Sometimes, a driver is just born to race.
Sage Karam couldn’t help it. It was all around him. Born in Nazareth, Pa., the 15 year old was little more than a stone’s throw from Nazareth Speedway. What’s more, he grew up neighbors with one of racing’s royal families.
“Living right next door were Mario and Michael Andretti,” explained Karam. “The atmosphere was just around racing. I became really good friends with Marco [Andretti], and my dad became best friends with Michael Andretti and his physical trainer.”
It was a natural fit.
Karam was given a go-kart on his fourth birthday and took off from there. He dominated the karting ranks like none before, capturing 35 championships, a record, and once taking nine-consecutive national victories, another record.
All the while, he raced under the tutelage of the Andrettis.
“They were there pretty much 100 percent ever since I was in go-karts, being a sponsor or giving me advice,” he elaborated. “It was great because I got to see how they acted, and they were so professional. They showed me what I had to do if I wanted to be an IndyCar driver.”
His karting conquest complete, it was time to move into cars. In 2008, at the age of 13, Karam became the youngest winner of a Skip Barber National Series race, beating Alexander Rossi’s old mark of 14.
In two short years, Karam earned six victories in the Skip Barber Series, including the Shootout Championship at Road Atlanta in 2008, and was granted the Skip Barber Rising Star Award in 2009.
From there, however, it seemed his career might stall. He went through the winter and into the spring with no plans for the 2010 season.
Then, with nearly no time to spare: a lifeline. Andretti Autosport was looking to expand its program into the reincarnated U.S. F2000 championship, but needed a couple of young guns as drivers. They turned to their old family friend and had a little fun with him in the process.
“One day, I was in school and I got called to the principal’s office,” he remembered. “I was like ‘All right, what’s going on?’ The principal said I had to call my dad, but he was acting like I was in big trouble. And when you call your dad in the principal’s office, that’s not good!” But, it was to announce that he had signed with the Andretti squad, spreading the word through his Nazareth High School; Karam was beside himself. “I was freaking out, I went back to class as happy as can be.”
The euphoria was interrupted by the reality of the season opener in St. Pete only two weeks away. With time to only run one test session at Putnam Park near Indianapolis, the group entered the weekend unsure of what to expect.
“I just wanted to run in the top three or top five,” said Karam. “I don’t think anybody expected to go straight out there and start winning races. We thought we would start out a little slow and start building, building, building.”
That changed once the weekend started. “It was like I had been driving the car for two or three years,” he happily proclaimed. “I was just so comfortable with the car. It was awesome.”
Karam never took his foot off the gas, leading every practice, capturing the pole and sweeping both races that weekend. The world took notice and Karam was thrilled.
“I’m not going to lie, when I went in there I was scared to death,” laughed the teenager. “I had half a day of testing at Putnam and then I’m going off to a narrow, narrow track in a car I’ve barely driven. It was scary as anything! To set the tone right away by sweeping the weekend in front of all my Andretti Autosport teammates, including the IndyCar and Indy Lights guys, it was a great moment in the season.”