F1

ETCC: CHAMPCAR/CART: Zanardi spreads his message

Alex Zanardi has undertaken many things in life but a book tour is likely one of the last he expected to be doing at this point in his stay on earth. Nonetheless, a promotional visit to the United States was in order once Bentley Publishers...

Alex Zanardi has undertaken many things in life but a book tour is likely one of the last he expected to be doing at this point in his stay on earth.

Nonetheless, a promotional visit to the United States was in order once Bentley Publishers began US distribution of "Alex Zanardi: My Sweetest Victory" followings its October 25th release of the tome that should be a must-read on anyone's list.

Zanardi, the 1996 Champ Car Rookie of the Year and 1997-98 champion while driving a Reynard/Honda/Firestone entry for Target Chip Ganassi Racing has been in the US speaking with his many friends in the racing business and telling audiences how to overcome difficulties of any type, much less the trials that faced Zanardi in September of 2001 following his near-death experience at Eurospeedway Lausitz.

On that fateful day Zanardi was finally leading the race in Germany and had just completed his final pit stop when, leaving the pit road he lost control and was hit by an oncoming Alex Tagliani. Zanardi's legs were chopped off by the impact and he nearly died in the process, saved by the CART medical team of Doctors Steve Olvey and Terry Trammell, whose quick thinking saved the Italian's life, if not his limbs.

The road back hasn't been easy but - as with everything else Zanardi has done - he's overcome the obstacles life has placed in his way. In fact, he has to cut short his visit to the Americas in order to return to Munich for a BMW holiday party on Saturday night!

"I am very impressed with this country," Zanardi said about being back in the United States. "I have beautiful memories and satisfaction here but I can only live in one place," he explained. "I have to grow my son, live with my family and [Monte Carlo] is where I can do that," but he does miss his friends from all walks of life who reside here.

Among the colorful exploits Zanardi has accomplished since arriving on these shores in a filming date and still photo shoot with US Olympic skier Bode Miller. Zanardi, using a mono-ski on Colorado slopes "landed on my face in the snow" as much as he made passes down the slopes as cameras clicked and whirred.

"What I like about him [Miller} is that he is good at a lot of things; he can do slalom, grand slalom, downhill, all of them." Zanardi likened Miller's accomplishments to his own in the Champ Car World Series, winning on road, street, short ovals and superspeedways during his stellar career in this country. "When I was racing in Champ Car I was very proud to be able to win on all four types of tracks.

"Obviously you have to have a good car but you also have to be able to win with that good car," Zanardi reminded. "In my career I have been having fun, enjoying myself and getting self satisfaction. These days I am making small steps of progress" in his ongoing rehabilitation.

"I never felt I couldn't do it," Zanardi claims. "If I am walking better than yesterday that's a great accomplishment," he said. Realizing that you have to put things in perspective when your life changes as dramatically as his did that September afternoon, "You have to be able to get your hands on the solution. No matter your optimism and luck, you have to work to get better and have a good attitude."

When he awoke from his coma and wife Daniela told Alex what his condition was, "I told my wife we will look at one problem at a time, but right now I am tired and want to go back to sleep."

Wanting to help others like himself who have troubles to overcome, "like someone with an ugly face, I can pass along the message that life goes on and you should enjoy what you have. I appreciate what's left, not what's left behind and I have a positive reaction to life in general.

"We all have our strengths and weaknesses and I want to pass the message along to a guy who's feeling miserable that he can do it. Normal people deal with adversity. Sure, you have moments of depression and loss but you can be stronger than that," he said.

One of the more endearing traditions of an Alex Zanardi victory on the Champ Car trail was his performance of "doughnuts", circuitously spinning his wheels after victory. Zanardi noted that, driving in a race car you are always under pressure and driving "takes all your concentration. After a race, with Chip screaming in my ear 'you're the man, Alex, you're the man' I did something stupid, crazy, playing with the car.

"Fans love it, so I do it for fun, for ego and to make the fans happy. I was able to win lots of races and got good at doing those doughnuts. I do it for joy, do it showing off a little bit and I was lucky to have so many opportunities to practice, so I ended up doing it pretty well," Zanardi noted with a chuckle.

He doesn't begrudge others' use of his signature action at the close of races, whether in NASCAR Nextel Cup or any other series.

Racing, while it might seem that way, isn't the end-all, be-all of Alex Zanardi's full life. His family is the most important part of his stay here and, in preparing to return to the cockpit and even make this trip, Zanardi had the determination and passion for life. "I have the option again to race or not to race. Racing is not my life but I wanted to be able to choose my life.

"That's the important thing, being able to choose. My sweetest victory is not that I am racing - and actually I'm driving [in the European Touring Car Championship] not racing, if you've seen my events - and I will be driving again the #4 BMW 320i in 2005 for Team Italy-Spain. I have been able to make that choice and that's the sweetest victory."

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