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John and Tucker Hartung of Lamar Advertising removed an Indianapolis 500 billboard along Lafayette Road, April 7, 2020. The race is delayed to August.

Indianapolis Star

While other IndyCar drivers have been glued to their in-home simulators or struggled becoming eLearning teachers, Charlie Kimball’s reality during the coronavirus pandemic is uniquely his.

It’s falling asleep singing songs from “Moana”, waking up to watch DisneyNature’s “Elephant” on repeat and trying not to feel left out while watching the weekly iRacing series events each Saturday — all while taking care of a new baby son born 12 hours before he hopped on a plane for St. Petersburg in March.

In a normal race season, Gordon Kimball’s entrance into the world March 11 was already going to present a complicated reality to adjust to for Charlie, his wife, Kathleen, and their 18-month-old daughter Hannah. Though the driver of the No. 4 car for A.J. Foyt Racing still wishes he could be racing in his return to full-season competition, life as a father of two with an unexpected, indefinite paternity leave has certainly had its pluses.

“Having time to be there for Kathleen, as a new mother again, and spending time with my daughter these weeks, her vocab has just exploded, and I think I would have missed some of that had I been on-and-off the road at the racetrack for races and testing these few months,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I would rather be at the racetrack 100%, in the car and going to events, but with that not an option, being able to be part of my daughter’s growth and development and the first four, five or six weeks of my son’s life is pretty special.”

The initial plan for the Kimballs to help ease themselves into being a family of four involved Kimball’s mother, Nancy, staying with the crew for more than a week after she and Charlie’s father, Gordon, traveled to St. Pete to watch their son in his inaugural race with his new team. Kathleen’s mother also lives near Indianapolis and had planned to be available for the young parents.

But as the news broke Thursday, while Charlie was en route to Florida after his family’s exciting Wednesday, that fans wouldn’t be allowed around the track for the weekend’s race, his parents quickly changed their flight to spend a couple of days with their new grandson before heading back to southern California where they own and manage their farm, Kimball Avocados.

The next day, Charlie was left scrambling himself, once news that St. Pete, along with Barber, Long Beach and Circuit of the Americas, had been postponed. But it wasn’t until that following week, while he was sleep-deprived and no longer laser-focused planning for the next time he’d step onto a racetrack again, that Kimball’s new reality set in.

“I wasn’t checking the long-term forecasts to see what the weather was going to be doing in Barber or Richmond for our tests, or the long-term one for Indy. Instead, I was checking in on the testing rates and infection rates and how people were managing their health in the long-term,” he said. “That’s when I realized ‘Okay, we’re on pause. What can I do now to make sure that when we hit ‘play’ again, that I’m ready to go?’ ”

As the rest of the racing community has, he’s stayed persistent with his daily fitness routine organized by PitFit, in between movies, naps and books, and he said he’s kept the lines of communication with his engineering and crew members open on a near-daily basis. In whatever free time he can carve out, Kimball’s been rewatching old races, going through notebooks full of old race reports and trying to reacquaint himself with some of the tracks he was away from during last year’s partial season with Carlin Racing.

Because whenever IndyCar does get started again, he knows it’s going to be at a breakneck pace – and he’s the only full-time series driver and one of the few drivers scheduled to compete in the series at all in 2020 who hasn’t entered any of IndyCar’s iRacing Challenge events.

He’s stayed connected with the IndyCar community in setting up an online Indy 500 trivia night, in conjunction with Hambones Trivia, set for May 2 at 8:30 p.m.

But while several dads in the series had solid excuses why they didn’t jump-in initially, or why they haven’t been able to invest much time practicing during the week, Kimball’s excuse for staying out of the sim-racing fray is plenty understandable.

Though it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been watching – sometimes with four separate screens to listen to as many different driver streams as possible.

“I’ve never been an iRacing guy, never used sims outside the ones at Chevy and (Honda). And I don’t have any equipment – no seat, no pedals, no computer that would run iRacing,” he said. “So the financial and time investment to get set up wasn’t insignificant, and with having my hands full with two kids under 18 months, if I was going to do it, I was going to make sure I was fully committed.

“And I just wasn’t willing to sacrifice all that.”

Because at night, when a bulk of the IndyCar drivers have been diving into sim-racing practices or unaffiliated races on the side, Kimball has started to see his family of four mesh and develop.

“As part of our nighttime routine, we all go up as my daughter and I read books, and when we finish them and turn out the lights, (my wife and I) will say ‘Night night, I love you’, and we’ll give her a kiss,” Kimball said. “And my daughter in the last couple weeks has started to give her brother kisses on the way out the door.

“Seeing that connection between my son and daughter develop in the last couple weeks, incrementally, day-by-day, is something I would have missed.”

Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at nlbrown@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.

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