This week made me think of a Def Leppard lyric, and it wasn’t “Livin’ like a lover with radar phone”. Although your humble host does ponder that one on occasion since I still have no idea what it means. Probably something naughty. No, the one I was thinking of was from “Rock of Ages” that goes “It’s better to burn out than fade away”. The context for the lyric was the juxtaposition of the announcements regarding the Brazilian duo of Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, who both took career turns this week.
(“Wait, who’s burning out and who’s fading away?” – The Spotter)
Team Penske has confirmed the worst secret in motorsports, that Castroneves time as a full time Indycar driver is now concluded. Sadness. For real. I mean, I’ve never really been a diehard Helio fan since he drives for Penske. And rooting for Penske is like rooting for the house in poker. But he’s displayed the kind of personality and skill that many fans adore. He’s been a tremendous ambassador for the series, not just at races but on gameshows and interviews.
And for this he’s been compensated well. No doubt he is staying with Team Penske because they have taken good care of his financial concerns. He will continued to be paid well to drive a different kind of car, one that also could eventually lead to Castroneves finding a victory at the 24 Hours at Le Mans. That would be a substantial feather in his virtual cap, to be sure.
But as anyone who watched awkward interviews with Castroneves during final weeks of the 2017 season could tell, this wasn’t his choice. He’s been highly successful in Indycar, and he made no bones that he wanted to keep chasing that illusive Championship season. But he also like getting paid Penske-style, so that certainly limits the choices.
As for Kanaan, he has been confirmed as the driver of the #14 with AJ Foyt Racing, pairing a couple of fan favorites, if not living legends. Yeah, I know the pluralization of “living legends” may be a stretch since Super Tex has 50 more wins than Tony, but there’s still time, right?
As much of a fun story as this paring is, one has to think Kanaan’s options for remaining in Indycar were limited. No offense to the hard-working folks on the Foyt team, but they’ve only got one win in the re-unified era. Drivers like to win, so free agents aren’t going to put that team at the top of their wish list. This may have been Kanaan’s only option to stay in the series full time.
All of that said, this is not to disparage either driver’s choices. To be sure, they have both been blessed with very, very long and successful careers that every other driver not named “Dixon”, “Power”, or “Bourdais” would gladly enjoy. But one is choosing to accept a position in another series while another is choosing to stay in the series but with a lesser-successful team. Both are highly successful drivers well North of 40, and both are continuing to race.
I guess what I’m asking is: what is it about racing that keeps either of these two from just retiring? If anyone could retire on their own terms it could be them, and yet they don’t appear to have even considered it after being removed from the top two teams in the series. There’s something about racing that makes a driver go and go and go until they are physically unable, or no one wants to them you anymore.
I’m not doubting their skills, because they are still both competent and competitive racers. And I’m not discounting their passions, which clearly still burn brightly for motorsports. I’m just marveling at the desire to keep turning laps, no matter what. It may be better to burn out than fade away, but man, burning out for these two is taking a long, long time.
Final Lap: A long, long time in racing makes for some great of stories!