Before they were waltzing to a “Dancing with the Stars” crown on ABC, Helio Castroneves’ feet were traipsing through the “red foot” clays of Ribeirao Preto, Brazil.
It was there, in a city the size of Indianapolis on the edge of the Brazilian sugar cane fields, that he fell in love with racing.
Born Helio Alves de Castro Neves on May 10, 1975 in Sao Paolo Brazil, his family shortly thereafter moved to the agricultural area 150
miles to the North. His mother, a former teacher, instilled the virtues of education and discipline in young Helio and his older sister Kati. His father had toiled in the automobile industry, but moved the family north in pursuit of a career with a small construction company.
What was building inside little Helio was a racing fascination There, in the land of sugar and coffee crops, Helio felt the need for speed. Introduced to the sport by watching his father’s stock car hobby, by age 11 Helio had his own go-kart.
His kart racing took him back to Sao Paolo on weekends, his mother imploring the importance of education while his father cultivated Helio’s driving prowess. He rivaled against the best karters Brazil had to offer: young talents like Felipe Giaffone, Bruno Junqueira and Tony Kanaan.
By age 13, he had shown enough promise to, with hesitation from his mother, become home schooled while channeling increased energy towards racing.
The energy is ubiquitous. He doesn’t turn to sugar or coffee to get it- Castroneves only enjoys the occasional latte. Rather, he simply starts each day with a mindset. “If you woke up tired and lazy, your whole day will be like that”, he says.
You know the story of his career. Four Indianapolis 500s. Four Indy 500 poles. Stardom in the American culture.
Yet, things weren’t always so clear. He simplified his last name from Castro Neves to eradicate possibility of association as simply a Neves or a Castro. He drove in 4 racing series before landing in IndyCar full time, and, in 2009, was acquitted on American tax evasion charges.
Today, his daughter Mikaella is the apple of his eye, although Castroneves admits parenting is a much harder role than he ever anticipated. The best part of it, he admits, is telling ‘Dad jokes’. Helio Castroneves. The man who loves to make you smile.
Twenty one years ago, he won his 2nd Indy 500 in as many attempts. Afterwards, his Mother- who instilled in him the virtues of discipline and understanding- tearfully embraced the boy she once hesitated to let race. Over the roar of the crowd, she could be heard tearfully repeating a phrase in their native Portuguese: “Voce e’ o melhor! Voce e’ o melhor!”.
“You are the best! You are the best!”
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