Indy Lights: Sage Karam poised to become next American superstar, but nearly had to give it away

IMS

Sage Karam is the top American driver in the Indy Lights Series. But a series of events nearly made him give up racing altogether.

American Sage Karam, coming off his first-career Indy Lights victory, may be on the verge of breaking through the glass ceiling, joining the ranks of the IZOD IndyCar Series in a short matter of time.

But at eight years old, he was nearly forced to walk away from it all -- his dream and the sport he loves.

The Karams -- from Indy car hotbed Nazareth, Penn. -- are not especially wealthy, which put young Sage in the precarious position of needing to win races or go home.

Karam explained during Wednesday's IndyCar conference call that he was struggling to break into the top-10 at the karting level as his confidence began to waver. His father, Jody, ultimately made the call that they were going to give it one more try, but told his son that it was time to start winning or they wouldn't be able to keep racing at that level.

He went into the very next weekend, at the Stars of Karting event in Charlotte, and won on both Saturday and Sunday. He hasn't looked back since.

"It was at that moment that I realized there was a reason that I won out of nowhere," Karam said. "It goes back to confidence -- I knew I could win. That's when we started winning championships and knew that this is what I could do."

The urgency from his early career has extended to his tenure in the Mazda Road to Indy, as Karam has won at least one race at every level as he has progresses ever closer to the IndyCar Series.

"I think the Mazda Road to Indy prepares young drivers in a very good way," Karam said. "I've learned everything just in those cars starting with USF 2000 ... That was a great car to learn in. Then we moved up to Mazda.

"We didn't win the championship but won some races, and had some bad luck with mechanical failures. Each of these cars teaches a driver the basics to an open-wheel car."

Karam says his two primary goals this season are to win as many races as possible and defeat his championship rival, Carlos Munoz. But in a somewhat ironic turn of events, Munoz's success last month in the Indianapolis may have equally benefited Karam's career.

Many expected Munoz to either win the Indianapolis 500 or crash trying -- respecting his talent but not his patience. That sums of the general perception of the Indy Lights Series altogether. If Karam can take the fight to Munoz in the second half of the season, and perhaps defeat the Colombian, it would speak volumes about his own skillset.

"What he did at Indianapolis was pretty spectacular," Karam said. "I think that people started respecting the Mazda Road to Indy a little bit more, seeing that he was kind of groomed in Indy Lights to do that. I was rooting for him when he was there. The better he does, the better it makes our series look and everything."

While Munoz's success will not affect his own timetable, Karam believes it does present an opportunity. Should sponsorship be found, he would love to compete in the IndyCar Series. And if past experience has shown us anything, Karam could be the next American open-wheel superstar.

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