Home Automotive Reference Engineering and Motorsports Alex Zanardi - My Sweetest Victory


December 7, 2004

It was a pleasure to spend some time with Alex Zanardi in New York City last week. Zanardi was in the United States for four days to promote his book, ’My Sweetest Victory’, just released in this couuntry by Bentley Publishers. Alex was in New York most of the time but also flew to Colorado where he spent some time on the slopes and had dinner with Jimmy Vasser and Doctor Steve Olvey. In between, he did a relentless series of interviews as well as a book signing and appearances on both ’Wind Tunnel’ and David Letterman’s show.

Both TV appearances gave healthy spikes to Zanardi’s book sales and rightfully so because the book is a great read. As you might expect from Zanardi, his book is lucid and entertaining as well as being delightfully and sometimes brutally honest. Says my colleague Nigel Roebuck, one of the world’s most literate motor racing writers and a man with as vast a racing library as any I’ve seen: "Alex’s book is the best racing autobiography in years because he tells the truth. Sure, it’s well-written and very funny but he doesn’t pull any punches."

That’s exactly right. Not only do you get to know Zanardi, his friends and family, but you also get a real lesson in how tough the racing business is as well as unvarnished pictures, warts and all, of some well-known names in the sport.

For his part, Alex says the only regret he has about the book is the short shrift he feels he gave Gil de Ferran. Alex says he mischaracterized de Ferran with a flip comment about him talking to excess. But the rest of it is just the facts, told with great verve and humor.

Zanardi’s amazing recovery from his life-threatening crash at the Lausitz superspeedway three years ago provided the inspiration for ’My Sweetest Victory’ and Alex’s insatiable spirit for life rings through in every chapter.

In between his interviews and appearances promoting his book I had an appointment with Zanardi on Thursday. My partner Adam Friedman’s Traveling Light Media company is beginning work on a TV documentary about Zanardi’s life and we started our interviews for the project in New York last week.

"If I wouldn’t have had the accident, I would probably have never wrote the book," Zanardi says. "For sure that was one of the reasons I wrote it, but when the book came out in Italy people where really surprised. I don’t believe I’m an example for anybody. For sure I can be a sort of example for people who have similar problems to mine and are just at the beginning of this bumpy road, trying to find solutions to put their lives back into the right perspective because it has been people with my problems who have been my inspiration throughout my rehabilitation.

"Having said that it would be really stupid and arrogant for me to believe that I’m a model for every human being. I’m just a guy who is going on with his life and trying to do it in the best possible way. So my book tells about the accident and tells about my racing career but I didn’t want my book to be only about that.

"I wanted the book to be about my life and my childhood to explain the reasons why a kid who was born in a small village outside Bologna--which is certainly not the most privileged starting point for the kind of life I have--can have that kind of life. You’ve got to be lucky in life, but you’ve gotta try. That’s the most important thing. That’s the winning choice. If you end up winning, which is fulfilling your dream, that’s exactly what we want. To make sure that when you watch yourself in the mirror you like what you see, you’ve got to do your part."

Zanardi portrays himself as someone who can be as feckless as the next fellow, but who rose to the occasion when the moment called.

"I feel that many times in my life I failed to do my part because I was lazy, or I was this or that. But on other occasions I was very proud of what I did and how I took advantage of my time and acted very well to fulfill the dreams and objectives that I had."

His goal in writing his book was to speak to the average man or woman. "I wanted to write something that would be very understandable for housewives and anyone else. Funnily enough in Italy the best feedback I got was from housewives! I’m glad for that because it’s a story that’s for everybody. I’m not expecting anybody to learn anything from it, but in a way I believe this may happen. For sure I lived a very colorful life and I have a bunch of experience that I describe in the book because I was fortunate enough to have a very particular life."

Zanardi is thankful to his ghostwriter Gianluca Gasparini, who works as a motorsport writer for Italy’s daily sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, for transmitting his thoughts and emotions to paper.

"I just put it down to the best of my ability with the words that were coming out of my heart," Alex says. "I wanted to write it the way I felt it and it came out of my heart with the help of Gianluca Gasparini who has become a real friend for me. I’m really glad that so many people have told me they enjoyed reading it. To have the right answer from the public makes it even greater."

At one point after lunch we took a brief walking tour on the streets of Manhattan for some TV and film footage. We walked over to Broadway and Alex was dextrous and graceful on his prosthetic legs and pair of walking canes. With three or four camera crews surrounding him as he walked it created attention. People were asking, ’What’s going on? Who is this guy?’

A foursome of well-dressed Manhattan ladies asked the same question as they passed by. Somebody told them this guy was a famous race car driver but one of the women looked incredulous and pointed at Alex’s canes. "I don’t think so!" she exclaimed, as if to say we were lying to her. She and her friends strode off before we could set them right and help them appreciate what they were seeing.

Allow me to reiterate. It was great to spend a little time with Zanardi last week. The guy just inspires you with optimism and good humor. When we met earlier that morning the thing that first impressed me was his powerful, vice-like handshake. I noticed immediately that his hands are much larger and stronger than during the height of his racing career and that his upper body, shoulders and arms are unbelievably powerful and rippling with muscle definition. Alex has clearly made up for the loss of his legs by redefining the rest of himself.

As soon as we finished he had to run to the airport for a red-eye home. He needed to spend half a day packing to get ready to drive across the Alps to Munich for Saturday night’s BMW motorsports Christmas party.

Zanardi has of course raced a BMW 320i in this year’s European Touring Car Championship and will do so again next year. The series will attempt to become a World Touring Car Championship in 2005 with a races in Dubai, Macau and Puebla, Mexico.

In the meantime buy yourself a copy of ’My Sweetest Victory’ and wish Adam Friedman’s team luck on our documentary adventure this winter with Zanardi and friends. And watch also for our Mario Andretti A&E Biography which has finally been scheduled to run later this month. We’ll let you know the date as soon as it’s confirmed.

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