(This is the latest in a series of stories tracing the roots of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers through their own words. We’ll look at where they grew up and what first sparked their interest in racing. Today’s subject: 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan, who ventures outside the INDYCAR world this weekend to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.)
AJ Foyt Racing driver Tony Kanaan recently discussed his memories of growing up in Brazil with IndyCar.com writer Phillip B. Wilson.
Wilson: What’s your earliest childhood memory?
Kanaan: As a kid, I remember going to Jacarepagua, the Rio de Janeiro racetrack.
Wilson: How old were you?
Kanaan: Five, watching Nelson Piquet, sitting on the grandstand with my dad. You remember back in the day, the Formula Ones were loud, the big turbos. I remember sitting as a fan. I hadn’t even started racing yet. It’s something that was really cool. I see fans nowadays with their kids coming to the Indy 500. That (Brazil) race was a big race for us. I went through the concession stand. I remember I bought a hat. That whole process, waiting in line, I couldn’t wait. Then sitting on top of my dad’s shoulder to be able to see over people and see the track. That’s definitely one of the biggest memories I have. (Note: Formula One didn’t start racing at Jacarepagua until 1981, which would have made Kanaan 6 years old at the time.)
Wilson: What was your dad’s name?
Kanaan: Tony. I’m Junior.
Wilson: And you rooted for Piquet?
Kanaan: Yeah, obviously. Nelson was in his prime and Ayrton Senna was coming up.
Wilson: What was your home life like?
Kanaan: We used to live in a building where he had this spiral-type garage. I had a skateboard but I was really tiny for my age. I was always under my height for my age. So I had a normal skateboard, but to me, it was big. I would sit on it instead of standing. I would sit on top of the garage and come down sitting on the skateboard, making the turns. I used to do that all the time. Every day, after school. I would grab a salad bowl from my mom and use it as a helmet. One of the times, Dad was coming up with his car and almost ran me over. I got into big trouble. That’s when I actually got my first go-kart, because of that.
Wilson: So that worked out well?
Kanaan: Yeah, just being a stupid kid. I didn’t even say anything about racing or that I wanted to race. I was just racing down the garage with my skateboard after school, 12:30 in the afternoon, every day.
Wilson: Happy childhood?
Kanaan: Very happy. Up until I was 13 years old, it was extremely fun. Although I was racing already and dedicating a lot of my time to racing, I spent a lot of time with Dad. My sister and my mom would come to the races. We took trips. It was racing, but it was also family time. After that, when my dad passed away (and Kanaan was 13), reality hit pretty hard. I don’t regret it. I wish I could have had a little longer childhood, but I’m probably not the only kid like that. Everybody has a story, but I definitely had an awesome childhood.
Wilson: Do you still have the skateboard?
Kanaan: No, I wish. I wish. (Smiles).
(Check out Kanaan's IndyCar.com biography, Also read previous "Racing Roots" entries on Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter, Josef Newgarden, Spencer Pigot, Carlos Munoz, Ed Jones, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Charlie Kimball and Alexander Rossi.)