On April 6 we’re going to celebrate something very special at the Ninth Annual RRDC Long Beach Legends Dinner when we honor Emerson Fittipaldi – and an amazing career that took him from being the youngest F1 World Champion to the third oldest Indy 500 winner.
Emmo burst upon the international racing scene in the early 1970s – mutton chops and all – driving a sleek black Lotus-Ford to his first Formula 1 World Championship. At age 25 he had become the youngest driver to claim the coveted title.Two years later he won his second world championship, this time behind the wheel of a McLaren. Young Emerson Fittipaldi was on a roll. But then he made what you might call a somewhat curious career decision. He left the championship-winning McLaren team to drive a brand new – and totally unproven – F1 car, built in his homeland of Brazil by his brother Wilson and funded by the Brazilian sugar and ethanol giant, Copersucar.
The project proved challenging, to say the least, and the uphill battle eventually proved too much even for Emerson. In 1980 he reluctantly announced his retirement from racing.
At age 33 he appeared to be done.
But sometimes there’s a second act. And four years later he made a comeback, enjoying himself so much in a one-off IMSA sports car outing in Miami in 1984 that he began a fresh focus on IndyCar racing, firstly behind the wheel of a paradise pink March that made A.J. Foyt sick to his stomach.
But Emerson knew what he was doing – and the fans were soon spellbound by his charisma. They liked the sideburns as well. By the end of that 1984 season he landed a first-rate IndyCar ride with Pat Patrick. And the old Fittipaldi reappeared. He won the 1989 Indianapolis 500 in a dramatic mano a mano duel with Al Unser Jr. Then it was on to Marlboro Team Penske where he went on to smoke the field, adding another Indy 500 victory to the captain’s already crowded trophy case. And he did it at age 46, making him the third oldest 500 winner ever, behind only Al and Bobby Unser.
Hot on his heels followed a wave of very fast Brazilian drivers who’ve been at the top of the sport for more than a generation now: Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Gil de Ferran, Rubens Barrichello, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and a whole lot more.
When a journalist once asked Emmo for his secret of driving, he replied, “You must make love to the car.” And he named his cars appropriately, “Woman in Red” and “Flying Beauty” to name but two.
I invite you to join us at the RRDC’s Legends Dinner where we’ve honored the likes of Dan Gurney, Jim Hall, Roger Penske and Mario Andretti. It’s always quite an evening. This year it’s Emmo – and he promises to explain just how to “make love to a car” and share some great behind-the-scenes racing stories as well.
Get your tickets early, it’s sure to be another sellout.
Outdoor cocktails among some iconic cars will commence at 6:00; dinner is at 7:15 sharp. My interview with Emerson will be concluded by 9:30 so Long Beach competitors can meet curfews.
RRDC President Bobby Rahal
Please RSVP to Jeremy Shaw at email@example.com; then mail your check made out to RRDC to: (Include your name, email address, phone and names to guests,)
John C. Fergus, RRDC Treasurer, 8377 Green Meadows Drive N, Suite A, Lewis Center, OH 43035.
All proceeds go toward the RRDC’s young driver initiatives:
Our special thanks to Paul Laguette for the event logo.