I am legend

Posted by Iannucci | 7/24/2008 | 16 comments »
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“Legend tells of a legendary driver whose racing skills were the stuff of legend… “

If someone were to as you to name some Indy racing (or open-wheel racing, if you prefer) legends, which ones come to mind? Names like Andretti and Foyt (or Foyt and Andretti, if you prefer) are going to be there as will Unser and Mears. There will be other ones that arise depending on your age and favorite type of races, like Vukovich or Fittipaldi or Luyendyk or Parnelli Jones or whoever else you care to add.

But would you have “Castroneves” on your list?

Sports luminaries and philanthropy icons will be recognized when they gather at the 23rd Annual Great Sports Legends Dinner on Monday, September 22, at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

The 2008 Great Sports Legends are:
• Andre Agassi
• Jerry Rice
• Scottie Pippen
• Joe Gibbs
• Helio Castroneves
• Richard "Goose" Gossage
• Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini
• Angelo Dundee
• Gabrielle Reece


“Legend” is a big word for anyone to carry around, much less someone who is still competing, but at the risk of inflating egos further let’s compare Castroneves to his peers to see if he’s at least statistically legendary.

Combining his CART and IndyCar records, Helio has won 18 of 188 (9.6%) races, which is good, but legendary? His contemporaries Scott Dixon (15 of 130, 11.5%) and Tony Kanaan (14 of 186, 7.5%) are in the same ballpark, as are Paul Tracy (31 of 261, 11.9%) and Dan Wheldon (15 of 92, 16.3%) who have excelled in one series or the other, so this isn't exactly rare air he's breathing.

However, Helio has two wins at Indianapolis – as many as thos other four drivers combined – which may be the penultimate measure of a “legend” in this form of motorsports. In fact, he’s got a 2nd, a 3rd, and a 4th there as well, making 5 Top 5s in just 8 attemtps at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Being your best on the biggest stage is definitely a trait of legends.

Then again, all of those drivers above not named “Helio” has won a series title, which should be a minimum requirement for any legend. And no, Dancing titles do not count in this discussion. At least I hope they don’t.

So the question to the peanut gallery is two-fold: would you consider everyone’s favorite fence-climber a “legend”, and if he’s not then does anyone else currently racing in the IndyCar series qualify for that title?

(Photo courtesy of TrackSide Online, and thanks to the Diecast Dude from bringing this to our attention)

16 comments

  1. Tabernerus // July 24, 2008 9:33 AM  

    Well, Legend is a weird title, sort of like MVP is always contentious. Is it the basketball player who most lifted his team to great heights, or is it the best all-around player?

    In this case, Helio has twice earned the coolest parking space on earth, and that's gotta count for something.

    But still, no Championship. I'd say if he wins a Championship, he'll be very close. Add another 500? Even closer. The problem is that the early part of his career came when nobody was watching, by and large.

    Also, one thing the other legendary drivers have in common is that all raced into their 40's ... or didn't make it that far.

    Leaving aside the terrible latter option, if Helio accomplishes those things cited above, and races into his early forties, then he might well qualify.

    Though he does pass one test. Ask 100 Americans to name an Indy car driver (or open-wheel driver) from the last 15 years. I'll bet Helio would be the #1 answer. Well, maybe Danica, but after that, Helio.

  2. llilly // July 24, 2008 9:38 AM  

    I wonder if they have their selection criteria spelled out anywhere.

  3. Anonymous // July 24, 2008 10:25 AM  

    no.. Helio has 1 indy 500 victory.. he has 2 rings, but he only won the race once....

  4. migue // July 24, 2008 10:56 AM  

    Luyendijk a possible legend? I never understood that much really. Sure, he's a legend here in the Netherlands, no doubt he's the best Dutch racedriver ever after Jan Lammers (whom we might also remember from his CART/IndyCar time at Forsythe and fading disappointing All American Racers), but is he even legendary in international terms? I doubt, but he's still a hero nonetheless.

    Helio is a great driver, but in my opinion nowhere near legend. AJ Foyt, Ralph DaPalma, Alex Zanardi, Rick Mears, Mario Andretti, etc. These are legends to me, no Helio Castroneves, not without a championshiptitle.

  5. Anonymous // July 24, 2008 11:07 AM  

    Marty Roth, a legend in his own mind.

  6. Carrie // July 24, 2008 11:09 AM  

    Putting your no championship argument into perspective, I'd have to point toward a NASCAR driver. Mark Martin. I don't have his stats right in front of me but the guy is a legend even without a championship.

    All that said, Helio still doesn't measure up to that stick either. At least not yet.

  7. Jennifer of Dog.Yarn.Knit. // July 24, 2008 12:01 PM  

    Is that you, Paul Tracy, leaving comments on blogs as "Anonymous"?

    I think one day most will be comfortable with calling Helio a legend. But it may be kind of early for that title just yet.

  8. Dean // July 24, 2008 12:03 PM  

    "no.. Helio has 1 indy 500 victory.. he has 2 rings, but he only won the race once...."

    Let me guess, you're a Paul Tracy fan. Helio won that race fair and square. He was still in the lead when the caution came out.

  9. Jenna // July 24, 2008 12:49 PM  

    Helio=Peyton Manning (pre-Superbowl). Peyton wasn't truly one of the best until he got a ring. Winning Indy is big, but in the end its just one race of many in the quest for championship.

  10. Tabernerus // July 24, 2008 1:21 PM  

    Jenna, that interpretation depends upon who you ask. If this were NASCAR and the Daytona 500, I'd agree, but Indy is an entity unto itself unlike any other closed course motor race. Jim Clark never won a USAC National Championship. I doubt he cared. He drank the milk, though.

    I agree that without a National Championship, Legend is a bit much, but the Peyton Manning comparison seems a bit thin.

  11. mikebdot // July 24, 2008 1:31 PM  

    This is a semantic argument and that would bore me to tears right now...

  12. Mike // July 24, 2008 2:48 PM  

    Let's not forget that, despite his obvious talent, all of Helio's success in IRL was prior to the unification. Yes, I know that some of the CART teams came to Indy to race him, but using that standard to measure, Penske was a CART team anyway, instantly becoming a Big Fish in a relatively small pond, and his drivers reaped the benefits (as did Chip's). The question looms large about the aforementioned matter of "who won" on the track, and there was evidence (that never got to be presented) to show that it may in fact have been PT. No doubt had it continued under green, Paul was going to eat Helio's lunch that day. But I digress... I agree with Jennifer, it's just too early to start laying that moniker upon the guy. Now that (most) all the 'guns' are here again, we'll see how it shakes out.

  13. Brother Indy // July 24, 2008 3:59 PM  

    Legend is how many empty milk bottles sit on your mantle, and having more than one qualifies in my book

  14. Demond Sanders // July 24, 2008 4:49 PM  

    One more Indy win would mean a great deal more than winning his first championship. It would put him in very elite company.

  15. J E Clerk // July 24, 2008 5:01 PM  

    Wilbur Shaw, Bill Vukovich, and don't forget Tommy Milton !!

  16. ASpeed // July 24, 2008 7:13 PM  

    I think that "legend" is the sort of thing that you can only hang on an athlete when they're still active, only if they're clearly the most dominant player of their time, or are clearly bound to be in the top-10 of all time. Mario and A.J. fall in that category, same as Michael Jordan, Brett Farve, Hank Aaron, etc. Once a guy is retired, it's easier to put an athlete's accomplshments into perspective, and then guys who are 2-time Indy winners might be able to enter the argument, especially if they have a championship or two and 20+ race wins.

    At this point, I'd say that Helio's not quite there yet, though future accomplishments could easily change that. I'd be more willing to put Hornish into the argument...though he hasn't won any dancing titles or have the TV-friendly personality, both of which I suspect played into the nomination...