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Tuesday, June 18
The Indiana Daily Student

sports

Winless Kanaan a fan favorite at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS — At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, legends are born not only with a win, but with a driver’s second, third, or, in three rare cases, fourth-place victory.

Tony Kanaan would be satisfied with just one.

The Brazilian driver won a pole at Indianapolis in 2005 and has recorded five top-five finishes, but has yet to taste the traditional victor’s buttermilk at IMS after 11 attempts. His lack of a breakthrough win, however, has done nothing to diminish his popularity among fans in Indianapolis. In fact, his repeated close calls may have made him one of Indy’s most popular drivers.

“My name in IndyCar, it’s a lot bigger right now because of the fans in Indianapolis and because I have not won it yet than actually, probably if I had won already,” Kanaan said in a press conference Wednesday.

Much of Kanaan’s popularity comes from his reputation as a “nice guy,” as Bidro Lima, a Brazilian native and resident of West Lafayette, Ind., describes him.

“He’s a nice guy, you know,” Lima said. “His interviews are always cool, and he’s an awesome guy.”

Although reputation often indicates assumption, Matt Converset, a high school teacher who resides in Decatur, Ind., has seen first-hand what many fans claim draw them to Kanaan.

“I used to coach basketball, and one of our players had an aneurysm and ended up down in Riley Children’s Hospital, and Tony came and saw her and kind of took a liking to her,” Converset said.

While many athletes will visit hospitals or sick children, Converset said Kanaan followed up after the first meeting. 
 
“I think it was ’04 at Community Day,” Converset said. “I just gave Tony an update and he said, ‘Hey, can you come by after the autograph session? I have something I want to give to her.’”

Kanaan’s gift: a small Brazilian medallion, one that he claimed to have worn during every race.

“Now every time Tony sees me, he waves and says hi,” Converset said. “He’s my favorite driver, for obvious reasons, even though I always kind of liked him before.”

It is that part of Kanaan, outside his on-track triumphs and close calls, outside his worldwide fame and wealth, that has endeared him to fans in Indianapolis.

Kanaan said he takes comfort in knowing that he is appreciated in the race he works so hard to win.

“The way the fans treat me, you know, it’s a privilege that I have to be here every year,” he said. “I love the way the fans think like that, because I know they know how much I work for it.”

Kanaan will continue to chase his elusive first Indy 500 victory, knowing it may never come. Despite coming close on many occasions, he said he does not feel that he has been slighted by the track.

“I am not going to go away years from now if I never win regretting or being a little bit bitter about it,” he said. “I mean, I had a great time.”

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