We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 57 days to go, we look back at one of the race’s most enduring champions.
Helio Castroneves is the only active three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. He first won as a rookie in 2001 – just the third rookie winner since World War II – backed it up in 2002, then won again in 2009. Alongside drinking the milk, kissing the bricks and multiple mugs on the Borg-Warner Trophy, Castroneves has started his own tradition.
In 2000 at the Detroit Grand Prix, Castroneves finished first and then pure emotion took over and he sprinted toward the protective fence and started climbing. He immediately earned the nickname “Spiderman” from ESPN reporter John Kernan and a tradition was born. The next year Castroneves climbed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and has continued to do so with teammates and fans after every Indy 500 victory.
Not everyone loved the fence-climbing right away; officials at some tracks wanted Castroneves to go straight to Victory Lane for post-race celebrations and awards ceremonies, threatening fines or worse if he didn’t comply. But the tradition was too good, too enduring – if not a little dangerous. “You’ve got to be careful. (When) the whole team climbs with you … if you grab the cables behind the fence it squeezes your hand,” he said.
The tradition was quick to get picked and copied up by other racers in other series, most notably Indiana’s own Tony Stewart. Around the NASCAR world, fans may think that Stewart was the original fence climber. But even he admits to Castroneves being the originator.
Part of Project 100 renovations to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has included installing a new track fence. For his role in traditionally climbing the fence after his victories, Castroneves was presented a piece of the old fence as a memento. When asked how he felt about receiving that as a gift, he was at a rare loss for words. “I’m speechless. This is such a special gift. This is where is all started for me, Indianapolis. This is cool, it’s incredible. I’m speechless. I so appreciate this. It’s priceless.”