BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Audio by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman and Mid-Atlantic Correspondent Marshall Gabell for Race Chaser Online — Story by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Chris Trotman/Getty Images photo — When a racer is told they will never be able to race again, you instantly think that’s the end of the story.
Not so for NASCAR Nationwide Series young gun Ryan Reed.
Reed, 20, is currently halfway through his rookie campaign in the Nationwide Series for Roush Fenway Racing, and is coming off of a season-best fourth place finish just three races ago at the historic Daytona International Speedway. However, that is far from where the Bakersfield, California native’s story begins.
Reed grew up in Bakersfield and had a passion for racing from a very young age, beginning his career at age 5 and rising to prominence after winning the US Legend Cars track championship at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (now the Irwindale Speedway) in 2009, when he was just 14 years old. After Reed won Rookie of the Year honors the following year in the Super Late Model division, becoming the youngest-ever recipient of the honor at Irwindale, the stage was set for a rapid ascent to the top levels of motorsports for the California teenager.
And then everything changed.
While he was competing in Super Late Models in 2010 and in the process of relocating to North Carolina to work with then-up-and-coming Kyle Busch Motorsports, Reed was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after noticing lack of energy, weight loss, and thirst that he couldn’t quench. Though the young driver was no stranger to the kind of wear that racing can cause on the body, Ryan had a gut feeling that these symptoms were something more than just competition-based.
After the diagnosis, the words that Reed was dreading came down from doctors. The young upstart was told he would never race again.
“When the doctors told me I wasn’t going to be able to race again, I think I was numb for about a second,” Reed said of the earliest hospital visits. “After that though, it was all about finding information, you know, ‘What can I do to be able to race again? What options do I have?’ That was the mindset that I took into this, that it was beatable and I was going to do it.”
Reed’s mentality paid off. Through advances in insulin-reading technology and a rigorous training schedule and diet, Reed has kept his health in top shape and received clearance from NASCAR to return to the race track. After a short stint in the K&N Pro Series East in 2011 and a near-full campaign in the ARCA Racing Series in 2012 that nearly resulted in a win at Chicagoland, Reed was ready to blaze a trail where no one like him had before: NASCAR’s top three series.
Reed made six Nationwide Series starts in 2013, notching a top ten at Richmond and paving the way for a full-time run in 2014, but the real moment for Reed wasn’t the results as much as it was proving to himself and to all those who doubted that he was as capable as he had ever been before the diabetes diagnosis.
“It was special to me when we made that first start,” Reed recalls. “Just that realization of, ‘We did it; I’m actually at the national level of NASCAR, that was really an unreal feeling. I think now that we’re running the full season it’s now even more about being able to help other kids with diabetes, to be an inspiration to them and to help them see that this diagnosis isn’t life-altering, that you can still achieve whatever dreams you set your mind to.”
Now in the throes of this year’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year Battle, Reed currently sits tenth in the championship standings, chasing a spectacular Chase Elliott for this year’s rookie crown. Combine all of the on-track learning that the young talent has had to do this season with monitoring his blood sugar during events and you have as a result a tough young racer unwilling to let a bump in the road slow him down.
“This year has been an adventure for sure, with learning a lot of new tracks, but I feel like I’m making a lot of progress,” Reed expressed.
“As far as how I manage my diabetes during a race, I’ve actually got an indicator on the dashboard of the car, along with the rest of the gauges and everything that shows me where my blood sugar is at. If it spikes or drops too far, the indicator will start flashing and we’ll handle that accordingly. If my sugar drops, I’ve got a high-sugar drink in the car that I’ll take, and if it spikes I have a guy on my pit crew that’s trained to come over the wall and give me an insulin shot through my driving suit. We’ve gotten everything approved with NASCAR and I never have to worry about what the plan is if there’s ever a problem behind the wheel. For the most part, I just get to drive the car,” Reed laughs.
Fast-forward now to the upcoming weekend. Reed just got his best-career Nationwide Series finish three weeks ago at one of the most historic tracks in NASCAR. Now, the young upstart heads to another track with a lot of history hoping to improve on that fourth-place mark: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Add to all of that that this weekend’s 250-mile affair at the Brickyard is being sponsored by Reed’s primary backer this season, Lilly Diabetes, and the Lilly Diabetes 250 carries special meaning for the young man who just wanted a chance to live his dream, nearly lost it, and ultimately ended up with so much more.
“Anytime you can run a race where your sponsor is supporting it, it’s a big deal. For me, we’ve always been a beacon for kids looking to overcome diabetes. It would truly be a dream come true if we could make that mission even more powerful by winning this weekend at Indianapolis.”
Ryan Reed has been the definition of the words overcoming adversity since he returned to the race car. This weekend, he looks to change the tense of the wording — from ‘overcoming’ to ‘overcame’.
Listen in to the complete interview that our Marshall Gabell and Jacob Seelman conducted with Ryan Reed, talking about his early racing, battle through diabetes and drive to make his mark in NASCAR competition: