CHAMPCAR/CART: Zanardi press conference transcript, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Since you've done the book, have you had much experience with persons with physical challenges considering you to be an inspiration to them? ALEX ZANARDI: Well, thanks for the question, and thanks for using...

Continued from part 1

Q: Since you've done the book, have you had much experience with persons with physical challenges considering you to be an inspiration to them?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, thanks for the question, and thanks for using such nice words in describing me, especially from a guy like you that comes from a field where you have so many great drivers.

Yes, it happened. Actually, here in Italy now, I am known much more for what I've done after the accident than for what I did previously in terms of -- as a race car driver. This is simply because after the accident, I believe that a lot of journalists came for the simple beauty of having to report what happened.

And they came to my -- next to my bed in Berlin to where I was recovering, and they saw a guy that was smiling. And they probably thought, well, he's out of his mind. I mean, this guy probably lost his mind after the accident. We'll come back and check later whether he's laughing. They came back and back and back, and it made sort of a chain reaction to the point where, especially the first year after my initial recovery, a year after the accident, my popularity in my country grew greatly because I was invited to a lot of television programs and I was interviewed by a lot of journalists, and I became known much more as, how can I say, as -- I don't know, as Alex Zanardi the man rather than Alex Zanardi the driver.

This has helped me a lot to a certain degree, because for a handicapped guy, life could be very tiring. Because ironically, normal people tend to get a situation of embarrassment where they don't know what to say when they discover the handicap. It's actually up to the handicapped guy to maybe joke about it or take the drama way; in other words, to make the person they have in front more comfortable with the overall situation, to bring them back to the right distance where you can communicate.

And this, for me, with my popularity now, it's no longer a problem, because people, especially in this country, they now what I've gone through, and they actually know I'm not a bad guy, he's put his problems totally behind him and probably didn't work very hard to do that type of action. It is in my nature and in my character.

The other side of the coin is that a lot of people believe that I'm sort of a heroic guy for what I'm doing and they don't understand I simply have to thank Mother Nature, because it is simply genetic the way I was born, the fact that I'm an optimistic guy, a positive guy who always sees the bottle half full rather than half empty. And this is what's helped me the most, of course together with the fact being a man of sport I was used to challenges. And to a certain degree I actually enjoyed very much this challenge of getting back to a good level of life in terms of doing the best possible rehabilitation and gaining the best independence out of my prosthetic legs that could be gained.

So when my book came out, a lot of people went to buy it probably because they were probably thinking that in that book was my secret, my inspiration to how I end up doing things that to their eyes were so incredible. And that is why, you know, I probably surprised people by simply writing my story and nothing different.

And I believe it would have been too rhetorical to do anything different, because everything I've done so far I only did it for me. I didn't do it to prove to other people that I'm sort of a superman, but more than everything, simply because I just believe this. I believe that anybody in my situation could do it. And I've seen through the road of my recovery a lot of people that in my situation have done similar things to what I'm doing today, they just don't have their ugly face in television as much as I do, you know. But other than that, there is no difference.

So this is what I actually try to tell to people when they ask me, "Alex, how do you do this? Can you give me a little bit of your courage?" Because the reality is you don't need Alex Zanardi to show you the road. If you're searching for inspiration, you just need to open your eyes and we're absolutely surrounded with cases that could be very, very inspirational for us all, that we don't necessarily need Alex Zanardi to show us the road.

Having said that, it is a fact that I could be very inspirational for people that have problems to the same nature of mine. Because, of course, that was the case for me when I was sitting on the hospital bed. I wanted to know more from patients that had gone through the road that I was about to take, rather than the same words from doctors that -- okay, they were very well prepared, the argument was certainly really great, but after all, at 5:00 I could see them going home on their legs, you know. Where if a guy in my situation wearing prosthetic legs would be next to me and would tell me, Alex, you know, you can do it, it's going to be hard, but you can do it, those words would be very sufficient for me to believe him because of course he was proving that with the facts, nothing other than that.

I always try to take a little bit of the drama away, not because I'm a false modest, but simply because I do believe that it is necessary to pass on the message that what I've done, what I have achieved is not because I'm sort of a superman. I am certainly a very stubborn guy and certainly a very, very optimistic guy, but a lot of people can do -- can have the same results. Actually anybody, everybody can have the same results. I hope this answers your question.

Q: A lot guys have covered the ground that I was looking for, but I did want to ask you: I'm sure your wife was very supportive as you were talking about the desire to get back into a car as you went through your recovery. But when you really sat down at the kitchen table or whatever and said, Honey, I'm really going to do this, what was that conversation like?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, actually, that happened much, much earlier than the kitchen table, because that happened exactly the day where the doctors went to my wife in Berlin, I think it was six days after the accident, and they said to Daniela, they said, Listen, Daniela, it's about time we let him wake up, and we want him sufficiently awake to be able to understand what you're saying to him, but not completely awake because we don't want him to understand on his own what had happened to him. It's very, very important that we decide who is going to tell him what happened.

Daniela, of course, immediately had no doubt in her mind and said, "No, I'm going to tell him." So they let me wake up. They reduced the amount of drugs they were feeding me, and about six hours later, you know, I start to wake up. And Daniela was next to my bed. In very little time I went from total confusion, from being sure basically -- my brain was kind of connected already, but I couldn't open my eyes and I couldn't think rationally, so I was kind of thinking in the second part of my brain that I was dreaming, that that couldn't be real, because it was too confused.

It's like when you're dreaming and you're trying to put away that dream because the sensation overall was so terrible. I had noise in my ears. I had pain in my body. I had like a ring in my ears. So finally, it wasn't very long until I start to hear my wife calling my name. It took me really, really a lot of energy to kind of connect my brain with the outside reality.

So I answered her and I say, "Yeah, what's the matter?" She explained in a very sweet way what had happened, that we were in Germany, that I had an accident, exactly in these words, that I had been sleeping for almost a week, that I've been in a coma for a week, that I was very close to losing my life, but now everything was okay.

I was at that point already very concerned that she was too concerned about me. And I said immediately, "I'm fine Daniela. I'm fine." She said, "No, Alex, I have to tell you something more. In the accident you lost your legs. You lost both your legs," But Dr. Costa, which is a dear friend of mine, as well as being the doctor, the founder of the Mobile Clinic that follows the World Championship Bikes, a lot of you I believe heard his name before. Well, she said to me, "Dr. Costa has been here, he's measured your legs, and he said that you're going to be able to wear a type of prosthetic legs that allows people in your situation to work and to have a normal life and to do a lot of things. So he's absolutely sure that you're going to be all right in this point of view."

That, for me, was enough, in the sense that, okay, it wasn't the best thing I wanted to hear, that I had lost my legs, but nevertheless -- I mean, I don't know why, I mean, this is the incredible power of human nature, but in my mind, immediately, that was not that bad of news really. I could see myself already trying to do something more than what I had been doing up to that point for people in my situation.

I mean, at the time I didn't know exactly which kind of screw you would need -- I didn't know it was the four millimeter screw that you would need for the prosthetic legs, but I could see myself playing with my prosthetic legs in a way. Once again, I can't tell you why, but in that moment it wasn't that terrible of news at all, especially because I felt so bad overall. I had so much pain that the fact that I had lost my legs was definitely the last of my problems.

So the only thing finally I said to my wife, I said, "Honey, we're going to be all right. Don't worry. We're going to take care of this problem, but we've got other problems." I said, "The only thing is, are you really sure I'm not going to die? Because I feel so bad." She said, "Yeah, the doctor ensured me you are okay." I said, "Yeah, that's what matters. But don't worry we're going to be all right. But right now let me sleep because I'm tired."

I went back to sleep thinking I was going to be all right, I was going to be okay. This is funny because one day I was watching a movie before the accident, which is "Born on the Fourth of July" with Tom Cruise. And in one part of the movie it's basically after the Vietnam War, basically he'd lost both of his legs and there is a scene in the movie where you can see he is in a wheelchair without his legs. I remember me thinking while I was watching that movie, Wow, I wonder what I would do if something like this would happen to me. And the answer was kind of immediate, you know, I would kill myself. I could never bear something like that.

In fact, when it finally happened in reality to me, I never even went close to think, what kind of life is expecting me from now on, this is it, now it's over, poor me. I never felt pity for myself. And once again, I don't believe that I really deserve any sort of congratulations for that, because this is, once again, simply genetic. I'm lucky to be that way. I'm lucky my mother made me like that. I'm lucky to be an optimistic guy. But the thinking has to do also with some hidden energies that come out whenever they're needed, because I've seen a lot of other people have the same type of reaction I've had.

So that's the final hope that I want to give to anybody listening. I've tried to transfer it, writing my book, "My Sweetest Victory," in a very normal way, but in a very real way, simply what it is, nothing else than what had it been for me.

Q: Did you ever have a discussion with Daniela where you probably said, "I'm going to go back racing," but did she take it seriously right away or did you have a follow-up later on, saying, "I'm going out with my BMW friends and we're putting a car together"?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, racing, it could be many things. If I would say, "Honey, I want to drive the Indy 500," she probably would have something to say about that. If I would say I want to go and race in Long Beach, she wouldn't be that happy, but if she knew that that's exactly what I want, she would let me do it. If I said, "I'm driving a car with BMW in the WTCC," she's going to say, "Well, Alex, if this is what you want, I'll go with you," because she's been involved in motor racing for a very long time with me. She's always been sort of my manager, and she is a very smart woman and she understands what I'm doing today.

Yes, for sure it's more dangerous than playing golf, but it's not the most dangerous thing you can do on earth. There are a lot of things by far more dangerous than I'm doing. Just to give you an example, last year in the Imola race I had a big accident, you know, and the journalists that were there, they literally run towards my wife to ask her reaction after that accident. And the question was, "How did you feel when you saw your husband having that type of accident?" She said, "Well, you know, it's okay. It wasn't that bad." But in reality she didn't know what to say because she was watching Valentino Rossi in the bike race. She wasn't paying attention to me. This is to tell you, if she was doing that, she must have been not that nervous, you know, about me driving the race car.

Q: You're frankly more inspiring off the track than on. Thank you very much.

ALEX ZANARDI: Thank you very much.

Q: A hypothetical question, but probably one that a lot of people are thinking in the back of their heads as they follow the Champ Car World Series. Alex, if the situation presented itself in a favorable way and you thought you could be competitive and you thought it might work out. If somebody in the Champ Car World Series decided to offer you a ride in a Champ Car race, would you jump at it?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, I think romantically I would want to say yes, but if the answer was really a question, I would have done it already, because technically I believe -- actually, I believe it's easier to do it technically speaking than logistically speaking. The bottom line is that if I'm not driving that type of car, it's not because I don't have legs anymore, but simply because I don't have the right age anymore.

Let me explain to you that. I'm 39 years old. I've had my share of success. I've got a lot of fantastic trophies that represent memories for me, things that I'm so proud of. I won two championships, and that of course is fantastic, in the United States. But more than that, I've won races that are so memorable to my mind because, of course, when you you've got the best car and start at pole position. I'm not saying anybody could race, but really when you have the best car and when you come back and win, it's not that easy. So in these few days that I was able to enjoy my career, I was certainly quite a strong element in that race.

But that was a period where motoring for me was absolutely the highest thing in my priority list. My race would not start when the flag would be waived. My race would start immediately as soon as the checker flag would be dropped from an event, immediately I would be mentally on to the following event. And I've got to be amble enough, especially with myself to admit that I'm not prepared to race at that level, a 20-race championship, with all the things that go along with it, with all the dedication that goes to prepare the car, and I don't have the energy to do that anymore.

I mean, for me, to come and live again in the United States, leave all the things I have here for racing, is intriguing but is not enough for me to do it. So it would be absolutely wrong for me to take that sort of challenge when I know that I would be facing drivers in the best period of their racing career and absolutely as talented as me. So I can't beat them, you know. It is as simple as that. I may be as talented as they are, but I wouldn't be dedicated as much as they are.

Once again, I'm 39 years old. I have a beautiful wife, I have a great son, fantastic son, and I want to spend time with him. I want to enjoy my nice house. I want to enjoy my car. I want to enjoy my boat. And more than everything, I don't want to get to the final event of my championship and feel sick of my race car. The championship is just about to finish, the one that I'm doing right now, and I'm still very excited about going to Macau and compete once again. But this is a 10-race championship, BMW is asking me in very little in terms of public promotion, and more than anything, the shop is based a few miles away from where I live. So I have to go do a seat fitting, if I have to go to my engineers, if I have to go and spend a little bit of time with my boys, because that is also very, very important, to gel correctly with the team, it took me very little effort.

So to take those in consideration, what I'm doing today is about the max I can do myself, if I want to do something well. If my desire was just to prove to people that I can still drive a Champ Car and take it around the circuit, yes, I could do it. But if you are a racer, you only race if you know that you can race 100 percent. If I have to compromise, I better stay home and let other drivers do that. Having said all that, there is one part inside me, Alex, that would love to tell you this is my next plan, this is what I'm going to do next, this is what I think I can succeed in doing.

ERIC MAUK: Alex, I know you're a busy man, so we'll let you get back to your many pursuits. Thank you for joining us from Italy today. And again, always a pleasure to talk to you. Let me be the first to invite you back any time we can do anything with you at Champ Car World Series. We would love to talk to you again, love to see you again.

ALEX ZANARDI: Thank you for having me and of course I want to thank Champ Car and Bentley Publishers once again for organizing this teleconference. Let me take the opportunity to apologize if I've been -- if I have told too much and I haven't given everybody listening the opportunity to ask their question, but this is me. I can't change myself. Once again, thank you very much to you all and hopefully we'll talk to you soon.

ERIC MAUK: No apologies necessary. Best of luck to you, Alex, and please pass it along to Daniela and Niccolo.

ALEX ZANARDI: Eric, one final thing if I may. I would like to congratulate Sebastien Bourdais on a great season and for winning his second consecutive Champ Car championship. A great season for him and for Newman/Haas Racing.

-ccws-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Alex Zanardi , Valentino Rossi , Sébastien Bourdais , Tom Cruise