Helio Castroneves on Fatherhood, Racing and 'Dancing With the Stars'
But the Brazilian-born Izod IndyCar driver who won the Indianapolis 500 in 2001, 2002 and 2009, is chasing a lot more these days than the competition on the track.
Lately, Castroneves tells ParentDish, he always seems to be in a mad dash to keep up with his 14-month-old daughter, Mikaella, which, he says, requires some serious endurance.
Castroneves, 35, made a recent pit stop in New York City to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500, and to gush to ParentDish about his ride on the fatherhood express. An edited version of the interview follows.
ParentDish: How long have you been behind the wheel?
Hélio Castroneves: I started in 1987, and then I began in the Indy Car Series in 1998. Although I consider myself to be young, I am also a veteran. I will say racing keeps me young.
PD: Any close calls or brushes with death?
HC: Although I go at a high speed, I am always wearing a helmet and drive a car that was meant to go that fast.
PD: Do you consider yourself fearless?
HC: Absolutely. Look, we all have fears. I am human, so, yes, I have them, too. It is just what you do with it. But, to be honest, I feel safest when I am in a race car.
PD: Now that you're a father, do you view driving as a dangerous sport or fear something could go wrong?
HC: No. People don't realize this is both my job and my profession. My desk is the cockpit. When I am there, I am focused on what I need to do. I love my profession and I also love bringing my family there so they, too, can share in my passion.
PD: Would you let your daughter race if, one day, she wanted to follow in your footsteps?
HC: Right now there is only one race car driver in the family (laughs). If she pursues my dream, I will support her 100 percent and do everything in my power to help her achieve her dream.
PD: Speaking of fatherhood, how's that going?
HC: It is the best thing ever.
PD: You and your girlfriend, Adriana Henao, welcomed Mikaella back in 2009. How has being a dad changed you?
HC: I just love spending time with her. We also just moved to a new place and are still building our family together. It's a lot like racing -- we are trying to find the right path for everything and settle into a wonderful life. I will say, Adriana keeps her very active with all sorts of things.
PD: What is Mikaella up to these days?
HC: She is walking. Mikaella has such a personality and has the toughness of her mom. But her smile melts my heart every time and, I will confess, she is totally a daddy's girl.
PD: You have stated how important family is to you. Will you and Adriana get married?
HC: Yes, absolutely. It is a job, a commitment and compromise I am ready for. I feel marriage is sacred and very important. I have actually asked her a few times and she told me no because I wasn't romantic. So, now I need ideas on how to be romantic so she will say yes. Trust me, I am working on it and trying to surprise her.
PD: You were recently in the news for troubles with the tax man. Have you thought about how you are going to explain this to your daughter when she learns about your brush with the law?
HC: I will be honest in all aspects of my life. When she reads it, I will have to talk to her because it was a part of my life and a very tough moment in my life. I will never forget it. I am still trying to heal from it. The scars are still there and visible in my eyes. Sometimes I dream about that moment and what I will say.
PD: Which is?
HC: That I had to go to court and it was there the justice system determined my outcome. I am lucky in that the verdict was fair, especially since I am a foreigner. Although I was acquitted, it was a painful time in my life. I have every intention of being open. I think parents should be open and honest with their children. Honesty and communication is the best policy I know to ensure a great relationship.
PD: Based on your experience, what will you teach Mikaella about right and wrong?
HC: Although you can't control other people's minds, I want her to have an open mind and see how life will teach you certain things. I have a great partner in Adriana, and we balance each other out well in that department.
PD: Season 12 of "Dancing with the Stars" just kicked off. What are your thoughts on the new cast?
HC: I still watch it all of the time and I think this cast is fantastic. I was actually surprised how well Kristie Alley did. Her footwork was great. Chelsea Kane also did well. For the guys, Ralph Macchio did great and showed off his amazing personality. Hines Ward was very charismatic and that will take him a long way. And, of course, Sugar Ray Leonard is a fan favorite.
PD: You took home the mirror ball trophy in season five. What's your advice to the future winner?
HC: My advice, don't try and be a professional. Learn from the experts. It is easy to forget you are not a dancer because you get so caught up in the moment -- especially when the pros push you too far. It might take you three days to learn one move, so you need to be patient and just have fun.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.