LOS ANGELES – “Keep the frame,” Helio Castroneves laughs as he prepares for an afternoon “Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars” rehearsal with his professional dance partner, Chelsie Hightower, in a utilitarian studio out of the public eye in Hollywood.
The phrase is one of the few – but certainly among the most important – the IZOD IndyCar Series driver remembers from his autumn 2007 honeymoon as the show’s champion with partner Julianne Hough. Appel, ball-change, spot turn -- the ballroom dancing terms were replaced by a racing lexicon to allow the Team Penske veteran to quickly get up to speed on the hardwood stage.
The drama, glamour and glitter are back Sept. 24 (8-10 p.m. ET) on ABC. Team Helio trailer
“Sometimes I was explaining that when you get to a new track to get to know it you do a lot of laps before you start going for speed because you want to learn about where to turn and things like that,” Castroneves relates. “Once you understand the track, you’re going to change the springs. That means you’re going to set up each phase of the dancing – the middle, beginning and end – to make it a little better. Then, when you’re going for the qualifying that means you start all over again and hopefully all the details are there for the show.
“That’s basically the analogy I used with Julianne. I was joking with Chelsie that she’s probably going to have to learn a little racing lingo so that I can understand.”
The vivacious Hightower, who matches her student smile for electric smile in public and private, definitely understands. In previous seasons, she’s danced with snowboarder Louie Vito and professional bull rider Ty Murray, both of whom brought insider lingo to the show.
She received a close-up view of the IZOD IndyCar Series at Auto Club Speedway on Sept. 15, taking a two-seater ride with Mario Andretti and then taking in the MAVTV 500 INDYCAR World Championships with a rooting interest for Castroneves (he gained 12 positions to finish fifth in the 250-lap race).
"There are no secrets," Castroneves says when asked how competitors are able to perform such intricate moves after only a few days of rehearsal. "Dancing is just like racing. You don't learn choreography. They just give you steps to do and you do them over and over and over. When I'm driving the racetrack, it's all about repetition."
A well-conditioned athlete, light on his feet and with an innate sense of rhythm helps in the quick turnaround from the Foxtrot – which will be their debut dance on the series premiere – to the next show-stopper. Like Indy car racing, the team that has the rhythm, hits its marks with poise and displays flair with regularity usually comes out in front in weekly voting by the three-judge panel and viewers via phone, text and online.
Watch it: Relive the Quick Step from 2007 (yellow zoot suit and all)
It occurred in November 2007, when Castroneves hoisted the Mirror Ball Trophy wearing the bright yellow zoot suit that today would be blowing up the Twitterverse. It’s possible that he’ll reprise the Quick Step in the suit, and it’s quite possible he’ll be the first two-time winner of the ultimate dance party.
“That would be great for my daughter to see," Castroneves says. "Chelsie is a very talented dancer and I’m fortunate to have a partner that I’m going to have fun with. She is tough, though, in the dance studio. I told her that whatever you do I’ll follow your lead even though I know the man leads when dancing.”