MADISON, Ill. – When Tony Kanaan arrived in the United States to pursue a racing career, he was a 16-year-old boy from Brazil who didn’t speak a word of English.
He also didn’t have any money or a place to live.
Kanaan would end up experiencing the “American Dream.”
“I have to say, I’m very fortunate to be able to have a career in this place,” Kanaan said. “We keep saying America is the land of opportunities. Looking back, I’m pretty proud of what I have achieved.
“INDYCAR most consecutive starts, second most starts of all time, an INDYCAR SERIES championship in 2004 and an Indianapolis 500 victory in 2013. I would never, ever have dreamed of that.”
Kanaan’s brilliant, 22-year NTT INDYCAR SERIES career as a racing driver is set to come to an end in this weekend’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 doubleheader at World Wide Technology Raceway.
It is an ideal location for the final weekend of Kanaan’s career as an INDYCAR driver. In 2003, Kanaan started third and finished second at the track for what was then known as Andretti Green Racing.
INDYCAR returned to the facility after a lengthy absence in 2017. Last year, Kanaan started 20th and finished third, part of a podium that included three of the oldest, most experienced drivers in INDYCAR.
Takuma Sato, who won his second Indianapolis 500 last Sunday, won the race as a then 42-year-old. Ed Carpenter, then 38, was second and Kanaan, then 44, was third.
It’s a fitting place to conclude an outstanding career in the final two regular-season starts for the popular Brazilian.
He has a chance to go out like the Tony Kanaan of the past.
“That was what I actually planned,” Kanaan said. “When I planned my season, I picked the ovals because I know as a team, we were pretty strong at those places and so was I. I’m really confident we can go out and finish this season on a high. It’s been an odd season for everybody. For me, it felt like everybody had a partial season.
“Selfishly, it’s OK. It’s less painful that if it had been a normal season, for sure.”
Earlier this month, Kanaan expressed interest in returning to the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge as a driver so that he can give his devoted legion of fans one last chance to properly see him end his career.
But Kanaan is approaching this weekend as the end because there are no guarantees he will race in next year’s Indy 500.
“I decided that I wanted to come back, but I don’t have a car and I don’t have a sponsor for next year,” Kanaan said. “This weekend is still going to be kind of weird.
“It could be my last race. I hope not, but as of today, it is my last race. I don’t have a deal for next year. When I announced this was going to be it, teams and sponsors all made different plans.
“It’s going to still be emotional because I know this could be it.”
World Wide Technology Raceway plans on having spectators in the grandstands and suites, at 20 percent capacity because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having a chance to end a career in front of the fans was important to this fan favorite.
“That is the reason why I wanted to come back this year, the fans,” Kanaan said. “I think I owe that to them. Look at what I have built, all those years. They need something better than that. I just can’t go away. I’m going to try my best to have a proper exit at Indy next year.
“At least, this race will have fans. If nothing happens, at least we’ll have that. But I think they deserve to watch me at Indy in 2021.”
Kanaan in next year’s Indy 500 remains to be seen, but he has made the most out of a season that didn’t get started until June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway because of COVID-19 and the ensuing shutdown. He competed in the first race of the season, otherwise Kanaan’s first start would have come in the regularly scheduled 104th Indianapolis 500 on May 24.
Kanaan is running an all-oval schedule for AJ Foyt Racing this season, and it concludes with this weekend’s doubleheader, full races on Saturday and Sunday.
“The track suits me,” Kanaan said. “It’s the style of track. Those types of ovals always worked for me, the way you have to push the car and take the risks. I really don’t have a concrete answer why I do so well here.
“It suits my style. I love it and that’s it.”
After this weekend, Kanaan will consider his future options. That includes finding a potential ride for next year’s Indy 500. He will also compete in a new series created by former Indy 500 Rookie of the Year and three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart.
He wants to be involved with INDYCAR “in any way, shape or form.”
Kanaan will continue to work with series sponsor NTT in 2021 to entertain clients and corporate guests when they are at the track, “which will hopefully happen next year.”
Deep down, he wants to find something to do with INDYCAR so that he is at every race.
“The future is wide open for me,” Kanaan said.
This weekend in the shadows of the famed Gateway Arch in St. Louis, fans and fellow competitors will get a chance to remember Kanaan’s glorious past and the end of a sensational career.
“Everything has to have an end,” Kanaan said. “Sometimes, it’s hard when you do this for a living since you were a little kid, but I’m getting more and more comfortable with the fact it’s either going to be over, or it’s going to slow down quite a bit as far as the number of races.
“I’m fine with that. A guy like me, as long as my career lasted, I feel like the job was done and in a really good way.”