Four pounds of sweat has seeped off of his body. Squeezing the steering wheel he wrestles for control of his missile of a racecar, wrapping around a crowded track at 220 mph.
The ‘Ironman’ of IndyCar racing has a record 265 consecutive starts through 2017. A streak started in 2001.
Kanaan’s love for another sport began in 1998, when the man once voted IndyCar’s Most Popular Driver started competing in triathlons. His next one is Sunday at the South Beach Triathlon on Ocean Drive. His goal for the event is about an hour.
“Mentally it helps me the most,” said Kanaan, who has competed in more than 20 events. “It’s something I don’t dominate as I do racing. It’s tough when you are a pro athlete and you are very good at what you do and you go into another sport and realize how bad you are. Fighting that in my mind thinking ‘I’m not good here.’ It’s not something that I’m going to be as good as I am in a race car. So for me, that puts it in perspective. But during the race, when I go through struggles, cramping and fatigue, all this stuff makes me stronger when I’m in the race car because I feel those things in the car too. So that actually is training my mind to be able to sustain that. When I do a half IRONMAN, that’s 6-7 hours or 12 hours, we don’t have IndyCar races that last that long. The longest is 2 ½ so only 2 ½ hours I can deal with.”
He’ll do a half-mile swim, 20-mile bike ride, and four-mile run Sunday and raise money for SaveTheChildren.org.
Kanaan, 39, is the only IndyCar Series driver to compete in every possible lap in a season. The Brazilian Key Biscayne resident ranks No. 12 in current standings.
He said he has never been mentally broken in a car and trains to keep strength in his core muscles and his neck. Neck strength is vital in the sport to discourage fatigue and keep his head held upright. He works out every day, to the point where he has to wear custom-made clothes due to his extra large neck not fitting in smaller shirts.
Kanaan’s next IndyCar race is next weekend at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. But this isn’t the tightest crunch he has put himself in physically.
“I once raced at Kentucky in the IndyCar race on Sunday, flew to Hawaii on a Monday, did a full IRONMAN in Hawaii the following Saturday, flew back to Las Vegas and raced the following weekend. I did a full IRONMAN between two IndyCar races. It was probably the craziest thing I’ve done and I’ve only done it once.”
Kanaan said teammate Scott Dixon and about half of the sport’s 25-driver field are triathletes. NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson also competes.
“Local people, the motivation is there,” Kanaan said. “Triathlon is a sport that anybody can do. If you have tennis shoes and a bike and you know how to swim, and if you live in Miami you should, come over and if you don’t want to, come over and watch the race and support the kids.”