Helio Castroneves started his Indy car racing career in CART back in 1998. I was just getting my driver’s license that year, mastering the art of parallel parking between cones while Castroneves was embarking on a 20-year open-wheel journey. If you told me that two decades later I’d be sitting in the media center at Sonoma Raceway writing about the 30-time race winner, I’d have told you to stop breathing in so much exhaust at the track.
But somehow, that is exactly where I find myself. And I sit here nostalgic of my own very young career in writing, reminding myself to write with personality and let that shine through. I did that more often when I started and feel like I’ve strayed from that a bit recently. I feel like I’ve been trying to write in a certain way, rather than letting it come naturally. Why? I don’t quite know. But yesterday, Helio reminded me of something – that staying true to your passion and following your dreams is not just about consistency, but about embracing your own style and never being afraid to grow while maintaining what makes you who you are at your core, in the first place.
Helio has always jumped out of the cockpit after winning a race, like it was his first taste of victory. He has always shook his fist in the air and yelled in excitement when earning a pole position. There is something infectious in that organic happiness – it makes you smile. It makes your heart race. It makes it nearly impossible to NOT share in his joy and root for him. And I for one, am grateful for that.
This can be a serious, focused, and sometimes tragic sport to be a part of, in any capacity. So the happiness that is constant from Castroneves is refreshing and dependable. And it’s genuine. That’s the part that makes it so great. He’s never reeled it in or toned it down in an effort to celebrate ‘more professionally’. Heck, if you aren’t having the time of your life doing this… then why are you here?
When asked how he wanted to be remembered in the IndyCar Series, Castroneves admitted simply:
“That I drove with passion. I want to be remembered as a guy that showed tomorrow is always another day. You can overcome obstacles and keep fighting. I hope to be remembered as a versatile person… someone who can drive, have fun and hey, I can dance too! I’m honored to be in this position and to do something I love.”
Nowhere in that answer did he say he hoped everyone remembered the number of his wins and which tracks he showed the most dominance. It’s not the technical aspects of racing that he wants noted from his career, it’s the passion behind all of his success that is most important for him to portray and leave as his legacy. It’s hard for me to explain exactly how much that hit me. But I tried earlier in this piece… and I will continue to remind myself to write with passion and personality, and not just statistics and quotes. Anyone can do that. I don’t want to be anyone. I want to remain true to my own individualism – in life, and in this sport.
And that drive is what tells me that Castroneves wants this 2017 Championship badly, maybe more than ever, but if the race results pan out in such a way that don’t go in his favor… he’s going to be alright. There’s a good chance that this is the last weekend we will see Castroneves compete in an Indy car as a full-time driver. That’s a bummer to realize but it also means we can look back at the past 20 years of incredible showmanship on and off track and pull inspiration from them to give us each motivation to go after what we want in our own lives.
Castroneves won at Sonoma Raceway back in 2008 when he started from pole. The future is not yet written and he’s still in the middle of this battle with his teammates and fellow tenured-driver Scott Dixon. Does Helio feel like he deserves this Championship more than anyone else? Nope. That’s not his style. But he did state quite simply, “I feel ready to win the championship.”
Maybe that mentality and the confident yet calm demeanor he’s shown in preparation for the weekend is what will put him in victory lane this Sunday, with that elusive Astor Cup by his side, once and for all.