INDIANAPOLIS – Sage Karam needs a date — maybe even dates — for a busy social calendar stuffed with appearances at parades, autograph signings and one pretty big race.
He's got his eye on a perfect love story, one that includes Taylor Swift.
Karam wants Swift to headline next year at the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, so he can then strut out of victory lane with the singer one on arm and the other holding the winner's wreath.
"She'll be my date," a smiling Karam said.
A year ago, Karam was a hit at Indy with a makeshift prom held in the paddock for the high school graduate. He is single now — don't worry, Taylor, they are never, ever, ever getting back together — forcing the 20-year-old Nazareth, Pennsylvania, native to scramble for dates. Someone has to give him a good luck smooch before he slides into the cockpit.
Yes, ladies. He does have a car.
A pink one.
Karam was the victim of a prank pulled by his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates when his Camaro underwent a girlish makeover, turning the car pink and stamped with "Karamo" on the windshield.
Even better, a decal was added that says, "Honk if you think I'm sexy."
"There's been quite a few honks," Karam said.
Karam has never had trouble tooting his own horn — he calls himself SK Money — and has emerged with one of the livelier personalities in IndyCar. But behind the proms, the nicknames, the wisecracks, he is one of the brighter prospects in open wheel racing who has fit right in with a team that also boasts Indy 500 champions Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon. Retired Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti serves a pit stall mentor.
Karam finished a promising ninth at Indy last season in his series debut.
"He's one of the big, upcoming American stars," Kanaan said. "He's in the right place and the right team with good teammates who aren't just giving him a hard time outside the race track."
Karam makes his fourth start of the season at Sunday's Indianapolis 500, looking to regain the touch that saw him blister the field last year after he started 31st. He turned the fastest practice lap Monday (227.831 mph), perhaps a sign he can shake off a slow start that saw him finish 18th twice and 19th once this season. Karam was seventh in Friday's final practice.
"My goal this year is to contribute to the team in a positive way," Karam said. "But sometimes it's so hard with these guys because they're such veterans. I just want to push them. I think I've been doing well so far on the speed charts and in the engineering office with pushing these guys."
He still laments that he lost out on Indy 500 rookie of the year honors a year ago to Kurt Busch. The NASCAR champion attempted The Double — racing 1,110 miles at Indy and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day — and finished a robust sixth. It was enough for the veteran to earn the award ahead of Karam.
Asked if it still stings, Karam pauses, takes a deep breath and says, "Yeah. That one was tough to take. But Kurt finished ahead of me."
He quickly shifts into class-clown mode discussing his 21st-place qualifying run for Sunday.
"Well, I'm starting eight positions farther up this year, so if I gain eight more from last year, I can win the thing," he said, smiling.
Don't count him out.
Karam, a high school wrestler, has flashed plenty of talent on the way up the developmental ladder. He won the USF200 championship in 2010 and the Indy Lights title in 2013. He has twice raced in the prestigious Rolex 24 race.
All that he's really needed is full-season sponsorship. Ever the pitchman, Karam gave away pillows from his main sponsor, Comfort Rev, and signed the packages at Indy 500 media day.
"Here, want a pillow? I need a Sharpie, I'll sign it for you," he said to anyone who stopped by his table.
. Ganassi said Karam has to drive that pink car until Sunday. After that, who knows? What had Karam seeing red over his pink car had suddenly turned into a marketable opportunity for him.
"Sponsors want to buy the car, leave it pink, get all the drivers to sign it," he said. "I think IMS want it to be in the parade. This may have backfired on my teammates. This is getting a lot of publicity, it's getting me a lot of publicity."
Winning Indy would earn him so much more.