Helio and teammate Will Power (on left) have moved on from the Edmonton controversy. (LAT photo)
I got a call a few days ago from a journalist I've known for a long time. He said: “I never knew your mother was the one who kept your career together.”
He'd just read my book, Victory Road: The Ride of My Life, and learned something about my family. When my career had reached its lowest point, just before I was hired by Team Penske in 2000, I was ready to quit. I felt like I was only hurting my family – financially and emotionally – so I was ready to give up on my dream and go back to Brazil. My mom wouldn't let me.
I owe everything to my family, and that's the point people get from the book. It was a long, hard struggle to get where I am, but it wasn't a struggle I went through alone. It was a family struggle…and a family achievement.
That's part of the reason I decided to write the book. It's an honest look at what I've been through – good and bad – in the course of my life. It covers everything. How I almost quit racing, how I found myself with Team Penske under tragic circumstances, how we all came together to win the Indy 500 in 2001, and how the people around me and my faith in God saved my life. It's about life's obstacles and tragedies as well as its joys and triumphs.
I focused on life's difficulties, overcoming them and accepting things you have no control over. A lot of people go through similar challenges and endure hardships in life. The feeling's the same – What will happen next? What am I going to do?
So much has changed for me in the past few years. Dancing with the Stars, the tax trial, our third Indy 500 victory and now fatherhood. I am so blessed, and I wanted to share that with people. Life can be what you dream it to be. It can be everything you imagined. My story isn't unique. It can be anyone's story.
Since the book was published, I've gotten a lot of positive reaction. I've also learned that a lot of people didn't know much about my background. If you're a basketball or football player in the U.S., people know your background – your hometown, your college, your stats. But people didn't know much about the early part of my career, partly because I'm from Brazil and partly because racing is still a bit mysterious to fans, especially when it comes to developmental series. People weren't aware of how much went into the early part of my career. They also didn't know how important money is in this sport.
People sometimes aren't aware of how racers get to the top. They don't realize how difficult the financial issues are, or how much commitment is needed. A lot of people have said to me, “I had no idea what you went through to get here,” but I've also had drivers say, “I went through the same thing.”
The main feedback is from people who are surprised that it's not really a racing book. Racing is the backdrop, but the book's theme is what touches people: overcoming obstacles, believing in yourself and the people you love, family and justice. All these things are part of the message.
So far, people have really enjoyed it, and that makes me very happy. I receive messages all the time from people who say they don't usually read books but couldn't put mine down! That's what I wanted. I didn't want it to be a book that took forever to read. I wanted it to be quick and engaging. I wanted to give people a feeling of what my journey has been.
That journalist continued to tell me how he'd been surprised by my mom. “I can't believe your mom was the one who wouldn't let you give up on your dream,” he said. He's right. Usually mothers are the first to say no to racing because it's so dangerous, but my mom was the one who said, “Don't give up, keep going.” She saw how hard I worked for it, how committed I was to it, and how determined I was to make it happen. In my situation, I knew the financial struggle I had put my family through. I thought I could only do more damage to them. I thought I was done, but she wouldn't let me quit. She had the strength.
It's an incredible story…but it's even better to see how it's touched people.