2:33 PM PDT, March 21, 2013
The moment called for something more poignant that his signature Spider-Man shtick.
So when Helio Castroneves scrambled out of his Dallara-Chevrolet after winning his third Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg victory last year, he patted a green sign erected in memory of his fallen friend, Dan Wheldon.
The sign had been posted only three weeks before the race, honoring Wheldon, who was killed in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, 2011.
"My plan was to win the race, but I did not plan to stop right there at the sign," Castroneves said during a recent promotional stop in Orlando, in conjunction with this year's race set for this weekend. "I said at the time that you can't question God's mystery. He is able to put you in the right place at the right time and makes you do stuff that's proper. For me it was a very touching moment. Hopefully we can do it again, remember him again."
This is what race car drivers do. They live in the now, rarely looking back in their rear view mirror. An introspective moment can get awfully dangerous.
Wheldon left behind a wife and two sons. Castroneves is a family man, too. Helio and his partner, Adriana Henao, have a 3-year-old daughter, Mikaella. Whenever she sees a driver wearing a firesuit, she says "daddy." He admits a "scary" thought bubble should Mikaella want to go racing some day.
But for daddy dearest, the fear factor is nonexistent.
"Everybody asks me 'how are you able to drive,' " he said. "But I've been doing this for my entire life practically. It's just like any other person going to their office. My office is my race car. Your computer is my steering wheel. You aren't thinking about the danger of the sport. You aren't thinking what can happen. You just focus on your job."
At 37, Castroneves' sharp focus has him at the top of his game. He has 21 victories and 32 poles during his IndyCar career, only placing lower than sixth once in his career (2011). He will try for a record fourth victory at St. Pete on Sunday.
Beyond the touching moment honoring Wheldon, Castroneves' presence certainly was felt as he delivered a victory for Chevy after the car manufacturer made a return to IndyCar after a six-season absence.
All those accomplishments have certainly elevated Helio's profile beyond the trivial interest of pop culture. Helio's happy feet earned him a Dancing With the Stars title in 2007, using his proficiency in the Quickstep, Foxtrot and Cha-cha-cha to win the competition with partner Julianne Hough.
But there remains a few things on his bucket list.
He needs one more victory in the Indianapolis 500 to tie A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears for most on the all-time list (four), and an IndyCar title has escaped his grasp despite his consistent runs year after year.
"I still have the fire, and that's why I want it," he said. "I want to give that to [owner] Roger Penske and the team. They deserve it."
There are other personal goals for Helio, far more challenging than the car thing. Although his dancing days are over, he's taken on another obsession: Golf.
I've often joked that it's a sport for the criminally insane, and Castroneves jokingly admits that he's lost his mind. He's only been playing for a little while now, and has the usual tale of misery: For every nice shot, there are a bunch of clunkers that dribble toward the fairway harmlessly, or even the more dreaded whiff.
"It's very frustrating, especially me being very competitive," he said. "I know what I can do and if I hit it [well] once I deserve to hit it well twice.
"Every time you think, that's when everything goes bad."
The good news is that he will be in his comfort zone on Sunday. A clunker is not in the forecast.
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