Ed Carpenter’s destiny was sealed on May 28, 1989.
Just a few months earlier, Carpenter’s family had moved 90 miles east, from Paris, Illinois, just over the state line, to their new home in Indianapolis.
“I was almost born in Indiana,” he said with a laugh earlier this week to MotorSportsTalk. “I consider myself a Hoosier.”
One of the first things that the newly-minted Hoosier did on that particular 1989 Memorial Day weekend was what countless Hoosiers have done religiously for years: It saw little Eddie, his brother and cousins sitting in the grandstands of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, watching the 73rd Running of the Indianapolis 500,
Carpenter was cheering on his idol, Rick Mears, who took the green flag from the pole position for the Greatest Spectacle In Racing.
While he would be denied watching Mears win a record-tying fourth Indy 500 (that would come two years later), Carpenter – like the more than 250,000 other fans in attendance – was on the edge of his seat as Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi were locked in one of the closest battles in 500 history.
With less than two laps to go, both cars touched wheels, with Unser spinning into the wall and Fittipaldi going on to win the race.
“Al Jr. is a family friend, so that was highly emotional and something at the time really angered me,” Carpenter said. “But now as I look back, they were just racing the wheels off each other.”
It was then and there, on that sunny day, that little Eddie Carpenter vowed to not only become an IndyCar driver, but to one day hopefully win the Indy 500 himself.
He’s already accomplished the first part of that goal, with Sunday marking his 30th straight visit to the legendary 2.5-mile oval at 16th and Georgetown, the last 14 as a race car driver.
“I’ve been to every 500 since I moved to Indy,” said Carpenter, now 38. “It’s been a major part of my life for pretty much my whole life. That’s really what sparked the passion for me to be an Indy car driver.
“I just have so many great memories of Indy. The event means so much to me.”
But now, as he prepares for his 15th Indy 500, starting from the pole for the third time in the last six years, Carpenter still has the other part of his dream to accomplish: To win the 500, in his adopted hometown and in front of hundreds – if not thousands – of family and friends. And another 250,000 potential new fans if he takes the checkered flag on Sunday.
While Carpenter won’t directly come out and say this is his year to put his face and name on the Borg-Warner Trophy, there’s a sense, a feeling deep down inside that it may be the best opportunity he’s ever had.
“I think it’s always a big deal when an American wins the 500,” Carpenter said.
Since 1998, five Americans have won at Indy: Eddie Cheever in 1998, Buddy Rice in 2004, Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006, Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014 and Alexander Rossi in 2016.
“But to have an Indy resident and essentially a Hoosier to win the race, I think, would make even a little more special,” Carpenter continued.
To say both Carpenter and the Indianapolis area are overdue for a win at the 500 is an understatement.
In fact, the last time an Indiana native won the 500 was Wilbur Shaw, who won the big race three times in four years (1937, 1939 and 1940). Shaw was born and raised in Shelbyville, Indiana, about 35 miles southeast of the Speedway.
That means a Hoosier has not gone to victory lane at Indy in 77 years.
“It’s been a good while,” Carpenter said. “The community involvement in the month of May and the Indianapolis 500 is a large part of what makes this event so special each and every year.
“The city of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500 are really synonymous with one another. I certainly feel the local support all month and it would be an incredible feeling to have my hometown (have a local boy) win the 500.
“Being a local resident and member of the community, if I get the opportunity to win the race and be able celebrate in my hometown with the amount of friends and family in different parts of the community I’m involved with would just make it all that more special.”
Since earning the pole last Sunday, Carpenter has spent the last week imagining what tomorrow will be like when he leads the 33-car field across the starting line to start the Greatest Spectacle In Racing.
“This is the third time I’ve won the pole, which puts me in some pretty elite company,” Carpenter said. “But having been through that process and knowing what to expect and understanding that makes it probably a little more of an advantage just because I’ve been through it before, know what’s coming and know what the feelings are going to be like on race morning.
“We’re just keeping our heads down as a team, focused on Sunday. That’s obviously the goal we’ve had the entire time, is to win this race, and (doing it from) the pole hopefully will be icing on top at the end of a successful month of May.”
Defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence is a proud Texan who hates to lose. But if there’s one person Torrence likely doesn’t mind seeing win if he can’t reach the winner’s circle – particularly if it’s on home turf – it’s father Billy.
Steve was cheering his father on as the latter boosted his own championship hopes Sunday by winning the Top Fuel category in the final eliminations of the 34th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals in the Dallas suburb of Ennis, Texas.
Billy Torrence (3.775 seconds at 319.67 mph) defeated Jordan Vandergriff (4.299 seconds, 246.03 mph in his first career final round) for his fourth win of the season, including his second win in the first four races of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. With the fifth Top Fuel triumph of his career, the elder Torrence moved into fourth in the Top Fuel standings, just 71 points behind his son with two races remaining in the Countdown.
Even though Billy’s son lost in the opening round Sunday, he still leads the Top Fuel standings, holding a 33-point lead over second-ranked Doug Kalitta and a 46-point lead over third-ranked and the weekend’s No. 1 qualifier, Brittany Force.
Sunday marked the third consecutive win in this year’s playoffs for the father-son combo and their second straight triumph at Dallas (Steve won there last year as part of an unprecedented sweep of the six-race Countdown en route to the championship).
“It’s home turf and we love to race here,” Billy Torrence said after visiting the winner’s circle. “We’ve raced here our whole career and we have a lot of fans here. There’s no better place to race than Dallas, Texas, and we did have the best car today.
“It has been very humbling, and we’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have the success we’ve had. We’ve got a great group of guys on both cars and our success is just a testament to the work these guys do. I think that we’re probably the second-best car in the country, with Steve having the best. We’ve had a stellar season.”
In Funny Car: Matt Hagan (3.909 seconds at 327.59 mph) roared to his third win of the season – as well as his third at the Motorplex – and the 32nd victory of his career, defeating Bob Tasca (3.928 seconds at 323.12 mph). Hagan also moved up to fourth in the standings.
“We had a great race car today,” Hagan said. “Qualifying was pretty tough, but to turn on four win lights was pretty huge. (Tasca) is a great driver and those guys are good, so I’m glad things turned out the way they did.
“We’re just trying to keep some momentum going, keep doing our job and control what we can control. It was a pretty special weekend. We’ve just got to keep digging and keep working. I love this sport and it’s been a big part of my life for 10 years. I knew (crew chief Dickie Venables) was tuned in and you could see he was confident, and that builds confidence in me.”
Robert Hight continues to lead the Funny Car standings, followed by Jack Beckman (70 points back) and No. 1 qualifier John Force (74 points back).
In Pro Stock: Greg Anderson (6.609 seconds at 209.75 mph) defeated longtime rival Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.610 seconds at 207.56 mph) to earn his third win of the season, fifth of his career at the Motorplex and 94th of his overall Pro Stock career.
It was the 102nd time Anderson and Coughlin, who qualified No. 1 for the weekend, have met each other in a race, including the 21st time in the final round.
“We’ve had so many titanic clashes with so much on the line, and I knew it would be close,” said Anderson, who is seventh in points. “It’s a total team effort and that’s what it takes to win a national event in Pro Stock right now. You’ve got to have perfection every time out there.
“We made a lot of changes this week and we hit on it. It showed it on Saturday and I knew coming into today we had a chance. Now it’s a matter of if I can drive the car well enough. I can’t tell you who’s going to win this thing because everybody right now can beat everybody else.”
Erica Enders held on to her lead in the category, but saw the margin over second-ranked Matt Hartford drop to only 28 points. Coughlin is third (-65 points) and Anderson is seventh (-99 points).
In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Jerry “Alligator Farmer” Savoie (6.881 seconds at 195.90 mph) took a big step towards potentially earning his second PSM championship in the last three seasons, defeating three-time champion Eddie Krawiec (6.901 seconds at 195.62 mph).
It was Savoie’s third win of the season and 12th of his career. It’s also his second win in the first four playoff races and fifth straight appearance in the final round at the Motorplex. He’s now third in the PSM standings, 94 points behind five-time champion Andrew Hines.
“It was a great day and we knew we had a good bike coming in,” Savoie said. “We said if we held our composure we could win this thing. For the most part, tracks favor certain riders and we’ve been blessed here. It’s a great place and today was great.
“Bottom line, I want a championship just as bad as anybody else, so whoever is in my way I’m going to do everything I can to try and beat them. I felt good and we’ve got a great team. To me, this win gives you more hope and means a lot. This gives you that window of opportunity where you could win a championship again.”
NOTES: Only two races remain this season: Las Vegas in two weeks (Oct. 31 – Nov. 3) and Pomona, California four weeks from now (Nov. 14 – 17).
TOP FUEL: 1. Billy Torrence; 2. Jordan Vandergriff; 3. Brittany Force; 4. Austin Prock; 5. Leah Pritchett; 6. Antron Brown; 7. Shawn Reed; 8. Lee Callaway; 9. Steve Torrence; 10. Terry McMillen; 11. Doug Kalitta; 12. Kebin Kinsley; 13. Mike Salinas; 14. Cameron Ferre; 15. Clay Millican; 16. Richie Crampton.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. John Force; 4. Robert Hight; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. J.R. Todd; 7. Jack Beckman; 8. Shawn Langdon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Ron Capps; 11. Paul Lee; 12. Blake Alexander; 13. Cruz Pedregon; 14. Jim Campbell; 15. Jeff Arend; 16. Jonnie Lindberg.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson; 2. Jeg Coughlin; 3. Deric Kramer; 4. Matt Hartford; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Chris McGaha; 7. Aaron Stanfield; 8. Bo Butner; 9. Jason Line; 10. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 11. Val Smeland; 12. Kenny Delco; 13. Shane Tucker; 14. Fernando Cuadra; 15. Alex Laughlin; 16. Richie Stevens.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie; 2. Eddie Krawiec; 3. Angelle Sampey; 4. Andrew Hines; 5. Steve Johnson; 6. Karen Stoffer; 7. Scotty Pollacheck; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Ryan Oehler; 11. Angie Smith; 12. Hector Arana Jr; 13. Kelly Clontz; 14. Michael Ray; 15. Jianna Salinas.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,437; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,367; 3. John Force, 2,363; 4. Matt Hagan, 2,325; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,315; 6. Ron Capps, 2,302; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,274; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,243; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,239; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,188.
PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 2,395; 2. Matt Hartford, 2,367; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 2,330; 4. Jason Line, 2,327; 5. Deric Kramer, 2,323; 6. Bo Butner, 2,321; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,296; 8. Alex Laughlin, 2,239; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,217; 10. Val Smeland, 2,124.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 2,464; 2. Karen Stoffer, 2,383; 3. Jerry Savoie, 2,370; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,365; 5. Matt Smith, 2,297; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,274; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,248; 8. Angie Smith, 2,181; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,159; 10. Hector Arana, 2,128.