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Castroneves - Against All Odds - Finally Gets 4th Win At Indy

Foyt, Unser, and Mears.

For 30 years, these three have been part of one of the most sacred groups in auto racing: they're the only drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, and at every 500 since 2010, fans have anticipated a new member entering that group.

Their wait is now over, as today Helio Castroneves became part of that group by winning the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500. He previously had won in 2001, 2002, and 2009. 

I’ve literally grown up watching Castroneves’ pursuit of four Indy 500 wins, seeing the first when I was only 8 years old, and now 20 years later, seeing him claim his fourth. 

In 2001, the racing world was still in shock from the death of Dale Earnhardt when Helio captured that first Indy 500, as fans around the globe were introduced to his victory celebration where Castroneves earned the moniker “Spiderman” for his penchant for climbing fences after race wins. I was eight years old at the time, and my dream was to work at The Virginian-Pilot. 

In 2002, America was still reeling from the attacks of 9/11. I remember the pre-race being so much different, more patriotic, and more of a celebration that we had made it through the previous year. Helio won his second Indy 500 that year, and while few thought when he won his first that he'd have a chance at winning 4, after his second win more people believed that he had an outside shot. After all, Helio was only 25 when his won in 2002.

Seven years would go by as Helio had been in an Indy slump in 2009, but he captured the pole and won from the pole. I was 16 years old and had just been told that I “wasn’t journalism material,”  so I felt a certain empathy for Helio since it seemed some people had written off his chances of capturing a third or fourth Indy 500 win. But Castroneves kept the dream alive after winning in 2009, beating out the late, great Dan Wheldon for his third Borg-Warner trophy.

Twelve years would go by before today's race, and a lot has changed. Helio is no longer at Penske, a seat he got after the 1999 death of Greg Moore. He drove today for a smaller operation in Meyer-Shank racing, of which he has a six-race deal with, the first being today's race.

On a day where all three four-time winners were in attendance, and a crowd of 135,000 was in the stands - making it the biggest gathering of fans at a sporting event in the 15 months since pandemic restrictions went into place - today's race with a new team was probably the most improbable way for Helio to have joined the club. But with two laps to go in what was an amazingly competitive race,  Helio made a pass on on young Alex Palou to take the lead for good.

Castroneves would win his fourth Indy 500 on a day that many Americans, myself included, thought might never come. 

Even at just 35%, Indy was full of life today as more and more places are opening up their establishments closer to full capacity. What Indy was this weekend was much more than a race, bringing back the memories of incredible races in the past, while now being the crowning achievement of the best motorsport driver of my generation. That it was a celebration of the country and its fight against a pandemic that threatened our ability to have these kinds of moments, just made it even more special. 

I’m 28 now, a sports journalist, and I've spent three-quarters of my life watching Helio chase every one of his four Indy 500 victories. They all have been special, and Castroneves probably could have won last year, although it would have been in front of empty bleacher with no fans in the stands. Instead, he claimed the win this year, with a big crowd and an incredible atmosphere. The 20-year chase for a 4th is over, in a year when it was highly unlikely to ever happen.

Being able to see it happen was just the icing on the cake for me in what was one of the best races run at Indy in a long time.

It's one I - and many others - will never forget.

1
 

Comments 1

Guest - Dan Byers on Monday, 31 May 2021 10:15
Best Journalism Piece - Indy 500

Best of all written media pieces on the 2021 Indy 500 and the win for Helio Castroneves. Great story.

Best of all written media pieces on the 2021 Indy 500 and the win for Helio Castroneves. Great story.
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