SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Everywhere you go these days in Indy, you see his face.
Hélio Castroneves is a fan favorite. That big smile and personality have captured the fancy of the public.
Hélio is now racing to make history. When he hits the gas May 29, he'll be trying to win a fifth Indy 500.
He joined an elite club last year with his 4th victory. That put him in the elite company of other 4-time winners A.J. Foyt (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977), Al Unser (1970, 1971, 1978, 1987) and Rick Mears (1979, 1984, 1988, 1991).
Since then, Hélio has been in high demand.
On a cold and raw April day, I caught up with him at the Myer Shank Race shop outside of Columbus, Ohio.
Castroneves came bouncing into the shop and personally greeted every crew member.
We had a chance to have a relaxed conversation about last May.
I asked him what the past year has been like.
"Fantastic. I am telling you, I'm in a much better mood! Ask Adriana…no, but what an honor, you know, being able to be with AJ, Rick Mears and Al Unser. He's no longer here with us anymore.”
(Unser, one of only four drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 a record four times, died Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, following years of health issues. He was 82.)
Last summer, Hélio came back to the Speedway to be welcomed into that club. It was a day he will cherish forever.
"That deal...it's hard to describe words and I try, you know? The best joke was, or best line was actually, was Rick Mears...when I asked him, 'Do I need to do anything? I need a membership,'" Hélio said. "And he's like, 'Yeah, you're gonna pay for the membership, no worries.' But it's just been gratifying. I'm just grateful, and I won't take anything for granted.”
Hélio made it very clear to me he is not satisfied with winning four times, that’s in the past. He turns 47 in May and wants to make even more history at the Speedway.
"Dave, I wouldn't be here if I didn't see that I have a chance to be not only competing, be fighting for wins, okay? And that's what I want to do. And I'm happy given this opportunity with so many partners. It just motivated me, even more, to go out there and fight."
His energy is boundless. His crew feeds off that Hélio vibe. He wants to prove to everyone that last year was not a fluke. He even had a warning for the other drivers.
"They should understand that last year wasn't you know, 'lucky.' We not only had a great car, great equipment, and we made it happen. So this year, rules didn't change. So it's up to them to come up to our standard but we feel that we have room to grow. I mean, that was our first race we have, you know, connecting is still connecting...believe it or not," Hélio said.
So now he takes center stage again at the world’s largest one day sporting event. He lives for the pressure of trying to become the first 5-time winner.
"Well, I'll use a quote from the gods of racing with AJ Foyt! Records are meant to be broken, right? And hopefully, that's what I'm looking for now. I hope to break the record!” Hélio said.
If anyone can win back-to-back Indy 500’s, it's Hélio. He already did that 20 years ago.
Look out race fans...he’s ready!