Zachary Claman De Melo shares his life story visually on his body.
There’s much to be learned from examining the tattoos on the aspiring, 19-year-old racer from Montreal, who will make his Dale Coyne Racing debut Sunday in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
His right forearm has the image of a liger — the offspring of a tiger and lion. Claman De Melo adopted the 1-year-old animal, named Zeus, at the Zoological Wildlife Foundation in Miami. There are left-arm tattoos of his two dogs — Rocky, a 2-year-old Rottweiler, and Leila, a 2-year-old German Shepherd. He also has a paw print tattoo from when Rocky was a puppy.
Roman numerals represent the birthdates of his father, mother, sister and himself. There are three “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” monkeys, a tribute to carved wooden monkeys he once gave to his mother as a gift.
Also on his right arm is a Canadian maple leaf with a compass pointing north because he’s a Canadian from the north.
There are more, but perhaps most important is the number 13 behind his right ear, a tribute to his late grandmother, Mary Katz Claman, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz during World War II.
“Thirteen is my lucky number because my grandmother got freed from the Holocaust on Friday the 13th,” Claman De Melo said. “The numbers on her arm (tattooed by her German captors) from the Holocaust added up to 13. She passed away on a Friday (in 2012) and was buried on the 13th. Thirteen, everything I do, it’s always kind of revolved around my life. It’s just a lucky number for me.”
He’ll switch from that usual lucky car number to drive the No. 19 The Paysafe Car Honda for 10 races this Verizon IndyCar Series season. In addition to St. Petersburg (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC), he’ll drive this spring at Long Beach and Barber Motorsports Park.
Claman De Melo is sharing the car with another newcomer, rookie Pietro Fittipaldi, the 21-year-old grandson of Emerson Fittipaldi, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time Formula One champion.
“Good kids, I see a lot in both of them,” team owner Dale Coyne said. “I think it’s going to be a good year for both of those guys, to come here and shine and show what they can do. We like bringing young guys in and have always liked mentoring those guys and helping them reach their potential.”
It worked out quite well last season for Ed Jones, who finished third in the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and was named the series rookie of the year while with Coyne. Jones showed enough promise to land a ride with Chip Ganassi Racing this season.
While Fittipaldi is set to drive in this year’s Indy 500, Coyne has kept the option open of possibly running Claman DeMelo, too.
Claman De Melo made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in last season’s finale, when he finished 17th at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Before that, he drove for two years in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, the top level of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.
He won an Indy Lights race last season at Road America while driving for Carlin. He drove for Juncos Racing in 2016.
But back to those tattoos. Why did he choose to express himself with ink?
“I like body art. I think it looks cool,” he said, simply. “A lot of people of my generation have it.”
The body art shows he has a particular interest in animals. He gushes about Zeus, who was born in captivity in Miami.
“I help pay for his food and anything he might need,” Claman De Melo said. “I played with him a lot when he was younger and a cub. We get along great.”
While he’s looking to make a name for himself in the series, the young driver reminds there’s plenty of body space remaining for future tattoos.
“I’ve got a lot of real estate left,” he joked.
Should he one day win the Indianapolis 500, another immediate trip to the tattoo parlor will be a must.
“If I win the 500,” he said, “I’ll have to get a tattoo of something, something that looks really cool and is special.”
Claman De Melo and the other 23 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers take to the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Pete temporary street circuit for the first time in practice on Friday, with 45-minute sessions starting at 11:20 a.m. and 3:10 p.m. ET. A third practice begins at 11:10 a.m. Saturday, ahead of Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying to determine the first pole winner of the season at 2:20 p.m. All practice and qualifying sessions will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Sunday’s race is 110 laps and airs live at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.