View the video interview here.
Karam said “The Claw” was his favorite wrestling move when he was on the mats at Nazareth High School.
“It was a move where right out of the gate I would tap the guy’s head and he would raise his arms and I would throw this giant underhook,” Karam said. “I’d get him under his arm and throw him over.”
It probably wouldn’t work on Juan Pablo Montoya, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti and the rest of the guys Karam competes against on the track, but “The Claw” and other things Karam learned as a wrestler have definitely helped to shape his character and style as he makes his way through his rookie season in open-wheel racing’s premier series.
Karam, who now spends most of his time in Indianapolis, returned to the Lehigh Valley to visit his high school as part of an afternoon-long promotional tour for the Aug. 23 ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.
The tour started for Karam at Lehigh Valley Health Network Fitness, located in the same building as the PPL Center.
Karam got to check out the state-of-the-art facilities there in downtown Allentown, but felt most at home when he was back at Nazareth where he visited his old home room, showed the media the cafeteria and even checked out his old locker.
It was only a little more than two years ago that the 20-year-old Karam graduated, but his emergence in IndyCar, including a third-place finish at Iowa on July 18, has made those carefree days as a Blue Eagle seem like ancient history.
Karam was reunited with his former wrestling coach and Dave Crowell said he’s not surprised that Karam has already become a factor on the circuit.
“With Sage it always has been more like family than a coach-athlete relationship,” Crowell said. “I coached both Jody [his father] and Jeff [his uncle] at Easton. When things are going good or going bad, you have more feelings about it.”
“I remember the first time I saw him racing in person at Pocono in the IndyLights race two years ago. When he first came by, I got choked up and misty-eyed. I couldn’t believe that kid was screaming down that front straightway at about 180 miles per hour. When you see him in that car with that power and responsibility, it was an emotional moment.”
Crowell said that Karam had the potential to be a Division I college wrestler if racing hadn’t become his passion.
“It wasn’t like he was a great star coming up through it, but he figured things out,” Crowell said. “He had a very relaxed way of competing, which I would think serves him well in racing. You can’t be tight in that sport; you have to go for things. In his wrestling career when he went for things, he was successful. When he pressed, he wasn’t as successful.”
Karam is definitely going for it in IndyCar with an aggressive style that sometimes draws the ire of the other drivers.
After the Iowa race, Ed Carpenter lashed out at him, saying, among other things, that Karam was clueless and didn’t respect anyone. Rahal also chimed in.
Then this past weekend at Mid-Ohio, Karam was again a major part of the post-race discussion when his spin on the 66th lap benefited his Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon. Veteran IndyCar writer Robin Miller dubbed the incident “Sage Gate.”
While he was on his promotional tour on Wednesday, IndyCar reps announced that after an investigation Karam wouldn’t suffer any penalties. No penalties were assessed in the Iowa race either.
Karam defended himself after both races and has learned that having a thick skin and being tone deaf can have its benefits in a sport where only one guy and his team are going to be happy after most races.
“My team has been working with me off the track to stay off Twitter and avoid reading the things that you don’t want to read,” he said. “They write some hurtful things sometimes, but it’s just part of it. Obviously, I’ve built a few rivalries just by being a rookie. People don’t think rookies show enough respect.
“But I do respect everyone whether they’re 20 years old, 30, or 40. I give them all respect whether they’ve won three Indy 500s or no Indy 500s.”
Karam won’t shy away from a battle, something he learned in wrestling.
“You learn in wrestling that you can never put your head down on the mat,” he said. “You’re always into the match until the buzzer ends the third period. Also, what you learn in either wrestling or racing is that it’s not just about you, it’s about your team. If you let yourself down, you’re also letting your team down.”
Karam hopes to not let his many family and friends down when he starts his first IndyCar race at Pocono in a couple of weeks.
“Coming back home is going to be good,” he said. “Besides Indianapolis, this is the one I want to win the most and the one where I most want to do well. It’s going to be fun racing in your hometown. This figures one to be a bit more magical than it was racing in the IndyLights. I can’t wait.”
Brandon Igdalsky, the Pocono Raceway president and CEO, was also on the tour and said he’s happy to have Karam back at the track.
“It’s exciting to have another local guy involved,” Igdalsky said. “When my grandfather opened the place [in the early 1970s], having Mario Andretti race at the track was very important. Same thing when Michael came along. And when we brought IndyCar back to Pocono in 2013, it was a big deal having Marco carry the Andretti name.
“Now with Sage running so well this year and causing a little controversy along the way, it’s exciting for Pocono. Hopefully, we can get a local kid in Victory Lane.”
Author: The Morning Call (