INDYCAR community celebrates legends Castroneves, Kanaan

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PHOENIX — Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan stood in between their race cars outside Heard Museum, enjoying a moment in the shiny desert twilight, the decibels of upbeat banter between Brazilian buddies demanding laughter.

Castroneves, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner for Team Penske, slapped Kanaan’s shoulder and offered a sentimental observation.

“The best thing is not many people can say we can do this 20 years, something that we love, and still be very good at it,” Castroneves said before tonight’s “Celebrating Legends: 20 Years of Legendary Driving” tribute. The event gathered notables from throughout the INDYCAR community to celebrate the tremendous careers of two of the most popular drivers of any generation.

Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, joked that he would trade his series title for one of Castroneves’ Indy 500 wins. Castroneves didn’t hesitate to balk at that proposition.

Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves“The reality is we’ve made it and we’ve been extremely successful and we’ve won the biggest race in the world,” Kanaan said. “That, I think, tops everything else. We can’t hide how important the Indy 500 is.”

There’s one other perspective both agreed upon. Although Kanaan is 42 and Castroneves will match that age on May 10, neither expects to slow down any time soon. They’re not yet ready to race off into the sunset for a final time.

Kanaan is looking to win for a third time in Phoenix in Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. He’s looking to start his 269th consecutive race, extending an Indy car record streak that began in June 2001 at Portland. Kanaan would be making his 330th career Indy car start, which would surpass Al Unser Jr. for fourth all-time.

Castroneves is just ahead at third on that list with what will be 331 career Indy car starts come Saturday night. His 29 career wins are 12 more than Kanaan’s total and tie Rick Mears and teammate Will Power for 11th on the all-time list. Castroneves is trying for his second Phoenix win this weekend.

All kidding aside, they don’t embrace the idea that they are legends, although so many prominent names in the racing community were eager to toast and then roast them tonight.

The crowd included longtime Kanaan teammate Dario Franchitti, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion. Their boss, Chip Ganassi, became one of many joining outside conversations before the ceremony began. 

Also enjoying the upper-80-degree temperatures was Mears, a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Team Penske driver coach. Nobody has been a more profound influence on Castroneves than Mears.

Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud paid his respects. So, too, did Scott Dixon, a four-time series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner. Dixon and Kanaan became Ganassi Racing teammates in 2014.

Castroneves walked up and playfully insisted Dixon also belonged in the 20-year club, too. Not just yet. Dixon reassured it’s his 17th Indy car season.

“It’s a big night. It’s a big deal,” Dixon said. “They were legends obviously long before tonight.”

From the fans