Carpenter won Indy Pro Series race in '03

Updated: May 10, 2004, 2:11 PM ET

Ed Carpenter
INDIANAPOLIS -- Ed Carpenter has a unique perspective as he prepares for his first Indianapolis 500. The rookie known more for his family connections already has won an open-wheel race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Carpenter accomplished the feat last year by winning the Freedom 100, the first Infiniti Pro Series race held at the speedway. But that did not leave Carpenter satisfied.

"I didn't consider that achieving my goal of racing at the speedway, though," Carpenter said. "That comes in the Indianapolis 500. It's what I've been racing for my whole career."

Carpenter is part of an all-American racing team at Red Bull Cheever Racing. Team owner Eddie Cheever is an American who spent much of his formative years in Rome. The team drivers are Alex Barron of Menifee, California and and Carpenter, who is from Indianapolis.

Cheever had a long career in Formula One as a driver before he arrived at the famed track and won the 1990 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Award driving for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. He also has been part of the Indy Racing League, first as a driver and later as a team owner, where he has displayed an eye for talent.

Cheever hired Tomas Scheckter two years ago and, despite a stormy relationship, won the IRL's first-ever race at Michigan International Speedway in 2002. Buddy Rice drove for Cheever last year and the team owner is hoping for big things from another young driver in 2004.

"Ed is good, he is quick," Cheever said. "His times here in testing were every bit as quick as Alex's. He is in great shape. Everything is pointing to this being a good decision. He has the ability and he has the knowledge."

Carpenter is an accomplished driver from the United States Auto Club (USAC) divisions -- the grass-roots of American racing. It is the same path Indy 500 legends such as A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser and Al Unser and Mario Andretti took on their way to winning the biggest race in the world.

Carpenter also has some notable family ties. His mother, Laura, is married to Tony George, the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. George is the grandson of Tony Hulman, the man who saved the Speedway from extinction when he purchased it from Eddie Rickenbacker in 1945.

Ed Carpenter
AP PhotoCarpenter's best finish this year was 12th at Homestead.

"I don't think there are a whole lot of people in the business who don't know who I am," Carpenter said. "I don't think it helps or hinders. I'm just a race car driver who happens to be related to a great racing family."

Carpenter wants to be judged by his racing ability and talent and not by his family's influence. He believes the best way to do that is on the race track rather than with comments.

"I'm always going to have critics. There's always going to be people saying I'm where I'm at because of my family," Carpenter said. "It's something I've dealt with my whole career. It doesn't bother me."

The 23-year-old Carpenter graduated from Butler University with a degree in marketing last May and is the latest driver to make it to the IRL from the USAC ranks. While the current trend has been for some of the top USAC drivers to head south to NASCAR, Carpenter is hoping he can help lure a few USAC types back into IndyCar racing.

"One of the things the IRL was created for was to give American open-wheel USAC drivers a chance," Carpenter said.

Carpenter's next step is the race he's dreamed of competing in since he was eight years old -- the Indianapolis 500.

"The 500 makes veterans nervous," Carpenter said. "It's a matter of bottling up those nerves and using it for you, not against you. It's a long month. You have to settle on a good pace and not come on too strong, early in the month."

The ease of Carpenter's victory in the Pro Series gave the conspiracy theorists plenty to ponder. Carpenter expected some of the comments and never let it bother him.

"The only thing they didn't check was my underwear," Carpenter said.

Carpenter spent last season as a full-time racer in the Menard's Infiniti Pro Series and ran in selected USAC races. He got a chance to drive in the three IndyCar series races last year for PDM and that earned him a test with Red Bull Cheever Indy Racing in December.

Carpenter aced his test and is a regular in the IRL. While he is cool behind the wheel of his IndyCar, the same can't be said for his mother, who does her best to hide her nervousness.

"Laura is just as nervous as she was the first time she saw Ed drive his quarter-midget," Tony George said.