Diabetic drivers defied medical advice, flourish in IndyCar, NASCAR

By Alex Butler
Ryan Reed celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Powershares QQQ 300 on February 25 at Daytona for the second time. File Photo by Mike Gentry/UPI
1 of 2 | Ryan Reed celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Powershares QQQ 300 on February 25 at Daytona for the second time. File Photo by Mike Gentry/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Their job consists of sitting in a small space while traveling upward of 200 mph amid temperatures rising to 130 degrees. They must do this for hours, while keeping their mind crisp for hundreds of miles, constantly monitoring gauges and the position of other drivers, who move seamlessly while inches away in machines powerful enough to kill in seconds.

Ryan Reed and Conor Daly compete at racing's highest levels, all the while combating diabetes. Among the cluster of car-related gauges, the drivers monitor their glucose levels to make sure that they maintain their health and don't lose control. Although neither driver has ever had a close call or needed an insulin injection during a race, their pit crews are prepared to provide it should the need arise.


"It's very cool to hear from people all over the country -- all over the world -- who are living with the same disease that I am," Daly said. "That they have found an inspiration or found some sort of help with their lives through my story."


Diabetes kills more Americans each year than AIDS and breast cancer combined, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Conor Daly races through the north short chute during practice for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 16 in Indianapolis. Photo by Bill Coons/UPI

Reed will compete in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Food City 300 on Friday at Bristol Moto Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. He will race alongside Daly with the Roush Fenway Racing team in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Road America Race on Aug. 25 in Plymouth, Wisc. Daly will be the first person with type 1 diabetes to ever race in both NASCAR and IndyCar in the same year.

More than 9 percent of the U.S. population -- or 30.3 million people -- has diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 7 million people in the United States are undiagnosed with the disease. About 84 million adults 18 and older have prediabetes, while 23.1 million adults 65 or older have prediabetes.


About 1.25 million American children and adults have type 1 diabetes.

The drivers partner with Lilly Diabetes, the official diabetes health partner of NASCAR.

'You'll never race again'

Reed was diagnosed with the disease at age 17 by a general physician.

"The doctor told me that I would never race again," he said.

After getting other medical opinions, he still races eight years and hundreds of events later. The 25-year-old from Bakersfield, Calif. has two wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and has placed in the top five twice in 2018.

"At first I didn't think I would be back in a race car, and I didn't know anything about diabetes, so I assumed that information I got was correct," Reed said. "But from there I did a lot of research on athletes with diabetes and found an endocrinologist -- which is a diabetes specialist -- that had worked with a lot of athletes."

Reed still works with Dr. Anne Peters.

"She has been a big realization for me," Reed said. "No. 1: I can do whatever I want in life, despite having diabetes. No. 2: working with your doctor is just so so important to having success with managing your diabetes."


Daly, 26, was diagnosed when he was 14, but was never told he had to stop racing. The Indiana native has reached the podium once during his Verizon IndyCar Series career.


"My parents were certainly worried," he said. "Just because we didn't know. We didn't know what life would be like with diabetes. We didn't know what it was gonna take. We didn't know how I could keep going."

"I just thought about it in my own head that it was never going to stop me."

Daly said he was back in a go-cart just days after getting out of the hospital.

"I just kept on learning from there," he said. "Everyday I learn something new. Everyday I try to continue to live a healthier lifestyle and control my blood sugar consistently and here I am today many, many years later, many Indianapolis 500s later and now getting ready for my first ever NASCAR race. So I'm still sort of accomplishing my goals that I've always wanted to accomplish."

Safety is our No. 1 priority

While the drivers acknowledge that passing out is something that could "technically" happen as a worst-case scenario, they have practiced and prepared to ensure their safety and the safety of other drivers.

"At the end of the day, the No. 1 priority is safety," Reed said. "So if something were to fail or malfunction and we didn't know what our blood sugar was ... and I couldn't for some reason adjust like I needed to, to make the adjustment, whatever the case may be, you just stop racing. You pull in the pit until you can get the issue resolved.


"It's no different than if I was behind the wheel of my street car. If my blood sugar wasn't where it needed to be, safe and where I know I should be, with my blood sugar or my monitoring system, then I don't put myself in that position."

Like many other race car drivers, Reed uses cycling and weightlifting to maintain strength while he isn't in the car. Both drivers have to be cleared by doctors for their respective series. If their in-car glucose monitoring systems show low levels, they can also consume a drink high in sugar and carbohydrates.

"This gives me the opportunity to just share my story," Daly said. "I've been living with diabetes for 12 years now and it's something that a lot of people might not know. I've had obviously a long racing career but never really put it too much in the spotlight about when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 14.

"It's really cool to be able to tell people a little bit about how I've been dealing with it and how I've made it to where I am now and kind of inspire people, if that's possible."

Latest Headlines