As he traveled through Kentucky in a motorhome filled with what he could rescue from his South Florida home, Tony Kanaan repeated a theme expressed by others fleeing Hurricane Irma.
Stuff is just stuff. Inanimate objects are just inanimate objects. What matters is that my family is safe.
Kanaan was one of several INDYCAR drivers to escape their South Florida homes in advance of Irma, but his story was one of the most unusual. As his wife, Lauren, and two sons were safe in Indianapolis, Kanaan, Marketing Director Benito Santos and friend Luiz Ludovico grabbed keepsakes and mementoes and other irreplaceable items from their homes and began a cross-country journey to safety in a motorhome drive to Indy.
Among the stuff was Kanaan’s Baby Borg Trophy for winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2013.
“I did manage to save the Borg,” he said. “Some things you just can’t replace.”
Kanaan said his fellow drivers who live in the Miami area -- Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Carlos Munoz, Ed Jones and Ryan Hunter-Reay -- were safely away from their homes. The storm was expected to make landfall Sunday in the Florida Keys as one of the most dangerous hurricanes on record, but outer bands of the storm were already beginning to affect the area Saturday morning.
“You realize in times like this that your material possessions don’t matter at all,” Kanaan said. “It’s hard to leave your home knowing that it might not be there when you return, so it’s difficult to decide what to take and what to leave behind. But none of it really matters. The only thing that matters is that everyone is safe.”
The long, strange trip included breaking news. As the motorhome approached Indianapolis, a report surfaced that Kanaan is expected to join A.J. Foyt Racing in 2018. RACER’s Robin Miller quoted team president Larry Foyt as saying, “We've been talking to Tony for a few months and he's one of the guys we are definitely interested in. We have been talking to several drivers and haven't signed anyone yet."
Nine hundred miles away from Indianapolis, Helio Castroneves waited in Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport after his flight to Atlanta was postponed due to mechanical issues. That was the bad news. The good news? He and his family were away from their home in Fort Lauderdale.
“I was supposed to be in the air right now,” Castroneves said by phone Friday afternoon from DFW. “It’s been a little drama, but all of my fellow drivers are OK. At least people are safe.”
Castroneves’ immediate family -- girlfriend Adriana Henao and 7-year-old daughter Mikaella -- relocated from Fort Lauderdale to the Atlanta area, where other family members live. Castroneves, who is among four drivers mathematically eligible to win the Verizon IndyCar Series championship Sept. 17 at Sonoma Raceway, had intended to return to Fort Lauderdale after a recent test at Sonoma, but changed his connection in DFW to Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport to meet his family.
Castroneves said he thought he could get to Atlanta once the plane’s mechanical issues were resolved, but his bottom line was similar to Kanaan’s: His family was safe. Nothing else mattered.
The only Verizon IndyCar Series driver who appeared to be remaining in Florida was Sebastien Bourdais, according to reports and social media posts. On Friday, Bourdais, who lives in St. Petersburg, told The Indianapolis Star that the storm's trajectory at that time did not appear to put his home in harm’s way.
Ryan Hunter-Reay’s wife summed up the situation in an Instagram post of their three sons in a suitcase before relocating to Southern California.
Irma is expected to be one of the most severe hurricanes to hit the United States. On Friday, Castroneves retweeted a link from NBC meteorologist Al Roker that showed a graphic comparing Irma to Hurricane Andrew, which devastated the Homestead/Florida City area south of Miami in 1992.
The comparison showed that Irma is dramatically more powerful than Andrew.
“This one is going to be big,” Castroneves said Friday.
Kanaan tweeted a similar sentiment Thursday: “Praying for Florida. This thing looks nasty.”
Jeff Olson and Cathy Kightlinger contributed to this report