The entire day was filled with tears of happiness as losing driver after losing driver saluted Kanaan, who shared an emotional long embrace with Alex Zanardi, the beloved former champion who lost both his legs in a 2001 accident. Zanardi had come from Italy to watch the 500 and had Kanaan rub one of his gold medals from the 2012 London Paralympics for luck before the race.
Even Hunter-Reay, who dropped from first to third on the final restart, found solace in losing to Kanaan.
“It hurts to come so close to winning, and it’s hard to say anything positive, but I guess the only consolation is that Tony finally got what he deserved,” Hunter-Reay said.
Kanaan was feted by three-time winner Dario Franchitti, who stood next to his crumpled car after bringing out the final caution to give his old friend two thumbs up as he passed under yellow, and Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones. Best friend Rubens Barrichello called from Paris, sobbing so hard into the phone Kanaan couldn’t even tell who the voicemail was from.
It had taken him 12 years to win the big race, and he’d become something of a hard-luck tale while ranking third on the list of most laps led among drivers who had failed to win Indy.
“I was watching the race from the Pagoda and the fans were sure happy to see Tony win, they cheered like hell and you could really hear them above the sounds of the engines when he was leading,” said Jones, the 1963 winner. “For a while there I was afraid Tony was going to be the next Lloyd Ruby and never make it to Victory Lane at Indy. Tony will represent Indianapolis Motor Speedway well. I welcome him to the club.”
It’s fitting, too, that Kanaan’s likeness will go on the Borg-Warner trophy after the late Dan Wheldon and Franchitti, two of his closest friends. He made several self-deprecating mentions of “his ugly face” and “big nose” finally making it onto the trophy.
The timing was perfect, even though Kanaan found a way to make fun of his place in history.
“The trophy is really going to be ugly now,” he said. “You’ve got the biggest teeth with Dan next to the biggest eyebrows with Dario and now the biggest nose with me. I love it.”