Tony Kanaan, Rubens Barrichello are teammates on, off the track

Tony Kanaan, Rubens Barrichello
(Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)

IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan is sitting beside his best friend and teammate Rubens Barrichello. Together they are talking about the value of friendship and how important it is to separate competitiveness from what is most important in life.

It is then Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion, recalls a plane ride this season that occurred after he had finished ahead of Barrichello, in his first season of IndyCar racing after 19 years in Formula 1.


"Eduardo, Rubens' oldest son, is sitting beside me on the plane," Kanaan, 37, said. "I can see how [ticked] off he is. He wants his dad to do well and I've beaten his dad a few times and now he has to see me, sit right beside me on the plane and talk to me. I looked at the kid and I could see he just wants to kill me."

Barrichello, 40, laughs at the memory, "Life in motion is the best teacher," he said.


Friends for life, Kanaan and Barrichello arrive in town for Sunday's Grand Prix of Baltimore reminding themselves what's really important this season and teaching their children valuable lessons about friendship.

Together, the two drivers dream of changing the culture of not just race car drivers and their children, but athletes in general.

Kanaan and Barrichello are different from most IndyCar drivers who become teammates. They grew up together in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They are so close, Barrichello hesitated to accept the ride at KV Racing Technology as Kanaan's teammate because he feared it might jeopardize their friendship.

"It was the first thing he told me," Kanaan said. "I told him, 'It won't happen.' I would not lose his friendship over a race."

The two men and their families were on their annual vacation together when Barrichello heard he would not be asked back to his Williams Formula 1 ride. Kanaan's first thought, "He's my brother. What can I do to help my friend?"

They have stayed true to each other through this season. While Kanaan, reunited with engineer Eric Cowdin, with whom he won the 2004 IndyCar championship, is sixth in points with five top 5 finishes and eight Top 10s, Barrichello has struggled to learn the new car and tracks. He is 14th in points, with six Top 10s and one Top 5, that came Sunday at Sonoma, where he finished fourth.

But instead of becoming distant, Kanaan said they have grown closer.

"When my dad passed when I was 13, I moved in with Rubens' family," Kanaan said. "I made myself the middle son. When we were grown, our lives went in separate directions and our kids wouldn't see each other for a year. Then they'd spend 15 days together. It was sporadic.

"But now, my son is 5 and Rubens' two kids [6 and 10] are very competitive kids, but when they see Dad, they can see you can be very competitive, drive against each other and still laugh. Friendship is the important thing.".

"You have a lot of things in life," Barrichello said. "But you choose your friends and you build your own foundation that determines the kind of person you are going to be.

"Tony and I raced together in Go-Karts for eight years. But we both knew it was going to be different here. I didn't realize everything was going to be different, though. Not a single thing is the same."

Barrichello's list of what is different is long: the car is heavier, there is no power steering, the engines are terrible, life is different. ... and there just isn't enough time," Barrichello said.


"It just means he has to come back next year," Kanaan said.

There have been rumblings that Barrichello may be looking for a different team.

"I've learned over 19 years in Formula 1, that although you need to enjoy where you are, if you don't like the place . . . I keep trying to find the best side of where I am. . . I've never been in a situation where you can trust a teammate to this extent," Barrichello said.

Whatever the future may hold, the two of them are using their situation as a teaching tool, not only for their children, but they hope for other athletes.

In Formula 1 people talked about Barrichello being "too nice." Though he drove in more F1 races than anyone in history (322) and won 11 times, he never won a championship. And that, people said, was because of his niceness.

He views the description as a compliment.

"When I die, I want people to remember how nice I was, how hard I worked," he said. "For me, there is dignity in the human side. If the one thing I miss is being world champion, well, I know for sure how hard I worked. If they say,' Oh, he was too nice and didn't try,' I did fight inside the truck. It didn't need to show when I came outside."

Both men said they wish the culture of some athletes, who allow their personal emotions to impact how they treat fans, could be changed for the better.

"There are always people waiting for you," Kanaan said. "They know you. They cheer for you. They want an autograph. Maybe the kid you just met can't walk. What are you going to do, not be nice to them?"

"Just because you're having a bad day," Barrichello said, "doesn't mean you have to ruin someone else's. It's nice to see a fan, a child when I come out of the trailer. They're there to support you — how nice is that?"

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