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May 30, 2002

Outtakes: Helio Castroneves

UNCUT OUTTAKES: A condensed version of Dan Patrick's interview with 2001 Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves appears in the May 27 edition of ESPN The Magazine.

Helio Castroneves
Back-to-back Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves has won Indy's Borg Warner trophy again.
DP: When you're driving on the street, do you ever get lost?
HC: I'm terrible! I'm always asking information and directions. I'm totally a nerd, because I follow directions so literally. When someone says turn right, I turn on the first right even if it is a driveway.
DP: You turn left for a living. I can see why turning right would be confusing for you.
HC: Hey, at least I get there. Once in a while I'm late, but I get there.

DP: Would you like to take a crack at NASCAR someday?
HC: Hey, why not? I'm driving IROC now.
DP: So that's pretty close to NASCAR?
HC: It's very close. In fact, my first race was in Daytona. That was my first time driving with a roof on top of me. And man, I tell you, that was the most exciting thing.
DP: Is it strange to have a roof over your head?
HC: It's very strange. Also, I'm used to driving in the center of the car, open, where I can see everything, you know? And all of a sudden, you go in a car where you're off-center and you're not wide open ... like, you just have this tunnel. It's pretty funny. But I just need to get used to it more and adapt well.

DP: Can you actually drive to relax? Since you drive for a living, do you consider driving relaxing?
HC: In a race car?
DP: No, driving in your regular car.
HC: Oh, yes. And you know what? I like just driving on the road or on the highway. Just driving and thinking. I do like to drive and think about things. Relax. Not even with a sound, you know? Just the car and I, and it's pretty nice. I always enjoy a drive, even when I was, like, 16 or 17 years old ... and for me, it's something very special when I'm behind the wheel.

DP: Name the one driver who you would feel safe with driving your normal family car. Who would that be?
HC: Let me see, let me see. To be honest, I'm having a hard time...
DP: So there's nobody you trust?
HC: Not much, not much. I basically like to take the wheel and go for it.

DP: How special was winning the Indy 500? And have you looked at the names of all those drivers on that trophy?
HC: Not all of them, actually ... I'll never forget that moment: crossing the checkered flag. I remember thinking, "Wow, I imagined winning this race." As soon as I crossed the checkered flag it seemed like a movie passing by in my head ... one of my dreams was all of a sudden coming true. It was a special and fantastic moment.
DP: How did you first hear about the Indy 500, growing up in Brazil?
HC: In 1989, a Brazilian, Emerson Fittipaldi, won the race. It was huge. Also I remember seeing Roger Penske on TV. I was racing go-karts, and I said in my mind, "Wow, I'm going to strive for that white-haired guy."
DP: And you sure did.
HC: It's amazing. I still have goals, but everything that I dreamed for has so far come alive.

DP: When someone like Dale Earnhardt dies, does it register with you that you risk your life at every turn?
HC: It's sad. It's very sad and very difficult. When I race, I understand my sport is very dangerous. I understand that I take the risk. But it's something that I love, you know?
DP: Do you ever think about it during a race? Have you ever thought about dying then?
HC: Oh, no ... the day that I think about it, obviously, I won't able to focus on my job. So I don't like to... but it is a very tough situation. And it might sound very weird, but honestly, if something happens to me, I would like it to happen on the racetrack.
DP: So when you die, you want to die on a racetrack?
HC: When it happens to me, if it happens on the racetrack, I don't want people to think, "Oh my goodness, poor guy." No, no, no. I will die very happy because that's what I love.

DP: Fill in the blank. If I wasn't a driver, I would want a job that...
HC: As a chauffeur.
DP: You'd like to be a chauffeur?
HC: [laughs] Hey, I like driving so much, I don't know what I would be. I never thought about it. So I don't know.
DP: But if you can't follow directions, I'm not going to hire you to drive me.
HC: Hey! I never get lost!

DP: What's the fastest you've driven in your regular car?
HC: In my regular car?
DP: Yes. What is your regular car, by the way?
HC: I have the pace car that I won from the Indy 500. That's like a trophy.
But my real car is a Ferrari 360. I try to stay under three digits on the road. I don't want to cross that.
DP: But have you gone three digits in your Ferrari before?
HC: I did -- on a racetrack. I was testing one day and I was driving the Ferrari on the racetrack. That was pretty stupendous.

DP: Do people screw up the pronunciation of your first name more, or your last name?
HC: Both. I've heard a lot of Julio Casanova. Which I like. But now, after a couple of wins and doing well in the 500, I think they do know who is Castroneves.
DP: Does it bother you that you won the Indy 500 and Julia Roberts still probably doesn't know your name?
HC: I understand that. I do not know a lot of people. Especially the football and baseball guys. Sometimes the PR people say, "Hey, do you know who is that guy?" And I say, "I'm sorry, but I do not know him." And I feel bad. I wish I knew, but that's why I understand why people do not know who I am. And I don't get upset about it.

DP: Lots of people, when they're driving, they sing while listening to the radio. You don't have a radio for music, but do you find yourself singing during races? Have you ever done that?
HC: No. Never have.
DP: Never? Never humming? Nothing?
HC: No.
DP: What's the strangest thing you've thought of while you were driving that had nothing to do with the race?
HC: Well, sometimes, believe it or not, you start to imagine ... you start trying to look at the stands, at the people. And I remember saying to myself, "Hey, you pay attention on the road here or you're not going to do your job, you know?" This specifically happened when I was leading a race ... and it happened not only once but twice and probably more. So you do have to always keep talking to yourself -- and I do talk a lot to myself.
DP: Oh, you do?
HC: Yes.
DP: So you keep yourself company?
HC: That's right. It's only me out there, you know? Mostly me and God. ... It's a difficult feeling to describe for someone else.

Including the Indianapolis 500, Helio Castroneves earned four victories during the 2001 season.
DP: Who do you want to meet that you haven't met?
HC: I would like to meet the president.
DP: You'd like to meet George W. Bush?
HC: Yes.
DP: And what would you say to him?
HC: I don't know. I'd just like to see what he's thinking ... a day with President Bush, you know? It would be interesting. Nothing to do with politics, but just curiosity.
DP: If you could have four dinner guests, I guess the president would be one?
DP: Right.
HC: Tell me three other people who are going to have dinner with you.
HC: Jim Carrey. He's kind of a funny guy, you know, to break up the serious conversation.
DP: What's your favorite Jim Carrey movie? HC: I like "Liar, Liar."
DP: So, two more.
HC: I think Britney Spears.
DP: Britney Spears, huh?
HC: To give a little, you know, beauty around the table. Talk about this and that.
DP: Do you have any Britney Spears CDs?
HC: I do. In fact, I have her autograph.
DP: Did you get it or did somebody get it for you?
HC: Somebody get it for me ... I don't know who wrote the name, if it was her or not, but anyway...
DP: One more person for dinner.
HC: One more ... I think an actress -- Gwyneth Paltrow. She's kind of serious, you know, and nice and classic.
DP: I thought you liked Steven Spielberg.
HC: Oh, that's right. Yes. He also ... I would like to hear his ideas.
DP: You know what? I'll let you have one more at the table.
HC: There you go, eh!

DP: What's your favorite Gwyneth Paltrow movie?
HC: "Shakespeare in Love."
DP: And your favorite Spielberg movie?
HC: Actually, "ET."
DP: Oh, isn't that a great movie?
HC: It's a fantastic one, I'll tell you.
DP: And they're just coming out with it again. That's great. Twenty years.
HC: Unbelievable.

DP: I've heard you're a vegetarian. Is that a health choice or a philosophical choice?
HC: I'm not a vegetarian. I eat white meat. I don't eat red meat.
DP: Oh, OK.
HC: But that's my choice.

DP: What other sports do you follow?
HC: I like, obviously, soccer. And I like tennis a lot.
DP: But that's because of Anna Kournikova.
HC: Ah, yes. Oh, my goodness. Can you add another one to my table? [laughs]
DP: That table is getting crowded, Helio.
HC: [laughs] Hey, I don't mind. My heart's big enough. You can put a lot of people there.

DP: Have you met soccer star Maradona?
HC: Maradona, no. I have not. I prefer Pelé. He's the man, you know? This guy ... I mean, the stuff that he did, it's unbelievable. Maradona is not my biggest hero.
DP: Have you met Pelé?
HC: No, I haven't.
DP: Well, we can add him to your table. This dinner-guest list keeps growing.
HC: No problem!

DP: Can you change a tire?
HC: Very bad, but I can.
DP: So if you look under the hood, do you know as much as the regular guy does? Because Jeff Gordon is not a gearhead like all the other NASCAR drivers. Are you the same way, that you don't know exactly what goes on under the hood?
HC: Actually, that is one of the priority things. But there are still a lot of things that I ask the engineers and the mechanics about to make sure that I'm always running. I try to keep up with what's going on.

DP: Have you ever driven angry during a race?
HC: Yes, I have.
DP: And?
HC: Not very good -- not very good results.
DP: What made you angry, by the way?
HC: Another guy, like, pushed me off on the track, and I'm trying to recover, you know, and I was like, I wanna get this guy! And I tried to make one corner to pass everyone, so that was the problem.

DP: How do you handle the need for rest stops on race day? The bathroom breaks?
HC: Oh, basically, before the race, I try to go. I don't like to drive when I need to go to the bathroom, you know? And the funny thing is, I don't think it's only me but everyone. Because there's a big line at the bathroom before the race ... sometimes I'm going five minutes before the race.
DP: Do you get along with everybody? Do you have a rival?
HC: I try to get along with everyone. Obviously, I don't want to be a best friend, because we are competitors and I prefer not to get too close.

DP: Who's going to play you in the movie of your life?
HC: A good-looking guy. Tom Cruise is not too old, I think. I like Antonio Banderas better. The accent is good and he's funny. He'll be the best one. He's not as good-looking as me, but that's OK.

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Helio Castroneves becomes the first back-to-back Indy winner since Al Unser Sr. in 1970-71.
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Team Penske gambles on fuel and Helio Castroneves takes the checkered flag under caution.
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Helio Castroneves showers himself with milk for the second year in a row.
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Helio Castroneves is overcome with tears of joy after his traditional climbing of the fence.
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Helio Castroneves speaks with Marlo Klain after his Indy 500 victory in 2001 (ABC Sports).
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Helio Castroneves takes the checkered flag at the Indy 500 in 2001 (ABC Sports).
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