Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Helio Castroneves finds bliss behind wheel

Helio Castroneves sat in his business office in Miami on Tuesday, sorting through the mundane, zero mph tasks of being a race car driver that once might have bored him. He'd knock out a few phone calls, endorse a few bills, think about packing for this weekend's IndyCar race in Kansas City, Kan. He was loving it. Just four days after being acquitted on federal tax evasion charges that could have sent him, sister/business manager Kati and his attorney, Alan Miller, to prison for six years, and two days following his return to Team Penske's No. 3 car after worrying that his career was over, the two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and a Dancing with the Stars champion was starting over. At age 33, he said, he is new again.

How nice is it to get back to everyday business?

You don't understand. For six months it was very difficult. You know how much I like to talk, but in those six months I had to let people talk for me. It was the hardest thing. I really say it was a nightmare. I can't believe I woke up and I am back again doing what I love the most, what I've been doing since I was 11 years old. That for me, that's my life. To be back in a race car, it was a great relief.

When did it sink in that these issues were behind you?

I guess when I was in the race car (the first practice at Long Beach), my first lap around the track. I mentioned to the guys, "Is this a dream?" and they were like, "No this is a reality." I was pushing the throttle warming the car up. For me, it was an awesome feeling. It was like putting on a glove that you always like. Talking racing terms, really cool. I was so relieved.

As much as you appreciate being back, is it tough knowing you'll have a tremendous task getting back into championship contention having missed the season opener in St. Petersburg?

Honestly, the way I am thinking, I need to get back on the rhythm. Long Beach was great. We got a top 10 (he finished seventh) and now our goal is to finish a little bit better every race. Hey, why would I change now? If I have a chance to think about winning, I am. The only thing I am changing now is probably more personal, (to) see little things different. I appreciate racing even more now, packing my bags, going to the airport, things like that is becoming much more fun.

What was waiting for a verdict like?

Every morning, it was very difficult to get up, about 5:30 in the morning, not getting any sleep because you always had the knot in the stomach which, man, it was the worst feeling. About midday you start feeling a little bit better because no news is good news. Toward the end of the day, then it's "great, let's go back to another day." Counting the days was very, very difficult. About (last) Thursday they found the first verdicts and we were wondering what this was going to be and where we were going to go. It was hard to see it still wasn't over yet, and when we got to Friday it was just playing with my emotions. It was very difficult to control it. I was very fatigued mentally and emotionally. It was hard to control.

How did you handle the stress?

On Jan. 12, I was 159 pounds and I am about 146 now. I lost weight although it doesn't look like it. I guess that's good for racing, isn't it?

Do you think your fame, greatly boosted by Dancing with the Stars, helped or stood to hurt you when you were on trial?

I don't know. I just don't know which way it went. Certainly what I heard, to be in this position, it wasn't because I was an ordinary person. That's what I understood and that's what they told me. Now, the only thing I'm thinking is giving back what the fans gave me, which is a lot of prayers and a lot of love.

Does coffee taste better, the sunset look more pretty these days?

Big time. People sometimes don't appreciate the small things. They should go out in their back yard and see the garden and the grass and the sky. Wow, I appreciate to be here. Appreciate your health. So many things you never thought you'd think about. I always thought I was a good person, but I think I am a much better person now to have gone through this.

Helio Castroneves finds bliss behind wheel 04/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 6:35am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Ryan Callahan encouraged by his return


    Captain Steven Stamkos wasn't the only key Lightning player to make a triumphant return Friday night against Nashville.

  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Friday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    RHP Alex Cobb hates to hear how he "battled through" or "grinded out" a start rather than just dominated, but that's kind of what he did Friday, allowing nine hits and a walk and being charged with two wild pitches but only three runs in earning his 12th win.

  3. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  4. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  5. Ww's Odessabeach makes run at Husker Magic stakes final


    ST. PETERSBURG — When Hurricane Irma blew through Florida earlier this month, Ww's Odessabeach remained in her comfort zone.