Helio’s life takes nice turns in past year
Helio Castroneves is chatting away with crew members outside his
race hauler when fans call out his name.
Never mind that they mispronounce it (it’s El-EE-oh) or that
it’s only two hours before the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The
charismatic Brazilian driver instantly turns around and makes a
beeline for the group, then amiably poses for pictures and signs
autographs for several minutes.
Castroneves, who went on to win Sunday’s race, embraces the
attention that many professional athletes avoid.
“I like to have a good positive energy, take pictures with the
guys, have fun,” he said after his victory.
He’s having much more fun heading into Sunday’s race at Long
Beach than he was this time last year. Saturday will be the
one-year anniversary of his acquittal on federal tax-evasion
charges. He was back behind the wheel of the No. 3 Team Penske car
two days later for the Streets of Long Beach.
Since then, life has taken a few nice turns. He has won his
third Indianapolis 500, become a father with girlfriend Adriana and
regained the easy smile that faded during the trial.
And the daddy of 4-month-old Mikaella doesn’t sweat the small
stuff anymore like slow service or words that rub him the wrong
way, said Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing.
“The biggest change that I notice is the small things that used
to irritate him in life aren’t that important to him any more,”
said Cindric, who has been working with Castroneves since he joined
Team Penske a decade ago. “Between his trial and becoming a
father, he’s realized the things that used to bother him in life
aren’t that important anymore. He’s able to shrug off some of the
distractions. Even the financial perspectives have changed a
“He’s more gracious in some ways just because it’s not that big
of a deal anymore. He appreciates what he has and the opportunity
he has even more than he did before.”
Like fellow IndyCar racer Danica Patrick, Castroneves has
successfully entered the pop-culture realm. He won TV’s “Dancing
with the Stars” in 2007.
Unlike Patrick, he also has 17 IndyCar wins in 133 career
starts. Castroneves treats fans to his “Spiderman” move of
climbing fences after victories, as he did on the backstretch at
Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday.
“What you see is real in terms of his enthusiasm for life,”
Cindric said. “I’m always surprised by his appreciation for the
fan support. Helio’s always been the guy, he wants the camera on
him, wants the attention, but he appreciates those who give it to
him. We joke with him, his middle name is ‘I love myself.’
“He wants that attention but he gives back.”
Castroneves figures most first-time fans – like many who
attended the Birmingham race – don’t realize how close they can get
to drivers and their cars. The signings and photos are a part of
the entertainment package he doesn’t mind providing.
However, he gives athletes the benefit of the doubt when he’s
gotten the brushoff himself.
“I do have my moments of quietness, but people come here to
enjoy and have fun,” Castroneves said. “I understand when I see
an athlete, sometimes I see an athlete and they turn around. And
I’m like, ‘Man, I put my hand right in front of him and he didn’t
“People are focused and they didn’t see. But everything has its
That’s his philosophy when it comes to racing, too. You don’t
win 17 races before your 35th birthday or a third of your first
nine Indy 500 attempts – the fastest driver to get three wins at
the sport’s signature event – or even a televised dancing
competition without a serious competitive side.
“He’s certainly focused,” Cindric said. “The guy you see on
television and dancing around and all that, his demeanor is very
different in a race car. When he puts his visor down, he’s very