Story By: PAUL KELLY / INDYCAR – SPEEDWAY, IN – Tony Kanaan’s fell head over heels in love with the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during his first Month of May as a driver in the race, in 2002.
But the “500” and IMS were cruel mistresses for Kanaan. His first 11 starts in the race were unrequited love affairs of near-misses and tough luck. Yet Kanaan’s legions of passionate fans never stopped believing he would soon win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” even in the face of seemingly annual heartbreak at the famous 2.5-mile oval.
That faith paid off when Kanaan finally drove into Victory Lane in his 12th start, in 2013. It was one of the most popular wins in any series at IMS in this young century.
“I said (to his wife, Lauren): ‘Do you think people felt sorry for me? What is it?’” Kanaan said. “I tried to understand what — and she said, ‘Have you thought about you never really complained about this place, you never threw this place down, you were always humble about …’ I called the racetrack a she, like she didn’t pick me today, and she didn’t pick me for 12 years. She’s a hard person to date.
“So, she’s the only one that Lauren is not jealous about, which is good.”
Kanaan, 45, announced Jan. 30 at IMS – with the Borg-Warner Trophy at his side – that he would wind down his driving career in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2020 with starts in all five oval races in the famous No. 14 Chevrolet fielded by legendary four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt.
The schedule for the “TK Last Lap” starts with – what else? – the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 24.
While 2004 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Kanaan has no plans to race elsewhere in an Indy car after 2020, he is not ruling out continuing his lifelong love affair with the Indy 500 from the cockpit.
“I always want to race,” Kanaan said. “So, obviously I would need a car for that. If I have one, for sure, I’ll be here.
“At this time, I’m not trying to think that far ahead because obviously I still have five races to do (in 2020). The ‘500’ will be a race that I believe that I can do for a long time. But what I want doesn’t mean what’s going to happen. But, for sure, it would be in my thoughts.”
Who can blame him?
Kanaan has built one of the most impressive records at Indy among drivers from his, or any, generation. The victory in 2013 for KV Racing Technology-SH Racing was one of 10 top-10 finishes in his 18 starts, including eight in the top five. Kanaan has led in an all-time record 14 of his 18 starts.
And those strong results aren’t remnants of past glory, either. Kanaan finished ninth in Foyt’s car last year, one of three top-10 finishes in his last four “500” starts.
With a strong car under him, Kanaan still has the speed at IMS that helped him drive to the fastest Indy 500 victory in history, averaging 187.433 mph in 2013.
Plus there have been few drivers in this generation with more raw zeal for the Month of May. Kanaan lives for the race and a chance at a second drink of cold milk in Victory Lane.
This is a guy, after all, who has an intricate tattoo of the Borg-Warner Trophy and Yard of Bricks start-finish line inked on his muscled right shoulder and right upper arm.
“It changed my life completely,” Kanaan said of his Indy victory. “It was one Tony before the win and another Tony afterward. It kept me going to still race. It helped me a lot with some sponsorship to keep racing, but also I accomplished my biggest dream.
“That changed my life. I felt fulfilled. That’s something that not a lot of people can say. It’s such a wonderful feeling. This place gave me my dream as a kid, my dad’s dream. Dad passed away when I was 13, and it made me fulfill that dream for him, too.
“This place means everything for me.”