Racing Against The Odds: Managing T1D Behind as A Sprint Car Driver
In the heart-pounding world of sprint car racing, where seconds are the difference between victory and defeat, athletes propel themselves with unmatched speed and determination.
Amid the thunderous applause and the roar of the crowd, a subset of these extraordinary sprint racers stands out not only for their lightning-fast strides but also for their tenacity in confronting an additional challenge – Type 1 Diabetes (T1D).
These individuals embody the true essence of courage, resilience, and passion as they speed toward the finish line…all while meticulously managing their blood sugar levels.
We interviewed one of these exceptional individuals, Brent Owens, who has navigated the fiercely competitive domain of high-speed races for 25 years while wrestling with the intricacies of T1D.
Brent Owens: T1D Sprint Car Driver
Q: What are some of your achievements and passion for the sport? Tell us about your background and what got you into sprint car racing in the first place!
A: Hello, everyone! My name is Brent Owens. I’m a Type 1 Sprint Car Driver. I am a 3rd generation race car driver who lives and breathes the sport – I have been auto racing since I was 5 years old. Over the last 25 years, we have won multiple championships and races and set many track records.
For those of you who are not familiar with what a Sprint Car is, it is a purpose-built, tube chassis race car, with over 900 horsepower. These cars run on Dirt and Pavement Ovals all over the country.
Q: When were you diagnosed with T1D? How did it affect your life? How did it affect racing?
A: I was diagnosed at 13 years old. I thought my racing career was over. Little did I know that with products like Transcend, I could still live a fairly normal life and continue doing what I love. Being Diagnosed with T1D changed my racing career drastically. There was a whole new learning curve to conquer, managing blood sugars while going over 125 MPH, making sure sugars don’t drop, and making sure sugars never get too high. Thankfully, with products like Dexcom and Transcend, racing has still been made possible!
Q: Have there been times when you have wanted to give up doing what you love because of the challenges posed by T1D?
A: There have been many times over the years where frustration has gotten the best of me when it comes to Diabetes and Racing. But with the help of an amazing team and support system, we have always been able to overcome the hurdles of racing with T1D and continue with the sport we all love so much.
Q: What are your sources of inspiration that motivated you to continue pursuing sprint car racing despite the challenges posed by T1D?
A: T1D is just a hurdle. Seeing multiple professional race car drivers at the highest levels of motorsports do it, makes me know that I can do it as well. Connor Daly, Charlie Kimball, Ryan Reed, all T1Ds who are racing and making it happen, keep me going when times get tough.
Managing T1D Behind The Wheel
Q: Tell us a little bit about what it’s like managing T1D while racing. What are your pre-race preparations like? What happens if you go low while you’re driving?! When you finish the race and step off the track, what do you immediately do?
A: Managing T1D while racing is sometimes a lot to manage. If my sugar gets too high, cramping sets in. If it gets too low, well…obviously, that is an issue!
Before race day, I always make sure we have plenty of Insulin, food, drinks, and Transcend glucose gels to keep my blood sugars at an optimal level. I am on a Dexcom glucose monitor, which projects onto my wrist while in the race car, so I can see what my blood sugars are. Taking your hands off the wheel at over 125 mph isn’t always the easiest, so the crew also has my blood sugars on a phone and someone (usually my girlfriend) is always watching to ensure I don’t drop low. In the case of a low, she has access to the race officials and can signal them to tell me to pull off the race track should it be necessary.
Post-race, I will take a look at where my blood sugar is at and manage it from that point. Sometimes I need a Transcend gel, sometimes I need insulin!
Q: In a sport this demanding, you have to stay focused. What’s your approach to doing so and being mentally resilient amidst the obstacles this illness throws your way?
A: I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of the team. My girlfriend is constantly on top of watching my numbers, making sure I am hydrated, and keeping some food in me to, in hopes, keep my blood sugar up.
Sometimes it is mentally draining, but I always try to remember that I am still getting to do what I love, maybe not under ideal circumstances, but I have still been able to make it work!
Q: Tell us how T1D has impacted the physical and mental aspects of sprint car racing for you.
A: Physically, I would say it has helped me! I am forced to eat better and exercise to stay healthy and keep the T1D in check. This being said it makes the physically demanding aspect of racing a little easier. Mentally, it can be a lot sometimes. So many moving parts already go into racing, adding T1D on top of it sometimes is draining, but again, there are worse diseases out there. Ones that would make it impossible to continue racing. So I try to remember that it could be worse.
Q: Craziest non-T1D related thing that has ever happened to you behind the wheel?
A: Non T1D…oh man! Okay, so these race cars are what they call “Open Wheel Race cars” Meaning they have no fenders covering the wheels. That being said, there is minimal room for error. If you touch another car while racing, odds are you are “going for a ride,” a.k.a flipping the car multiple times! Unfortunately, we have experienced this a time or two. It’s never fun.
Q: Okay, now tell us the craziest T1D story you have!
A: One night at Ventura Raceway, before I was on a CGM, we rolled out for a heat race. I felt fine while getting into the car but once I hit the track I suddenly felt a rush come over me that felt like what I normally feel when my sugars drop pretty dang low.
In my head, I kept saying I wonder if my blood sugar is low, it can’t be low! Well, we went on to win that heat race. When I pulled in, sure enough, my blood sugar was in the high 50s by that point. I have NO clue how I managed to race…adrenaline, I guess? Thank God for CGMs now. That could have ended badly.
Q: And finally…who is your biggest supporter(s) when it comes to helping you manage your T1D during races?
A: My girlfriend 100%, is the biggest supporter. My father is a close second. Both are constantly checking to ensure my blood sugars are at optimal performance levels! I couldn’t do what I do without having them back me up.
Overcoming Obstacles with T1D
In a world that often measures success in terms of physical feats and trophies, the journey of sprint racers with Type 1 Diabetes stands as a testament to the indomitable power of the human spirit.
These athletes show us that adversity, far from being a barrier, can be a stepping stone to greatness. Through their unwavering determination, discipline, and unyielding passion, they rewrite the narrative of what's possible, challenging conventional limits.
T1D’s: We hope Brent’s story inspires you to pursue your dreams despite the obstacles this illness tosses in your path, to tap into the incredible strength within, and to cross the finish line—no matter how many extra hurdles stand in the way!
Disclaimer: THIS IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN AS A MEDICAL ADVICE. For those with existing medical conditions, those who are taking medications, or are uncertain about any information we share, proper consultation with your trusted physician is strongly recommended.