INDIANAPOLIS — He’s the hometown hope, the Butler University alum and die-hard Indiana Pacers fan who has put his modest, one-car program on the pole for the Indianapolis 500 ahead of powerhouse programs from Penske Racing and Andretti Autosport.
There’s more, though, and it runs as deep as blood.
The unflappable Ed Carpenter is also the stepson of series founder Tony George. That means his family tree has roots tracing all the way back to Tony Hulman, who bought Indianapolis Motor Speedway after World War II, and includes Mari Hulman George, who still serves as speedway chairman and on Sunday will proclaim once more, “Gentleman, start your engines!”
So to say that much of Carpenter’s life has been lived in Gasoline Alley, where he spent his formative years, is fitting.
It also means that the Carpenter is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“I started racing quarter midgets when I was 8 years old, and at that point, I was already part of the Hulman family. That’s the way it’s always been for me,” said the 32-year-old Carpenter, whose quiet voice and disarming smile belie a fierce competitive streak.
“I don’t feel the pressure,” he insisted moments later, as if driving home the point. “As far as the local fan base and support, it’s fun. I don’t think that translates into pressure.”
Perhaps it’s not that Carpenter feels pressure, but that he no longer recognizes it.
He’ll be making his 10th start in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” but his first from the pole. And while peering eyes have been trained on him most of his life, Carpenter insists that the pressure he endures on a daily basis has never managed to overwhelm him.
“I don’t like to say it means more to me because I’m from here,” Carpenter said, “but it does mean a lot because of how much I love this place.”
Carpenter admits that he’ll be anxious when Sunday dawns. He’s not immune to the pageantry of the Indianapolis 500, the fly over and Jim Nabors and everything else that makes it such an iconic event.
This is in his blood, after all. It’s part of his very fabric. Nor does he know what his emotions will be like when the green flag drops, and he leads the field of 33 cars into the first corner with nothing in front of him but pavement.
But it’s a moment that he intends to relish.
“I mean, if someone out there tells you they don’t get butterflies or don’t get antsy, they’re flat-out liars,” Carpenter said with a smile. “There’s no way people don’t walk out from driver intros and see the crowd and don’t feel that. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.”