INDIANAPOLIS – The request from Andrea Braun was clear last week. The native of Decatur wanted Tony Kanaan to win the Indianapolis 500.
So she returned the black nylon cord with a medallion at the end of it, which had been in her possession since she was on death’s door in 2004, and she told him to go win the whole darned race.
Kanaan, well into his tenure of being the guy who had often come close but couldn’t seem to win the Indy 500, had been touched by Braun those many years ago. He had seen her, comatose because of a brain hemorrhage, in an Indianapolis hospital and he wanted to give her something that would give her strength. When I walked in, there was this girl, 14 years old, and she was in a coma and was going to get a surgery, Kanaan recalled Sunday afternoon, after finally winning the Indy 500. I had this thing my mom gave me. It was a necklace to protect me, not to give me luck, because you know the way moms are. She had been telling me to race slowly.
Kanaan had worn the charm for five straight years before he gave it to Braun. In a letter he sent to Braun in 2004, the Brazilian wrote: It always gives me confidence when I feel weak.
I wanted to give it to her. And she survived. She’s doing really well now, Kanaan said Sunday. We kept in touch in the past years. And four days ago, she shows up and gave me a letter with an envelope. She said she had enough luck in her life and she had gotten married and she wanted to give it back to me.
He wore that medallion during the fastest race in Indy 500 history. Kanaan’s average speed of 187.433 mph bettered the average of 185.981 set in 1990 by Arie Luyendyk.
There were also 68 lead changes, a record, surpassing the 34 of 2012 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
All the while, Kanaan was boosted by the Chevrolet engine, the well wishes of Braun and some fortuitous timing with the yellow flags.
With three laps to go, there was a restart after a Graham Rahal spin on Turn 2. Kanaan was running second then, behind Ryan Hunter-Reay.
On Lap 198, Kanaan took the lead on Turn 1, shortly before 2012 champion Dario Franchitti crashed between Turns 1 and 2 to seal Kanaan’s first victory in 12 starts.
Kanaan was even driving with torn ligaments in his right thumb.
I couldn’t believe it, he said of the final yellow flag. I thought, How many laps to go? Two laps to go?’ I guess that’s it. The last lap was the longest of my life. I wanted the pace car to hurry up.
After an hour of celebration – drinking the traditional milk, clutching the Borg-Warner Trophy and cuddling up to the bricks at Victory Lane – Kanaan took a moment to look at the medallion that did indeed turn out to be good luck for at least two people: Braun and Kanaan.
Here it is, Kanaan said, looking at the medallion. Maybe I should retire this thing now.