the reigning Indy Lights champion, struck a deal this week to drive the No. 22 Chevrolet in his Indianapolis 500 debut.
Qualifying is on May 17, the same day as his prom, forcing Karam to start his engine in Indianapolis instead of renting a limo in Pennsylvania.
"I'd never been to a prom before," he said. "I was kind of looking forward to it. It's a good excuse to miss it."
Securing a ride for the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" from Chip Ganassi isn't a bad graduation gift.
"I always said when I was younger, I wanted to race in the 500 my senior year," Karam said. "Some kids kind of laughed at that idea. Even adults. I always stuck by it. That's what I always was going to do. Now, it's turned into a reality. It's a cool feeling to be 19 and know you're going to race in the biggest race in the world."
Karam is from Nazareth, Pa., the hometown of the Andretti family. He spent months wondering if he could parlay his feeder system championship into an IndyCar ride. He got the break he needed when he signed with Ganassi in a driver development role.
Karam will race in his first Indianapolis 500 next month in a car fielded jointly by Chip Ganassi Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing.
"I've worked my whole life to get to this point," Karam said. "To finally sign a contract with my name on it that means I'm racing in the 500, it's an insane feeling."
Driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Karam won the Indy Lights championship, the ultimate reward for a season built on three wins, nine podiums, two poles, and 163 laps led. He ditched a final year of class for online courses, as he chased his open-wheel dream.
Karam ran the first two Tudor United Sports Car races with Ganassi's organization. Ganassi plans to use Karam in the remaining endurance races. But there are no immediate plans for Karam to race in IndyCar after the 500.
"I knew if I was given the opportunity, I had to impress," Karam said. "It's an awesome feeling knowing that these guys are really putting a lot of time and effort into me to groom me."
Karam, a high school wrestler, just signed a 6-month lease for a place in Carmel, Ind., and plans to absorb all he can in IndyCar's epicenter.
Karam's prom is on hold, but he does plan on walking with his class for the June 10 graduation ceremony, maybe with one more accessory to go with his mortarboard hat and gown.
"Hopefully, I've got that Indy 500 champions ring on," he said.