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Designs ON Indy
Sam Moses
May 28, 1990
Defending champion Emerson Fittipaldi will have a lot more going for him at the 500 than his give-no-quarter driving style
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May 28, 1990

Designs On Indy

Defending champion Emerson Fittipaldi will have a lot more going for him at the 500 than his give-no-quarter driving style

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While driving and dealing, Fittipaldi also has been thinking about his new Lear 35. He loves the idea of taking his family with him to races. In his mind, he is designing a seven-seat configuration outfitted in beige leather.

The Fittipaldi household consists of two children from his first marriage—Juliana, 15, and Jayson, 14, (Tatiana, eight, lives with her mother in Johannesburg, South Africa)—and three-year-old Joana, whose mother is Teresa. Because he has been away for two weeks testing the 1990 Penske-Chevy, this afternoon at home will be strictly family time. He plans to spend it boating. The craft is a powerful Wellcraft Scarab Fittipaldi Limited Edition, a 34-foot Deep-Vee offshore powerboat. Its cost is in the six figures.

Emerson and Teresa are Catholics who also maintain an open mind about astrology and the power of crystals. "I believe in much more than the physical," he says. "I believe in the spirit part—the aura of the personality. We have so much more power than we know." Teresa has also had a lot of practical experience with crystals and gems. She was working as a jewelry designer when she met Emerson, and her latest gold earrings will be sold by The Sharper Image, the San Francisco-based retailer of accoutrements for the contemporary good life.

Fittipaldi's diet is more New Age than Yuppie. When he travels alone he often packs his lunch, which might consist of black sesame rice crackers, granola, filberts and carrots, washed down with mineral water. Says Teresa, "Since he started to eat this kind of food two years ago—no meat, no dairy—it's unbelievable how he has calmed down."

At one time Fittipaldi didn't merely pay heed to stars and crystals; he was downright superstitious. That all but stopped after a dinner conversation with Juan Manuel Fangio, the legendary Argentine who won five Grand Prix championships in the 1950s. "He will always be my idol," says Fittipaldi. "He told me he was very superstitious, until after the Swiss Grand Prix in 1954. The night before the race, he went out with his wife to drive around the track. Right in the middle of a straight, a black cat crossed his path, and he hit it and killed it. On the racing track! If you're superstitious, you will be sure you will die in the race.

"He couldn't sleep the whole night. In the morning it was raining. He was certain now. He said, 'That's it, today's my day.' When Fangio started the race, he said he was so tense, he could not drive right. But he concentrated on the race and won. No more superstitions. It was good Fangio told me that. Now I don't care. The only thing I do is always to climb in the racing car my right foot first."

After his Formula One team went bust, Fittipaldi returned to Sa� Paulo to what he thought would be the quiet life of an orange grower. However, after a year of tending seedlings he was coaxed into entering some races for Super-Karts, which are pocket rockets capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 in 100 yards. He loved it. He won nine of 11 races. "It was like being born again," he says. "I feel the joy of the sport again."

The next spring Fittipaldi accepted a ride in the 1984 Miami Grand Prix for sports cars. He and Teresa fell in love with Miami. Weeks later, when an offer came to drive an Indy Car, Fittipaldi jumped at it. He also received a firm push. Teresa told him, "It is the opportunity for you to shine again. It is in your blood. It is in your mind." In 1984, after five CART races, he joined the powerful Pat Patrick team.

"One thing I really appreciate in Emerson is that he's very humble," says Teresa. "To be two times world champion in Formula One, with all the glory and everything that means—and then to go back to karts and enjoy himself. He had to start from the beginning again. We did not have much money when we came to race in America. I remember Indianapolis that May. We lived in a cheap apartment there in a poor neighborhood. Now he's with the best team again."

While driving his first four seasons for Patrick, Fittipaldi won six Indy Car races, mostly on CART's road circuits, because he was still learning the subtleties of oval-track racing. Then came the successes of last season, in cars that Penske had sold to Patrick Racing. Between the 1989 and '90 seasons, it was announced that Fittipaldi would be joining the Penske team. "It was a very delicate situation," says Fittipaldi, making it clear that he kept to the sidelines as Penske, Patrick and a major sponsor wheeled and dealed. "My decision was to figure out where I would have the best chance to win races. I think it would be with Penske. It was quite clear that Patrick was not going to have a new Penske chassis this year."

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