We pick up our conversation during an actual break from filming. As our crew took five, Tony and I continued talking, and as is often the case, a golden moment was shared “off camera”. Luckily for us however, one camera kept rolling while Kanaan shared an absolutely priceless anecdote. We begin Part III with a great story involving Tony’s son Leo, which I’m thankful to say, we were fortunate enough to capture.
TK: So I’m like alright. I put him in the car and we are driving back home. He is in the back seat and I’m thinking, I need to talk to this kid about accepting to lose because he hates it. He hates it until today. Anything. Everything that I play with him since that day, now I win on purpose and I let him be so pissed. So I’m talking to him and I say, “Hey Leo, Do you know that sometimes when you lose a race or a game or a competition of any sort its actually good for you?” He was like, “Why is it good? Losing isn’t good.” I said, “Its good because it makes you stronger. Makes you want to try harder. So next time you learn, you think about what you need to do or whatever that competition is. If its in school, you are going to study more for a test.”
Yea you redirect your energy of your disappointment into something positive.
He was like, ‘Yea ok because you know a lot about losing don’t you?” I was like, “What do you mean?” He was five at the time. He goes, “Well I’m five and since I’ve been born I only hear stories that you won races but I haven’t really seen you win a lot.” Tone, I swear to God, I wanted to stop the car in the middle of I-95 and say get out of here and find your way home and your home in Brazil not here!
(Laughter) Did he really say that?
Yes! So I say, “You know you are right.” That was February in 2013 and I said, “You know the Indy 500?” He said, “Of course I know.” So I said, “I’m going to win that race and I’m going to give you the trophy and you are going to put it on your night stand so every time you wake up in the morning you are going to look at it and you are going to see that I won and you haven’t.” Then I won the race and I had to give him the trophy.
“I lost my dad. We lost all the money. I had everything going wrong for me. I could have become the biggest loser…”
(Laughter) That’s beautiful!
So we went to Detroit and everybody heard the story, so when I win the race I can’t give him my trophy. He lives in Brazil. He doesn’t live here but if he lived here fine. So I call them and say, “Hey can I buy a replica because I’m not giving him my trophy.” But they were like, “Nah we’ll do something special for him.” So the Borg-Warner, the big one, you have seen the big one right?
The big one no body has. It stays in the museum. They add everybody. It has all 100 faces.
That’s one trophy?
It is 5’6″. It is worth 3.5 million dollars.
So its like the Stanley Cup?
Yes. But then they give you the miniature with your face on it and that’s yours. Then they made the only one in the world and they’re never going to make it again, they made the Baby Baby Borg.
Which is just like that but a little bit smaller?
Its smaller and it has my face on it and says, “Made for Leonardo Kanaan by his dad’s achievement in the Indianapolis 500.” So he has it. Usually the winner goes to the Detroit Auto Show. So he got invited and he actually had to go up there and get his trophy presented to him and everything. That was awesome.
Wow. He’s never talked shit to you again, right?
Well, he needs to win the Indy 500 if he wants to talk shit to me right now. I bought myself 15 years.
He has to win it twice and then he can talk shit.
Yea because if he wins it once he matches what I did!
That’s beautiful. How nice of them to go and make a trophy.
It was a nice story though and they obviously kept the light on it as well. It was everywhere. Well now hopefully his brother won’t find out and ask me for one too.
He will probably end up taking that one.
Yea I’ll be like, “You can have that one.”
“I think growing up I had the picture of the trophy right behind me on many fridges and in many houses that I’ve lived in…”
I wanted to talk to you a little bit once we start rolling again about the power of visualization.
My visualization changed as I grew up. As a kid you are very innocent. All you think about is how am I going to celebrate when I win? Am I going to get out of the car? Am I going to kiss this hot chick? I don’t know, I’ll do a dance and do some interviews. Then you grow up and you’re like well how cool is it going to be to win this thing? But to be honest, I think growing up I had the picture of the trophy right behind me on many fridges and in many houses that I’ve lived in stuck on my fridge and stuck on my bicycle that I work out on everyday. So that when I’m struggling on the bike and having a hard day working out I would just look at that and be say OK that is why I’m here for. All the struggle that I had through my career is because you know, I had bad days. A lot more bad days than good days. You just focus on the goal. You focus on what you are here for. What you are doing this for. Always with the mentality that the easiest thing to do is to give up. Anybody can do that. Me. You. Anybody. I don’t want to be a part of anybody. I want to be somebody and I’m going to make it. Obviously over the years I got the opportunity to be a part of the Indy 500 and then I realized I was really good at it. Then its like, I’m so close. From nine years old to twenty five when I started doing the Indy 500. It was like all those things that I visualized, if I hadn’t won the race I could have done all of them. Actually when you win the Indy 500, you celebrate any way you want because you are the winner. So of course come the day that you win and you are so thrilled that 80% of the things that you visualized as a kid you forget to do. So you want to say “can I rewind that and drink that milk in a different way?” Its like that.
Its a fleeting moment.
It is. It is and I think its better as well because actually at one point, I would say by my fourth or fifth attempt, I actually got mad and I stopped visualizing as well because I thought that was probably bad mojo or something. I said you know what, ‘The day it comes I’ll figure it out.’ But don’t mistake me. I didn’t give up on it. I stopped dreaming about how I was going to be after the fact. After I won. Lets concentrate on winning. I think the rest will sort out by itself and sure enough if you look at the pictures, I poured milk all over my head which is like gross. I had to stick with it for four hours doing interviews with milk in my ears, smelling like bitter. I didn’t celebrate as much as I thought I was going to because you are like in shock. But it was all worth it. People ask me, ‘Whats the secret to your success? What drives you?’ I don’t think there is a secret. I remember talking to a couple of my mentors through life. I said, ‘What is it? How are you so successful?’ One of the guys said, ‘You know what? The more that I work, the more successful that I am.’ So nothing comes easy and for me there was no secret. I had a huge plan. I had planned my entire career when I was ten years old. Nothing went according to plan. It was completely different but in the end I still achieved the same goal.
Going back to your point about you know, its not easy and the work that goes into it. I like you to talk to me a little bit about your training.
Well, we work out together, you’ve seen it. Thats how I see you the most. It is just part of your commitment. I think you know for what I do it requires me to work out. Some people don’t realized how tough, how hard it is to drive a race car. I’m about to be the first guy to achieve 300 consecutive Grand Prix races. I’m 40 years old. Now a days people write you off when you are 38, 39. They say you are done. You see any athlete. Our lives are short as far as being on the top and to be able to be on the top you have to take care of yourself. The only way to beat the 20 year old kids that don’t have to work out because I’ve been there. They work out twice a week. They wake up brand new. We work out five times a week and we are in pain. So with experience and I also have to keep myself in shape. I’m not 20 anymore. There are kids that are stronger than me for sure. They are different breed right? They are of a different generation. They are already born stronger. I remember when I joined the series, I was beating the old guys, Mario Andretti. Michael Andretti. Bobby Rahal. Those guys that they are from the generation before mine. So now I’m up to that. So it keeps me sharp. I have a system that I do every morning. You see me at the gym. Its like people wake up and go to the office. The gym is my office. I won’t start my day until I’m done at the gym. That is why actually for our interview I asked you to move it up a bit because I had to go to the gym.
That is also part of keeping myself also in my mind. It’s not just a work out because its healthy and its because I need to keep myself in shape for the race car but it also keeps my mind focused on my goal. I believe that there are plenty of signs. People regularly ask me the same question. ‘When are you going to stop?’ I think the day that I wake up in the morning and I don’t feel like working out anymore. The day that I wake up and I feel like maybe I shouldn’t get in that race car today because I’m a little afraid or I’m thinking about my family. Those will be the signs. So if you don’t see me at the gym, either I’m sick or I’m retiring.
You were talking earlier about extending your career. When you were a kid you would rarely see a 40-year-old professional athlete.
No it would never happen.
Do you attribute your longevity to the weights and training?
I think training and eating right as well.
I think nutrition, people don’t realize that we have a perfect example where we live. How many people we see in the gym as much as us and they still weigh the same and still as big because they don’t eat right? If people realized that eating right is going to make you healthier. It is going to make you lose weight. It is going to make you feel better. Thats is why I think it is a misconception here. But yes, I think it all comes together. Eating healthy, working out and living healthy. It is going to make you go longer. There is no magic.
There’s no pill.
No and you see athletes that take care of themselves they have less injuries. That is why they can play the entire time. How many great great athletes have had to retire in their prime because of their knees. Especially in football and basketball. On us its the same thing because eventually no matter what I do my reflects are going to slow down. But I’m not seeing that any time soon. I’m not a quitter. You know people ask me when I’m going to retire and I say I think somebody is going to have to retire me. I’m not going to make that call. The day that I can’t find a job anymore that will be the day. I don’t see myself saying, ‘Tony, this is my last year of racing. I’ve decided that this is it. I’m going to take care of my family. I’m going to spend time with my kids.’ I’m not made like that. I think there is space for everybody. I think there is time for the kids and there is time for racing. So somebody will retire me eventually.
Hopefully that will be a long time from now. A long time.
I hope so. Ten more years.
But you know what, since we are on that subject, you can’t write the history of your sport with out mentioning your name. So understanding, how would you like to be remembered?
You know its tough to talk about yourself but I think the way I live now a days, I live for my kids. I think I try to pass my experience to the young kids to have hope. To see look, I was a young kid. We had money. I lost my dad. We lost all the money. I had everything going wrong for me. My life could have made a turn. I could have become the biggest loser or troubled kid because I had the freedom. I was thirteen. I was taking care of my mom. I didn’t have to tell her where I was going. Why I was going. I was free. I could have tried anything. I could have tried any type of drugs. Honestly, its out there. I live through trying to show these kids that if your committed to something, something good is going to come out of it. I try to tell my son all the time, its not because you have a goal and that is what you are going to achieve but by concentrating and focusing on that it might open up so many other opportunities that you never know. So I want to be remembered as the guy who had nothing, came from nothing, conquered a lot but I’m still the same person and I still have the same values. Yea it is nice to show all the helmets back here. I could take you to the office and show you the 200- 300 trophies that I have. But one day I’ll be gone and those are just going to be there. Somebody might take of them. Somebody just might leave them collecting dust. The way I want to be remembered to show everybody you got to fight man. Life is a fight and you got to do it. There is no giving up. Again it is so easy. I hate losers. I hate losing. I use to say, “Second place is the first loser.”
That is a great attitude and it served you well.
It is what I chose for myself. It is easy to say but when I was young my biggest conflict taking advice from somebody was, ‘Have you done it? Have you been through it?’ Then I’ll believe you. For you to say, you got to go to school because otherwise… ‘Well have you done it?’ Yes. Well then you know what you are talking about. I think I have proved what hard work does and hopefully we’ll have plenty of kids in the next generation doing the same thing.