Helio headed back to what brought him to IndyCar ‘dance’
By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Helio Castroneves has been living at a relatively pedestrian pace since he got back behind the wheel of a race car.
In the months following his “Dancing With the Stars” title last November, he called off his engagement, went on a national tour with the other dancers, and had a seemingly endless stream of interviews and appearances.
And, oh yes, he’s also been racing his Team Penske IndyCar.
Now, the charismatic Brazilian with the big smile and fancy footwork is focused on his true passion — driving.
“After the ’Dancing’ and the tour, I couldn’t wait to get back into a race car because it slowed down (my life),” Castroneves told The Associated Press last week in his garage at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Literally, the speed is going faster, but the rest of the outside stuff really slowed down a lot.”
Castroneves said his appearance on one of America’s most popular television shows served its purpose because it brought the Indy Racing League to a new group of potential fans.
He hopes some remember him and watch the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, when he tries to add to his wins in 2001 and 2002.
“People that have no idea about racing know my name,” he said. “Probably now, they’re going to be tuning into racing. That’s what I want. It obviously helped my name, and I believe it helped this series to be out there. I think it was a win-win situation.
New fans could see Castroneves join an elite group. Only three drivers — Mauri Rose in the 1940s, A.J. Foyt in the 1960s and Al Unser in the 1970s — have won three Indy 500s in a single decade.
Castroneves has driven in seven Indy 500s, placing in the top three four times and the top 10 six times.
“I do feel I have a great car,” he said. “Inside second row is a fantastic place to start.”
Castroneves’ popularity off the track didn’t cost him with die-hard fans, either. MainGate, a company that tallies merchandise sales, said last week that his numbers at tracks were up 68 percent from last year at the same time.
Castroneves says none of that affects him.
Castroneves, whose resume still lacks a series championship, leads the IRL points standings even though he hasn’t won a race this year.
“It’s consistency,” he said. “So far, we’ve been in the right place at the right time. I do believe this year, it’s going to take that to win the championship.”
Castroneves didn’t wait until May to show up in Indianapolis.
He and partner Julianne Hough danced between the first and second quarters of an Indiana Pacers game on Nov. 2, nearly a month before he was announced as the season five winner.
Though he has received a lot of positive buzz, he also got unexpected attention from tabloids.
His engagement to longtime girlfriend Ali Vasquez was broken off right after he won the “Dancing” title, and he was besieged with rumors that he was dating Hough, even though he consistently has denied a romantic relationship.
Castroneves never ran from the questions or changed his approach to people after the attention increased.
“Everything was normal, natural, and the way it comes is the way it goes,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to ’Oh, I have to go hide myself.’ If you want to ask me, go ahead and ask, there is nothing to hide. That’s why it turned out to be good — because people got to find out who I am.”
Terry Angstadt, president of the IRL’s commercial division, said that attitude is what he wanted the mainstream to see.
“He has such an engaging personality, and America fell in love with him,” Angstadt said earlier this month. “And every time they would introduce him as two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves — huge exposure for us.”
Castroneves, who worked as a correspondent for “Entertainment Tonight” this week on the last two 2008 episodes of “Dancing,” said he’s open to branching into other areas of entertainment in the offseason.
“We did have a lot of appearances. We did have opportunities,” he said. “It is nice to hopefully continue in that direction.”
Published in The Messenger 5.23.08