Would Helio Belong On Mount Rushmore?

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Yesterday’s scary crash notwithstanding, Helio Castroneves seems to be persona non grata these days among many fans and drivers, after he caused the Turn One melee in the Angie’s List Grand Prix on Indianapolis. Shortly after he was penalized eight points yesterday for his part in the fracas, Helio lost control of his car in Turn One and flipped end-over-end. Fortunately, he was uninjured, but it was very frightening and last week’s race and eight points were suddenly the last thing on people’s minds.

Still, fans and drivers seem to have grown tired of Helio’s on-track behavior. Even on this site, one fan called him “the dirtiest driver in any form of motorsports”. Well, that may be a little harsh. I’ve seen the replay. While Helio was not as patient as he could have been, it was not an egregious banzai move like some that I’ve seen.

But let’s look forward to Helio’s future – not only his immediate future, but to his legacy once he steps out of the cockpit.

As we all know, Helio Castroneves is a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. That’s a small group of drivers that Helio is a part of. Its entire membership includes the legendary names of Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser and Dario Franchitti.

With Dario Franchitti’s retirement before last season, Helio is currently the only driver that is on the cusp of entering the rarified air of becoming a four-time winner. By doing so, his name would be linked with the other three men that have done so since the race began running in 1911. This would create a Mount Rushmore, so to speak, of AJ Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves as the only four-time winners of the Indianapolis 500.

My question is; would you consider Helio Castroneves to be on the same level as those other drivers, if he were to win his fourth? In short, would his name and face belong on the mythical Mount Rushmore of the Indianapolis 500?

Critics will say that he won his first two against inferior competition. There will also be the conspiracy loons out there that refuse to recognize his 2002 victory, saying that Paul Tracy was the true winner of that race. They are the same ones that claim that Jim Clark won the 1966 race instead of Graham Hill, and that Ralph Mulford was the real winner of the 1911 race instead of Ray Harroun. For this discussion, I’m going by how many times a driver has their face on the Borg-Warner trophy. Period.

I’ve even read where some poo-poo AJ Foyt’s achievements due to the fact that in all four of his wins, he benefitted from his main competition suffering a problem just before the end of the race. To them I say, that’s why it’s the Indianapolis 500 and not the Indy 480.

Three-time winner Bobby Unser could have an asterisk by each one of his wins, if you follow that logic. He won in 1968 mainly because Joe Leonard’s turbine flamed out. His 1975 win was a rain-shortened race, and his 1981 win was fraught with controversy. Yet no one questions his membership into the three-time winner’s club.

Critics also say that Castroneves has benefitted from being with Team Penske for all of his wins. That may be the lamest argument of all. Two of the three current four-time winners spent time with Team Penske. Al Unser got his fourth win at Penske, while all of Rick Mears’ victories came under the Penske banner – but his credentials as a four-time winner are unquestioned.

Supporters of Helio will say a win is a win. The counter to that would be that a win (or four) in the Indianapolis 500 does not define a career. Otherwise, you could make the case that Buddy Rice was just as good a driver as Mario Andretti or that Eddie Cheever was a better driver than Michael Andretti, Lloyd Ruby or Rex Mays. The football analogy to that is to say that Trent Dilfer was a superior quarterback to Dan Marino or Fran Tarkington, since Dilfer owns a Super Bowl ring and Marino and Tarkington do not.

But whether it’s Super Bowls or the Indianapolis 500, you might discount one win and say it was a fluke. Multiple wins? That’s a different story. None of Helio’s wins in the “500” were flukes. Even in his controversial win in 2002, he was right there at the end. He was also there for very close second place finishes in 2003 and last year, along with a third place finish in the rain-shortened race of 2007.

The critics of Castroneves also point to his outgoing (some say outlandish) personality and his winning Dancing with the Stars. They point out that none of the other drivers would have done that. That’s probably true. Al Unser and Rick Mears both have very quiet, soft-spoken and unassuming personalities. You can’t say that about AJ Foyt, but he came from another era where such things were just not done by “real men”.

The thing is, it’s hard to compare drivers and personalities from different eras. It’s also hard to compare the 2015 Indianapolis 500 to the 1965 race. It really can’t be done. Who is to say that if Helio Castroneves were driving in 1965, that he could not adapt to those cars and win in that era? No one, because you can’t make that comparison.

All a driver can do is to line up and race the others that are lined up against them. If they beat them, they’re the winner. If Helio wins his fourth Indianapolis 500 this year or in the near future, he will have beaten his competition four times. No one has done it more than that.

So, the answer to the question of whether or not the name of Helio Castroneves would be worthy to be mentioned with AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears? As far as I’m concerned, after examining arguments on both sides of the question, the answer is Yes.

Let the debate rage on…

George Phillips

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17 Responses to “Would Helio Belong On Mount Rushmore?”

  1. My personal opinion is Dixon and Dario are/were 10X as dirty as Helio, and while I wouldn’t call them dirty, Power and RHR are in more controversial situations than Helio. I have noticed a bit more Helio backlash the last few years and I’m not really sure what it’s about. Dixon backlash? Sure, he’s really boring. General Penske/Ganassi fatigue? Understood. Helio hate? Don’t really understand that. I actually like Helio a fair amount since he always defies the experts and comes back every year competitive long after people thought he was going to be forced into retirement.

    • I love Helio! He actually speaks to me and others every day in Gasoline Alley, unlike a certain Tony Kanaan, who won’t get out of his golf cart to mess with fans unless there’s a network camera around.

      Talked to Robin Miller yesterday and asked him about “the wreck” and I said “Helio didn’t even slow down (which he didn’t) and Miller replied “He used Dixon to slow down.” Priceless….

      Another beautiful day forecast here in Indy, y’all come out!

  2. Helio seems to be a lightning rod for controversy. I have never met him but it seems like he is a genuine guy as Phil proves above. It sounds like he is not acting on camera and he is who he really is. It is really tough to not like him. I find a fan more and more the older he gets. Being an old guy myself I like seeing the older drivers mixing it up with the younger guys. I used to be the other way around and it seemed like not long ago. Its funny how times change. He has been occasionally controversial though. There was a race, Michigan I think? Justin Wilson was trying to get around Helio and there was some major blocking going on. I remember not liking him so much right then. I felt for him at Edmonton where he was penalized for that ridiculous blocking rule which led to his famous tirade. Man that was good entertainment.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      On Tuesday Dario was speeding through Gasoline Alley in the Garages and a little girl (who couldn’t have been older than four) called out “Dario!” He SLAMMED on the brakes, turned in his seat and blew the little girl a kiss! I wish I had my video camera on, it would’ve gone viral. So priceless! She was so tickled.

      Kanaan, Montoya and Marco would’ve driven right by because they are either going way too fast (Marco) or do not ever look from side to side as they zoom through Gasoline Alley in the Garages. It’s unfortunate, because that little girl will remember that moment forever, and the three I mentioned just aren’t really concerned with making lifelong memories for fans, at least not off the track, and I’m there every day, all day.

      • Thanks for sharing the Dario sighting, Phil. He did the same at Long Beach this year. Helio has also stopped to talk to our group, even though he was running to a press event. He couldn’t have been nicer. So relieved he and Josef and Pippa and Simona are okay. Very scary for all.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I think Helio’s outgoing and generally peppy personality rubs some fans the wrong way because they see it as insincere. I don’t agree, I’ve seen enough evidence to conclude that he is not simply acting for the cameras, but I do understand. He is not the only public figure with a constantly peppy and positive demeanor to face or exacerbate backlash because of it.

      I’m not sure I can blame fans who don’t like Helio because they see him as a blocker, though. He can push the envelope there.

  3. jhall14 Says:

    My answer is NO and this is why, Foyt, Unser and Mears were all champions of the series, not just 4 time winners of Indianapolis. If you want to be on Mt. Rushmore, You also need to be a series champion.

  4. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    (in MIke Ditka voice) Yes. Next question.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    I made this point in a comment here last month, and I stand by it. Four wins can’t really be discounted, but if Helio wins a fourth 500 he would be still be an outsider among the other Four-time winners.

    Remarkably, Foyt, Unser, and Mears all raced against each other for well over a decade. They also raced against multi-time winners and/or all-time talents like Rutherford, Uncle Bobby and Al Jr., Johncock, Sneva, and the Andrettis. Helio’s competition and era, rightly or wrongly, is not as highly-regarded as that of the current four-time winners. The opinion of their era is surely enhanced because they all raced against each other.

    I guess a fourth 500 victory would make Helio the Teddy Roosevelt on the Mt. Rushmore of four-time winners. Roosevelt was a great leader and great president, certainly, but the Spanish-American War he participated in is regarded on a different level than the Revolutionary and Civil Wars that involved the other three. Didn’t keep his face off of the mountain, though.

  6. Ron Ford Says:

    He may have the best hair. Next question.

  7. My question is whether 4 wins is the determining factor for being on this fictional Mt. Rushmore. Are we talking about the best drivers at Indy or the drivers with the most wins. I don’t think the later necessarily proves the former. There have been many drivers who for various reasons have not won four 500s. I wrote a post about this on my blog some time ago. If you look at all the factors I think there is no doubt that Foyt and Mears belong on the list. Big Al may be the next best but number 4 is very difficult to determine. In any case whether HCN wins another 500 or not he would not be on my list of candidates. My nominees would be; Clark, Vukovich Sr., Michael Andretti , and Wheldon with my nod going to Dan Wheldon.

  8. Ok. I overreacted. Helio is the 2nd dirtiest driver in motorsports. There is no way anyone can take that crown from Pastor Maldonado.

    If he wins a 4th, how do you not put him on that Indy 500 pedistal? Now about that Championship?

  9. don’t know about Rushmore, but I’ll give him credit for at least having a personality. he’s probably done as much to promote Indycar in the public eye as any other driver.

    • Tim Nothhelfer Says:

      Helio has qualities that have kept him at the top of Indy consistently for over a decade. Who else has been better longer?

  10. Yannick Says:

    From my point of view, what happened at the 2015 GP of Indianapolis was just a normal racing incident. I didn’t understand why the fans called for a penalty. I mean as tight as this bunch was going into the braking zone for Turn 1, there just wasn’t much space for anyone.

    But my oh my, that Chevy flipping backwards looked scary. The manufacturer has got some serious work to do now to keep the car on the ground after a spin like this one.

    I’m glad Helio is OK.

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