Would Helio Belong On Mount Rushmore?
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…