"That was like a speed bump for him"
September 6, 2012 8:27 AM   Subscribe

On September 15, 2001, at the American Memorial 500, Champ Car driver Alex Zanardi lost both legs, and 70 percent of his blood, in a horrific crash (around 1:40, not for the squeamish). Yesterday, he won gold in the 2012 Paralympics.

"I feel very fortunate for what I have kept." - on his 2003 return to the racetrack where he nearly died.

An 18-minute BBC interview several years ago on his training for the Paralympics, and the resumption of his racing career.
posted by dsfan (26 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

And he won the cycling gold on a Grand Prix racing circuit (Brands Hatch), which is doubly neat.
posted by carter at 8:42 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Zanardi is the most awesome guy ever. I saw him in Mexico when he was competing in the World Touring car championship. Those are pretty badass for street car style racing (ie not full on purpose designed race cars).

Here he is at that event explaining how his hand controls work in the car. He won four events in that car. Without legs. Considering how physical racing is and how many different things you need to do at once to control the car at the limit, that is utterly mind blowing.
posted by Brockles at 8:51 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not to take anything away from the post, but why on earth would I want to watch that video?
posted by Suddenly, elf ass at 8:52 AM on September 6, 2012

Amazing, amazing story and performance. And Brockles, I remember you posting something some time ago about the sheer physical fitness you need to be a race car driver. Zanardi put in incredible physical. mental and emotional effort to become a champion in a new discipline after his terrible injuries, but he already had a base level of fitness that many of us would underestimate.

It's a damned shame that North Americans are getting to see very little of the 2012 Paralympics on tv. We've missed performances like this one from the men's 200 meters. (It's a short video: watch it.) Richard Whitehead, BTW, says that his best event is actually the marathon. And when he says he can run a marathon under 3 hours, maybe two fifty something: believe him.
posted by maudlin at 9:08 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not to take anything away from the post, but why on earth would I want to watch that video?

Feel free not to.
posted by unSane at 9:12 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I still to this day, (yesterday actually) buy Barilla pasta becuase it was the brand advertised on Mr. Zanardi's podium cap. It also happens to be a good widely available brand.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:19 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with elf ass, why would I want to watch a crash video when they don't even show a close-up of the aftermath.
posted by WhitenoisE at 9:22 AM on September 6, 2012

Mod note: Folks, it's okay to flag and move on. Making this thread about you own lack of interest in the topic is not super useful as a conversation starter.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:27 AM on September 6, 2012

Not to take anything away from the post, but why on earth would I want to watch that video?

You don't. I wish it hadn't been posted, or at least kept this side of the fold ...
posted by philip-random at 9:44 AM on September 6, 2012

But speaking of the man himself. Zanardi's unique temperament never quite allowed him to cut it in Formula 1, but over here in the Americas, nobody could touch him on one of his good days, and he had a pile of them.

I remember the 1997 race in Vancouver where he didn't win the race, but man did he make a show of things. He had the early lead, but lost it due to a spin. He eventually got going again but now he was way back. He proceeded to pass pretty much all the field on a day when nobody else seemed capable of pulling off a pass. And he was doing almost all of it directly in front of me, at the hairpin. It wasn't a straight run entry though. There was high speed kink just before it, so he not only had to outbrake the other cars, he had to do it while flicking the wheel to the right, at 180 mph. He got as high as maybe second, but then he got too ballsy and connected with Bryan Herta. Again, he got moving again, but now he was back in 10th with about 20 laps to go. So he started all over again, one car after another -- unbelievable. By the time the race ended, he was back up to fourth.

To this day, it's the best single drive I've actually witnessed. And the people he was passing were hardly slouches: Jimmy Vasser, Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr, Greg Moore, Bobby Rahal to name a few.
posted by philip-random at 10:06 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

where Zanardi executes what is arguably the most awesome pass in the history of motorsport.

One might argue that he broke the rules making that pass, since he went over the white line with all four wheels to gain that position, meaning that he really should have surrendered it...but then maybe Indy rules are different from F1 rules and it's ok there.

He's still a hell of a racer, though.
posted by daniel_charms at 10:10 AM on September 6, 2012

That was a dick comment, and I apologize for saying it out loud. The correct response is "well, don't click on it, asshat." Thank you for marking the video clearly, and not making it a stealth link to rotten.com.
posted by Suddenly, elf ass at 10:10 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is all making me nostalgic for the days when CART mattered. More than F1 almost.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:24 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't know the intricacies of CART/Indy rules, but I'd guess it's legal because he left the track after the pass, rather than during. He was technically in first place during the infraction, albeit in no position to properly maneuver the turn.
Minor derail aside, his paralympics win reveals what a great competitor he is.
posted by rocket88 at 11:04 AM on September 6, 2012

A champion in sport and spirit. It is a shame he never had a competitive F1 ride.
posted by rdone at 11:42 AM on September 6, 2012

The video wasn't squeemish at all unless you can imagine what happened. There were associated videos with close up still shots that were much more graphic.
posted by stormpooper at 11:46 AM on September 6, 2012

The video wasn't squeemish at all unless you can imagine what happened. There were associated videos with close up still shots that were much more graphic.

You're right. It's a brutal crash as presented, but too fast and chaotic to make out any detail.
posted by philip-random at 1:15 PM on September 6, 2012

Here is the gory aftermath if you want it. Doctors talking about the race to save his life & explanations of what exactly happened etc. Video of them applying a tourniquet to the bloody stump. Him wheeling himself out of the hospital 6 weeks later. Definitely not for the squeamish. So don't click on it if you are a sensitive soul, there will be blood. I found it interesting.
posted by BoscosMom at 8:29 PM on September 6, 2012

Alex Zanardi was always one of my favourite drivers. What he's accomplished since his accident has confirmed him as one of my favourite humans.
posted by arcticseal at 8:33 PM on September 6, 2012

There are pix of the crash on the web, milliseconds after the impact, which show in pretty graphic detail what happened.
posted by unSane at 9:08 PM on September 6, 2012

Getting back on track, so to speak...The carbon fiber chassis of Zanardi's racer is made by race car manufacturer Dallara. The company is best known in the States for making the DW12, used in the IZOD Indycar series, but is the largest manufacturer of open wheel and prototype racing cars in the world.

Zanardi's connection to Barilla is also racing related. Paolo Barilla was a professional racing driver, winning the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1985 and racing for Minardi in F1 before retiring in 1990 to become VP of the family's pasta company. It was while racing that he met Zanardi and helped him with sponsorship-which has continued to today.

One more thing. After victories in his race cars, Zanardi would pull up onto the front stretch at the finish line and do "donuts," spinning the car around in tire-burning circles to celebrate. Much like Dan Gurney's spontaneous champagne spraying in the winner's circle at the '67 24 Hours of LeMans, drivers adapted it as part of post-race celebrations.
posted by Not The Stig at 6:42 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

70% of his blood?

Some people are married to the Lady Luck.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:45 PM on September 7, 2012

Yeah, but on the other hand he was hit by a racing car at 200 MPH and lost both his legs.

A troubled marriage.
posted by unSane at 6:11 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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