Wednesday, June 8th, 2011
Kanaan glad to be back at Eldora
By Mike Ernst
IZOD Indy Car driver Tony Kanaan knew he was probably in over his head at the 2010 Prelude To The Dream.
The Indy car veteran had never driven a full-fender race car before nor had he ever competed on a dirt track, yet alone the intimidating high banks of Eldora Speedway.
"That was the only time I drove that kind of car, and the next time will be the night of the race," Kanaan said. "By far, it was the craziest thing I had ever done. I had a lot of fun. I can't describe it. I definitely put myself in a very difficult spot, not testing and never being on dirt in my life. In 35 years, I'd never driven a car like that or on a surface like that.
"But, I enjoyed it a lot, and now that I've done it, I've heard that there are other IZOD IndyCar drivers that want to do it. I'm glad that Tony (Stewart) and everybody at Eldora gave me the chance of racing in the Prelude again. I can't wait," added Kanaan.
Kanaan finished 24th in his debut at Eldora, dropping out of the main event after being involved in several minor mishaps in the back of the field.
This year Kanaan feels a bit more prepared as he gets ready to hit the dirt for the second time of his racing career.
"The biggest thing I learned is that we think our racetrack changes a lot? This is completely another world. I can drive with the brakes and the throttle at the same time, which I can't do in my (Indy) car," Kanaan said.
Kanaan also left his first Prelude amazed by how much the other drivers offered to help him.
"Tony (Stewart) was very helpful, and Jeff Gordon came over and we had some interaction because he had gone to Brazil for our go-kart race a couple of years ago. Kyle Busch also came over and tried to help me. The thing is, their experience in those cars is tremendous, but those three guys definitely came around and gave me as many tips as they could," Kanaan said.
Kanaan, the 2004 IZOD Indy Car Series Champion, is one of the most popular drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series. He has five top-10 finishes at the Indianapolis 500, including a charge from 22nd starting position to a fourth-place finish last month and a career best second-place result in 2004.
He holds the record for most consecutive races led, having led at least one lap in seven consecutive Indianapolis 500s between 2002 and 2008.
Overall, his seven races at the point rank him 10th all-time in the category, just six races behind all-time leader A.J. Foyt, who led in 13 of his 35 starts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kanaan's 214 total laps led at Indianapolis rank him 28th out of the 198 drivers who have led a lap in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
For years Indy Car Series and NASCAR fans have always felt a bit of a rivalry with the other, both thinking "their" guys were better than the others. If that rivalry still exists, Kanaan did not feel it from the fans at Eldora in his first visit.
"A lot of the drivers that go there I've watched for a long time, so racing against those guys and Tony is awesome. The way the people welcomed me was awesome," Kanaan said. "You know, people try to make this big rivalry between NASCAR and IndyCar, but it doesn't exist at all. They are two completely different types of series. The majority of fans at this event are NASCAR fans, and when I went out to get introduced, I felt at home. They gave me a very warm welcome. That's something I enjoyed a lot."
Last year he became just the first foreign-born driver to compete in the Prelude since Colombian-born Juan Pablo Montoya in 2007. Like most drivers, Kanaan heads into Wednesday night's charity event with one goal - to have fun.
"I'm thrilled to be back in the Prelude to the Dream," said Kanaan, who hails from Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. "It's an amazing lineup of drivers and we're all competing for such a good cause. It's very rare for me to get a chance to drive something other than my GEICO/KV Racing Technology/Lotus and to not have to race with points in mind. I'm not saying I'm going to do anything crazy, because the goal is to help my team win, but I'm definitely going to have some fun."