Helio, the best dancer in Indy 500 history

Published On May 10, 2016 » 1243 Views» By Jeff Vrabel » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 19 days to go, Jeff Vrabel continues exploring the many tie-ins between the Indy 500 and pop culture.

More Vrabel: Random movie mentions | Wonder Bread is born | Million-dollar mistake | Sullivan on “Miami Vice” | SNL’s “Superfans” | Harroun and the rearview mirror | “500” in Hollywood’s glory days | A.J. Foyt has a secret | Late-night TV hosts at Indy | The “500” in reality TV shows | In old TV | In silent movie | In “Cars” | In “Turbo” | The Beatles at IMS | Pace Car drivers | Snake Pit rebirthThe ultimate “500” playlist | David Letterman, pit reporter | Indy 500 on Atari 2600On “Jeopardy!”More 100 days blogs

This past February, Helio Castroneves was presented with a ceremonial pair of wire cutters and instructions to do something unsafe with them: Climb up the fence at the Speedway, the one he had scaled as a three-time winner of the 500, and cut down part of it.

It was a telling moment for a number of reasons. 1. Because Helio Castroneves was wearing very nice shoes and it was raining so the fence was kind of wet, so we were worried. But 2. It proved again that Castroneves is one of the most successful crossover celebrities of the modern racing era. That’s due not only to his victories in 2001, 2002 and 2009 (and subsequent fence-climbing shenanigans), but also because of his turn on “Dancing With the Stars,” which, as my mom will tell you, he did pretty well.

INDYCAR pulled out all the stops to push Helio and Julianne to the top in 2007. Those "Vote for Helio" signs were in yards all over.

INDYCAR pulled out all the stops to push Helio and Julianne to the top in 2007. Those “Vote for Helio” signs were everywhere.

Castroneves wasn’t just some everyday schmoe on “Dancing,” he won the whole shebang in the fifth season on a team with Julianne Hough (who you either remember from the winter Fox revival of “Grease” or all the commercials for the winter Fox revival of “Grease”). The following May, in probably the “500”’s best example of crossover marketing with a professional dancer and figure skater, Hough went on to sing the National Anthem at the 2008 race, for which Season 6 “Dancing” champion Kristi Yamaguchi served as starter. The show, Castroneves says, sticks with him to this day. “Anytime I go to a place, even if it’s a small party or get-together, it’s like, “Come on, dancing queen, come over here.” What do they want me to do, a foxtrot with 50 Cent playing in the background? But I always enjoy it,” he told Autoweek.

Castroneves returned to “Dancing” for its 15th season with partner Chelsie Hightower, but sadly, the pair was voted off in the third week. And while we’re sad for Helio, we’re heartened that his feet are officially available for a fourth potential fence-climb this year.

When you're an Indy champ and you're promoting "Dancing With the Stars," this is a mandatory photo.

When you’re an Indy champ and you’re promoting “Dancing With the Stars,” this is a mandatory photo.

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About The Author

Jeff Vrabel

I’m an Indiana native and former resident of Chicago and Hilton Head Island who’s written for for such outlets as GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post and my hometown Indianapolis Monthly. I spent decades listening to the 500 on the radio and have run two Mini-Marathons around the IMS track, but only dropped a packet of energy beans on Turn 3 during one of them. And I live near Indianapolis with my family; my oldest son just stole bacon off your plate and the youngest was personally approved by Springsteen (long story). Find me at the cleverly named http://jeffvrabel.com or http://twitter.com/jeffvrabel.
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