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Champ Car Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Champ Car

Champ Car Media Conference

Alex Zanardi
December 2, 2004

ERIC MAUK: We have a special Champ Car media teleconference today. We are honored to be joined by two-time Champ Car title winner Alex Zanardi, who is making a whirlwind tour of the United States talking about his American release of his new book, entitled, My Sweetest Victory, which is Alex's story of life and racing, and chronicles everything from how he got started as a young cart-er all the way up to the events of what happened at Lausitzring in 2001 and his inspirational tale of how he got through that and getting right back into the mainstream of life and the success he's had here in the last couple years, which have included many things, including a return to racing. Alex, thank you very much for joining us today.

ALEX ZANARDI: It is absolutely my pleasure, and good afternoon, everyone. Look forward to answering your questions, gentlemen and ladies.

ERIC MAUK: Tell us just a little bit about what you've done on this tour. I understand even yesterday you went out and spent some time with Bode Miller, who is leading skier on the World Cup circuit.

ALEX ZANARDI: Yes, it's been so far a very busy five days behind us, because originally we had planned to stretch all of the commitments throughout a slightly longer period. But then BMW, which is the brand I'm driving for right now, is organizing this coming Saturday a big party for all of the people that are technically involved with the racing program and in nearby Munich, and of course I've got to attend that. And therefore, I've got to jump back on a plane tonight to be able to drive up to Munich on Saturday morning. So it's been rightly busy, but I arrived basically in New York, where I am right now, to do a few activities, a few PR activities related to, you know, to the launch of my American version of the book. I wish to take the opportunity to thank Bentley Publishing for having accepted to release my American version of the book, and I'd also like to say that I'm really glad, because I'm very passionate to this country in a way. I have enjoyed great satisfactions here. I have beautiful memories of my days here, and to some degree, I would love to live here. But, you could only stay in one place, and Europe is where I have decided to grow my son, to live with my family. So I really like the idea, love the idea of having something of Alex Zanardi, something that was written with my heart stuck here in the United States. That's why I'm particularly proud of the book, My Sweetest Victory. And, you know, I don't see it so much from a business point of view but much more from, you know, an emotional point of view. Anyway, to cut the story short, my first visit to New York ended with the invitation to the David Letterman Show, which is going to be aired tomorrow night in which I certainly had a lot of fun, but you would not expect much different when you have a host like David Letterman. Then we moved on to Boulder, Colorado where I did some filming and photo shooting on my motor ski, which is the trick that I using to skiing. I certainly enjoy quite a few times the taste of the snow as I slam my face a few times in the snow trying to ski and trying impress people. And I was fortunate enough to meet with Bode Miller, who is not only a great athlete, but he's really somebody that I admire a lot because as an athlete, it's he's not only good at one thing, he's good at a lot of things. He's been winning the slalom, Super-G downhill now. And I was lucky, I am lucky enough to be supported, to be named spokesman for a very important and prestigious company like Borilla (ph), which by the way has chosen Bode to be a spokesman which is how we got the contact. But once again, let me say, I really admire the guy because, you know, like when I was racing in CART, Indy Car, Champ Car, I don't know how I should call it; Champ Car, I guess it would work these days. I was very proud of the fact that I was able to win on three circuits, on road courses, on ovals and on super speedways. You know, you've got to have a good car, but you've got to be good to be able to win with a good car in all of these different circumstances. So in a way, of course I don't want to compare merits and technical results, but Bode has been doing that, as well, on a pair of skis. So, that's why I am really happy to have met him.

ERIC MAUK: The American version of the book, as you mentioned, is available through Bentley Publishing at www.bentleypublishing.com. Also there's a few of us were fortunate enough to get an advance copy of that and get a read through it. And might I say, I really did enjoy the book, and we wrote a review on that is on ChampCarWorldSeries.com that I'd like to have all of you check out. As we alluded to earlier, Alex only has a short time to be with us, so we'll get right to media questions. Let me please ask you to limit your questions to one question and a brief follow-up for Alex.

Q. Alex, I wanted to ask you, I haven't had a chance to read the book, but I wanted to know, what has been the most difficult thing that you've had to overcome since your accident, and how did you go about doing that?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, first of all, let me say that I do believe that my good recovery is due certainly to the fact that I was able financially to get my hands on to the best technical solutions to get the attention of great doctors, of great technicians, of great physio therapists. But the thing that I have to thank the most is my mom, and Daniela, because she made me so optimistic and so positive. This is pure luck; this is not something that I have to take merit for. That helped me to put things in perspective from the word go, because I remember when my wife told me what had happened as I just woke up from a coma, I told her I was going to be okay, I told her we were going to deal with the problems, but one problem at a time. And said, "Just let me sleep now because I'm tired." As I was, you know, falling asleep again, I could see myself in a way with a full millimeter key which is the universal key to play with my prosthetical leg, making my own modifications and already getting it better, or at least better than they had been before to the way they were available to people. And it had been that way and it had been in my racing career whenever I was making my car better and that was leading me to win a race, and I was having the taste of the great satisfaction that I was having fun and enjoying myself. Well, it had been the same in my rehabilitation. You know every time I was making something which was making me work better or stay on my prosthetical legs longer, it was giving me satisfaction; and therefore, I've got to say, I really enjoyed myself, rehabilitating myself. But once again, I believe that the most important thing in my recovery has been the fact that I was able naturally every time I was gaining something to only refer to the day before. I never, never felt, okay, today I'm working better, but I can't keep up with my physiotherapist, which is a 55 years old man; I'm only 34. I always felt, hey, I'm working better than yesterday. That's the important thing. It's taking me one second less to go from A to B than it did yesterday. It doesn't matter whether before the accident I was running -- in 40 minutes, I was running 10Ks. Now in 40 minutes I only walk 3Ks, but that's my new limit and that's what I'm trying to beat, and that's the important thing and that's why I'm a happy guy.

Q. How did your mom help you through this? Was there anything in particular she said that sticks with you?

ALEX ZANARDI: My mom wanted to help me from where I was born, giving me the education and it was very, very important. Also in this circumstance but also in other difficult circumstances in my life. After all, your parents are your first model and your first inspirational model, for sure, for the good things I had. Therefore, I owe a big thank-you for that as I do for my father, who is no longer with us unfortunately. But my mother is an incredible woman, really tough woman, and she was just unbelievable in the whole thing because she looked after my son, Niccolo, and she was able to make him feel loved and make him feel secure and protected despite the fact that her son was in a hospital bed in between life-and-death. That's what I admire the most of my mom; that's she's so tough.

Q. First of all, have you met Reggie showers, the Pro Stock Bike racer --

ALEX ZANARDI: No, unfortunately not.

Q. He's someone you've got to meet. You two are very, very similar in your attitude. He races obviously Pro Bike and he has prosthetic legs, and it would be amazing for you two to come together your attitudes are so similar. I wonder if you could ever meet with him or somebody else in a similar situation as you; how could you guys move forward, because unfortunately there are some people out there that are still so upset or negative or can't overcome these circumstances. How could you and maybe a Reggie Showers move forward to help people get a positive attitude and do what you do?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, I can tell you what I can do and what Reggie could do. In other words, what people like us could do, people that have their ugly face on television and under the lights of a camera, yes, it's true, we could try to pass on the message that life goes on, that there's still a way to enjoy what you have if you totally understand that life has got a lot to offer. If you appreciate what you've got left, not if you're sad for what you've left behind. But, on the other hand, there is also a lot of what you guys, journalists, television people, media in general, can do by passing on the message that, for sure, people like Alex Zanardi are people that can be taken as an example, because somehow they had a very positive reaction to adversity and life in general. But on the other hand -- never underestimate that even Alex Zanardi before the accident, if he would have seen somebody in my situation today doing the things he's doing, he probably would have said, "Man, that guy, he's really awesome, I could not do what he's doing in his position." And instead, one day it happened to me and deep inside I found energies that that helped me to move on and to deal with what I had tto deal and get these results. I can say that because throughout my rehabilitation, I've met a lot of people that do not have my popularity, but certainly dealt with their adversity with the same credit I found and the same determination and this is really the message that we have to pass on. Because otherwise, the guy that are home sitting there and being miserable because something like what happened to me happened to him is going to convince himself because he's not going to do it because he's not an Alex Zanardi type of guy, and that's not true. Alex Zanardi is a guy with all his fears and all his weakness, because with his strength s well, like everybody else. And you know, this is the message we have to pass on; that not only famous people can do it. There are big population of normal people that have to deal with adversity in their life that found incredibly great solutions to come out of it. And that's why and that's the reason why, you know, a lot of other people, if they found themselves in trouble, it is understandable that they will have a moment of depression, a moment of sensation of loss. But eventually, you know, we are all stronger than that and if we manage to bring home our lives and understand what our objective and what our motivations to go on, you know, courage, determination, all of these words that we often use, will come along. So let me take the opportunities to share all of the compliments that I daily received from a lot of people with all of the normal guys that I've met in my rehabilitation that have done, you know, similar, same or even better things than the ones I do.

Q. The spinning of celebratory donuts, it's been a universal message celebrating wins. That's got to do your heart good; I know you've noticed that, but since you started doing those things it's become en vogue and it's become very popular. Can I get a comment on that, please.

ALEX ZANARDI: First of all, let me thank you for that kind of a question, which is sort of a compliment, as well. The fact that I did donuts, and I believe that the fact that fans appreciated this because they understood that when you get the opportunity to do what I do and you're so fortunate to, you know, to enjoy the drive of such a beautiful car like the one I was driving, you know, you also get the pressure of trying to do well because you're taking everybody's job on Sunday afternoon around. And you desire so much to do well and together with that, there comes feelings that has a lot to do with pressure, much more than enjoyment. The technical gesture of driving the car on its own, it takes a lot of your concentration, so when you finally see the checkered flag, it's sort of a relief, right; and "Man, I've done it." And if you've done it the right way and you've got Chip Ganassi screaming to you on the radio: "You're the man! You're the man! You're doing it!" You're so happy that all of a sudden now, next thing do you, you take advantage of all the power you've got behind you and you do something maybe stupid, maybe crazy, but certainly, something that is a lot of fun; you play with your car. You spin donuts, do you it once, twice. And by then you realize that the fans love it, and so now you don't do it for fun anymore. Yeah, you do it for fun, but you also do it also for your ego and for making the fans happy. And, you know if you're lucky enough as I was to win a lot of races, you get a lot of opportunity to practice that and you end up being pretty good at it. So, okay, there are other guys doing that, but I don't feel like this is something mine absolutely. I don't feel these guys are stealing anything away from me. I've seen a lot of these guys doing it just for joy to express their joy. I've seen other guys doing it for, you know, showing off a little bit and that's less appreciable. But, you know, as I said, you know I've got a lot of opportunity to practice and I ended up doing it pretty well, whether there are some prosthetic limitations out there sometimes, but I wish all of the guys a lot of time to practice to do a better donuts because that would mean that they win a lot of races.

Q. What did you have to do to get in shape for this trek across the ocean? Driving is one thing, but having to go on this kind of tour in the United States requires a lot of stamina. So what have you been doing, Alex?

ALEX ZANARDI: This is a very intelligent question and first time I get posed this kind of question. Because often people get surprised with me and they say, "Alex, I mean, you are so brave you've gone back to racing that is unbelievable, and how can you do that, how can you technically drive the race car so well without your legs?" Fine, okay, understandable. But after all, I mean, this is, you know, the most important thing for me is that thanks to my rehabilitation, thanks to my determination and to my passion for life, I've been able to make the question whether I race or not again an option for me. Because if I would still be in the situation I was two years ago, whether I would be able to go to the bathroom, how could I think about racing? Even if the head was the same, technically I would not be able to drive. And not only that, but to show up to the circuit, to be sufficiently independent to jump in the race car on my own, to come out on my own on the race car in case I would have an accident. You know, to stay in my legs for the time it requires during the day to do all of the activities surrounding the race weekend. So, I mean, that's the real question. That's the most important thing is the fact that I can do things like that. And once again for me it has become an option, thanks to all of that, I've been able to make that an option again for myself, whether I want to race or not. The fact that I'm racing, yes, is important, it's my passion, but, it's not my life, racing. Do you understand what I'm saying? It's one thing of my life, and I did not push myself so hard in my rehabilitation because I wanted to go back racing. I wanted to do it because I wanted to be able again to choose, you know in my life what to do. So, to answer your question, yes, that's the real Victory, that is the sweetest victory, the fact that I'm able to jump up in the morning, put my legs up, drive my road car to Venice airport, park it there, unload the car, go and check in, jump on a plane, fly nine hours over to New York; and when I arrive here, unload bags from the belt because there is nobody there available to help, put it on a trolley, drive out, search for the limo that is supposed to pick me up and just find out that it's gone to the wrong terminal; so I have to walk somewhere else. Finally, you know, check in at the hotel and meet with my friend, Maximo, that is my companion here and looking at him and say, "What do we do? Let's go to Starbucks for a good cup of Italian coffee," and still have the energies to do that, that is the important thing. Not to be forced to run to your room just to take your legs off because you can't tolerate them anymore; that is the important thing. So I really appreciate the question because for the first time somebody has understood what is my real sweetest victory. Not the fact that I'm racing, also because I can't say I'm racing today. I'd better say I'm driving for the speed I'm getting my car around the circuit. I hope I'll be racing next year a little bit more.

Q. Do you have a ride for next year?

ALEX ZANARDI: Yeah, I'm going to stick with the same team, with BMW, with the BMW Team Italy Spain, hopefully with better results, and I'll be driving the No. 4 BMW 320 in the World Car Championship, so stay tuned.

ERIC MAUK: Thank you very much for coming on and talking to us today. Best of luck not only getting through the rest of the week, but next year in your racing career as you mentioned, and we hope to get a chance to speak to you very soon.

ALEX ZANARDI: If I may just say the final thing, to whoever is listening at the beginning of this teleconference. I made a little bit of fun saying Indy Car, Champ Cars. I do absolutely not mean to not pay respect to these guys that are racing and what is the series that threw me up in the success world. I had the opportunity to meet these last two days with my dear friend, Jimmy Vasser, which is a co-owner in the series. And I do believe that you can change the name, you can change everything you want, but as a result, you've got a great competition. And I'm really glad, you know, Champ Car has been able to go through a difficult moment, this is undoubtable that it's been a very, very difficult moment. But the decisions that have been taken recently I do believe are very wise ones, very good ones. So I wish Champ Car all the best, because it is really a fantastic series and very, very valuable for the fans. So with that, you know, thank you again and last words, just to say happy holidays to everybody, Merry Christmas and very successful new year. Thank you.

ERIC MAUK: Thank you, Alex.

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