Meira sees her INDYCAR career as a win despite no checkered flags

In Brazil, telemarketing is apparently so widespread that calls from unknown numbers are ignored in order to limit their frequency.

So imagine Vitor Meira’s dilemma when a sequence of numbers on his phone included a 3 followed by a 1 and a 7. The former NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver, now back in his country, reacted and quickly answered.

“I remember before I even came to INDYCAR, if a number showed 317, you took it,” Meira said with a laugh. « Anything 317, you pick it up! » »

For those who don’t know, 317 is the area code that includes Indianapolis, where INDYCAR and most of its teams are based. In this case, the call came from a writer who wanted to hear from Meira, who hasn’t been talked about for more than ten years.

Meira spent 10 years competing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, driving for Team Menard, Rahal Letterman Racing, Panther Racing and AJ Foyt Racing. He is best known for twice finishing second in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, first behind Dan Wheldon in 2005 and then ahead of Scott Dixon in 2008.

Meira’s serial exploits need to be reviewed as it has been 11 years since he drove in a race and almost a decade since he attended one. His last visit to the sport was in 2014, when he accompanied his country’s governor to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s ‘500’ as they worked to bring a series street race to Brasilia, the city native of Meira.

Since then, Mr. Meira, now 45, has spent most of his time running two Brasilia-based businesses, a chain of self-contained storage centers he started after he quit driving and the advertising agency started by his late father as a family business. Meira said the agency’s work is almost as fast as motorsports because it focuses on government affairs, and Brazil’s elections were held on Sunday, October 2.

Meira said her free time is spent with family. He and his wife, Adriana, who married at Las Vegas’ Little White Chapel in 2004, have an 11-year-old daughter who means more to him than he ever imagined. He often thinks back to a conversation he had with his father before he was born.

“We were in an elevator,” Meira says of the conversation with her father. « I didn’t have kids at the time, and he asked me if I would ever have any, if I would do for them what he did for me. You have to remember that he did so many things for my career – find sponsors, work hard and all that, and it was amazing. But without knowing what it’s like to have children, I told him no, and he got really angry, saying “What the hell is that? !

“At the time, I didn’t understand what it was like to be a parent, but now, man, I would do anything to make this kid happy. Unfortunately, it’s too late to answer my father (differently). »

Her father died in 2015.

Meira raced with one of the most unique and organic fan bases in NTT INDYCAR SERIES history. In 2005, while Meira was riding for the team of Bobby Rahal and David Letterman, a fifth grade girl from Fishers, Indiana took a picture of him and put it on a cordon. During that year’s 500 Festival parade, Liz Van Oosterburg handed it to Meira for him to see as she passed. He smiled and gave her a thumbs up. His admiration has gone to another level.

The following year, Van Oosterburg created an orange T-shirt with Meira’s image in the lanyard. The T-shirt read: “I (Heart) Vitor”. Meira saw it during her visit to IMS and liked it so much that he invited her to ride in the parade with him.

As Meira had moved to Panther Racing, Van Oosterburg made a new jersey in the team’s signature yellow, and team officials promoted this creation by handing out thousands to fans. Meira still says it’s one of the coolest things to happen in her racing career, but that’s only part of the story. Van Oosterburg studied public relations at university, got a job on the show and is engaged to Kyle Kaiser, the driver who ousted two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso from the ‘500’ field in 2019.

« It seems like a generation ago, but it’s funny how such a small moment (changed my life), » Van Oosterburg said. « He’s such a good guy. »

Said Meira: “I still have a picture of that shirt. »

Meira was the first winner of INDYCAR’s Rising Star Award, given in honor of the late Tony Renna, a driver who was popular in his own right. Along with his driving skills, Meira was always endearing and arguably the most popular non-winning driver of his generation. Ten years, 131 starts, no wins. Only three drivers in history have had more INDYCAR SERIES starts without hitting the road to victory.

However, Meira was still poised to win, and he politely gave up a chance to win the second race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2002 in a Menard team car. At the end of the race, the driver who was only in his fourth series start found himself just behind the race leaders, Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr, who were side by side in a dramatic fight for the series championship at the last race of the season. Meira could have insisted, but he was young – he was 25 then – and thought he would have other chances to win a race.

Plus, he thought, these are the championship contenders.

 » Who am I ? Meira remembers thinking while taking third place, the first of her 15 career top-3 finishes on the show. « I don’t want to screw up this (arrival). »

Meira has had more INDYCAR misfires, which is part of her legend. He came close to winning three different races at Kansas Speedway. The first, in 2004, is still considered the third-best finish in series history, with Rahal Letterman’s teammate Buddy Rice beating him by 0.0051 seconds. In 2005, Meira finished third in a three-way race, with Tony Kanaan and Wheldon finishing just ahead of him. The following year he lost a similar battle with Hornish and Wheldon. Note that these opponents are all « 500 » winners and are considered the best oval drivers of the past two decades.

Meira can fondly recall those moments without worrying about how victory eluded her. He had a terrific career after leaving the United States, including two seasons in Brazil’s stock car division and a championship in the country’s touring car series. He is satisfied.

“I haven’t won a race, but I have everything else – all the friends and things like what happened with the shirts,” he said. “It’s the moments that matter. In fact, in a way, they matter more.

“A lot of good things happened, I had a very good career and I was able to do incredible things. People should know that a lot of good things can happen after the engines shut down, and that’s certainly what happened to me. This is what is permanent. This is what I appreciate, and I accept them with joy.

“If you can find something to continue living a good life, like I did, you take that as a victory. »

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