INDIANAPOLIS – The kaleidoscope of motion and color becomes disorienting. The cheers, rewarding but also deafening. The frenetic bustle, overwhelming.
Yet after it was over, after Tony Kanaan had poured the milk over his head, looked into the eyes of his legion of fans, after he had done countless interviews in multiple languages, after the sun had set over the covered Indianapolis Motor Speedway grandstand, he managed a moment for introspection.
“I thanked the track that night,” said Kanaan, who will race for a repeat Sunday in the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500.
“I was up in the Pagoda and there’s a pretty good view there. I could see the whole track, and I actually said that: ‘Thank you. Thanks for having me all these years.’ It was such a special win I actually said, ‘If you made me wait this long to be this special, it was worth it.’ ”
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Last year’s victory was special because of the promises Kanaan had made to his dying father and to his own young son. Because of the way he had won and the state of his career. It was extraordinary because of the feeling of energy he felt from that fan base that kept growing — in size and dedication — and the lie he had managed to tell himself after each of the 11 times he lost.
Only one other Indy winner needed more starts than Kanaan to break through, Sam Hanks in 1957 in his 13th try. Kanaan, 39, is among the favorites for Sunday’s race, with the chance to become the sixth driver to win back to back.
“I think I fooled myself for a couple of years, saying that I was OK with the fact that I might not win this race in my career,” Kanaan said, “and it changed everything when I crossed that finish line.”
Almost everything. The perspective the Brazilian formed in childhood remains: Live every day because life makes no promises about tomorrow.
Kanaan was 13 when his father lost a four-year battle with cancer. The man who introduced him to go-karts asked on his deathbed that Tony take care of his mother and his younger sister and that he never give up his racing dreams.
Michael Andretti’s team usually put Kanaan in position to contend at Indy, but sponsorship problems at the end of 2010 cost Kanaan his front-line ride. He was fortunate to keep his career alive for three years at KV Racing.
Kanaan’s son, Leo, wasn’t happy. He asked his dad in February 2013 why he hadn’t won much since he was born.
“And I said I was going to win the biggest race in the world for him and give him the trophy to put in his nightstand so every time he opens his eyes he’s going to look at that thing and remember,” Kanaan said.
The upset victory with a much smaller team opened the door for Kanaan to join Chip Ganassi Racing. He replaced Dario Franchitti when injuries forced Franchitti to retire. And Leo, who is 6, did get a miniature copy of the Borg-Warner Trophy that matched his dad’s.
“You can’t predict anything,” Kanaan said. “It takes you 11 or 12 years to win it, and then all of a sudden maybe we’ll win two in a row.”
Other racing news
• Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer, who lost much of his left leg in combat three years ago in Afghanistan, thought he could win races if he got the chance. On Saturday, Dwyer teamed with Tom Long to win the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge event at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.
“Saying I’m excited is a major understatement,” said Dwyer, 32. “I am ecstatic about this.”
• Kyle Larson, 21, earned his second NASCAR Nationwide Series victory of the season when he took the History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Larson led the last 56 laps.
Brad Keselowski finished second and Kyle Busch was third. Derrike Cope of Spanaway placed 36th of 40.