AP Sports Writer
Sage Karam had a seven-figure prize and was still looking for three more digits, a status symbol worthy of his SK$ moniker.
So he bought a phone.
Not just any cell, but one the Pennsylvania native purchased from a Southern California store. That way, when "Karam 424" flashed on the receiving end, it was a sign straight out of Beverly Hills that open-wheel's top American prospect wants to talk.
Business is about to pick up for the 18-year-old Karam, who won the IndyCar Series' developmental league championship and clinched P1 as Nazareth Area High School's Most Likely to Drive in the Indianapolis 500, while still a senior in high school. The championship comes with a scholarship of up to $1 million, so you can see why SK$ works so well.
With his styled blond locks and an Instagram feed full of shirtless photos, Karam seems straight out of central casting from the 90210. But one of IndyCar's next big stars is most at home in Nazareth, Pa., long known as the town the Andretti family put on the racing map.
"Racing in Nazareth is pretty big, just because of the Andretti name," Karam said, "but I'm trying to build my own legacy."
He is already on his way. From first place to 12th grade, Karam returned to his hometown this week with a "How I Spent My Summer" story that no other student could match.
"I always said, my senior year of high school, I'll make it to the Indy 500," he said. "The other kids kind of laughed about it. Now that it's almost a reality, it's no longer a joke. All those kids who laughed are like, 'Holy crap, this kid is serious.'"
Karam appears on pace to make his Indy 500 debut after proving just how serious and successful he is behind the wheel.
Driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Karam won the Indy Lights championship last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, the ultimate reward for a season built on three wins, nine podiums, two poles and 163 laps led. Karam, who turns 19 on March 5, boasts the credentials to jump from Indy Lights to IndyCar and is fielding offers for a regular ride next season.
He'll review those proposals just as soon as he's finished turning in an environmental science assignment.
While IndyCar champion Scott Dixon bounced around in a zorb on early-morning TV, and three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves was mixing tunes as a guest DJ on "Ellen," young champion Karam spent his week dealing with the harsh reality of homework, wrestling practice, and, yes, finding a new job.
He ditched a final year of class for online courses, and he may have to give up his second passion, wrestling. Karam is practicing with the Golden Eagles but was noncommittal about moving forward with the season.
"I really want to, but winning the championship and almost a guaranteed ride in IndyCar kind of threw a curveball in the mix," he said. "If I get hurt, that would suck."
He also has to cut some weight if he wants to wrestle at 145 pounds -- life on the road beefed him up to 156.
"I got fat!" he said.
Karam laughs and pokes fun at just about every subject during his interviews, as carefree with the media as he is on the road.
Like the weekend he lost his hard card and had to dress in his firesuit to access the track ... or the time he grabbed the mic after a runner-up finish at Pocono and told the crowd no one would disrespect him on his home turf ... or how his car caught on fire after winning at Houston because he botched the celebratory donut ... or the social media contest he ran to find a girl to model his T-shirts. Karam even tweeted, #nodudes just to make the contest rules clear.
He nearly got a group of friends kicked out of a haunted house last week for attempting a double-leg sweep on one of the employees. He had an IndyCar rep pack up the 78-by-34 1/2-inch banner of himself from California so he could hang inside his front door.
Around the track, Karam is known as SK$ (SK Money), a nickname that developed from goofing around with his rap music-loving wrestling teammates and has morphed into a full-blown part of his racing personna. He had dollar signs painted all over his helmet, truly keeping his money on his mind as he raced.