CART Online (October 2) -- Emerson Fittipaldi quietly confirmed Wednesday that his days behind the wheel of a race car are over, ending an incredible driving career that began 30 years ago in his native Brazil. The 1989 PPG Cup champion is ...
CART Online (October 2) -- Emerson Fittipaldi quietly confirmed Wednesday that his days behind the wheel of a race car are over, ending an incredible driving career that began 30 years ago in his native Brazil.
The 1989 PPG Cup champion is giving up driving after narrowly escaping paralysis in two spinal cord injuries suffered within a span of 14 months. Fittipaldi recovered from a cervical vertebra fracture and other injuries in a racing accident at Michigan Speedway in July of 1996 and is presently recuperating from lower back surgery after a second spinal injury suffered in an airplane crash last month.
Fittipaldi never announced retirement after the Michigan accident, but doctors reported he was extremely lucky to avoid paralysis. He recovered well only to crash in an ultralight plane in Brazil over Labor Day weekend. The only other passenger, Fittipaldi's six-year-old son Luca, was uninjured.
The second injury originally left Fittipaldi with paralysis in his left leg, but doctors reported a full recovery is expected after surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami last month. Fittipaldi is wearing a special brace around his torso for the next several months.
Fittipaldi won a Brazilian Formula Vee title in 1967 to launch one of the greatest driving careers in history. He quickly moved up the international racing ladder and made five Formula One starts in 1970 at the age of 23. He won his first of two World Championships in 1972 with Team Lotus, becoming the youngest Formula One champion in history (25). He captured a second Formula One title with McLaren in 1974 and continued to contest the World Championship through the 1980s, the last few seasons with his own Corpesucar race cars (A name created from the Brazilian words for copper and sugar).
He turned to Indy car competition in 1984, a move that launched a passionate popularity for the sport in Brazil that is still going strong today. Fittipaldi won his first of 22 Indy car races at Michigan in 1985 and went on to win the 1989 PPG Cup title and Indianapolis 500 in 1989. He won a second Indy 500 in 1993, and scored his last Indy car win at Nazareth Speedway in April, 1995. He celebrated his 50th birthday at a special party in Miami this past December.