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CART MEDIA CONFERENCE

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART MEDIA CONFERENCE

Christian Fittipaldi
April 22, 1997


T.E. McHALE: Christian was named in 1995 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year for his second place finish, and finished fifth in the 1996 PPG Cup competition with 110 points. He reported 13 top ten finishes in 16 starts and scored points in all but two of 16 events. He made podium appearances at Detroit where he finished second, Portland, where he took third, and Vancouver where he also finished third. With that, we are going to open it up for questions.

Q. Hi, Christian. Hope you are feeling okay. Needless to say, I think I speak for everyone in saying we are sorry at what happened at Australia and hope to see you back on the racetrack soon.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you. Thanks a lot, David. Thanks everyone. I am feeling pretty good, actually. I am very happy with the progress. I really can notice a difference. Like every day, I can bend my ankle a little bit more. I can bend my knee a little bit more. So, it's pretty encouraging, I would say, and it's very nice to see when you are getting better instead of just like lying in bed and not seeing any progress.

Q. I mean, I wonder, just basically, you know, probably the first question on everybody's mind is what is your hope for schedule as far as the next couple of months and getting back in a race car?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Hopefully, if everything goes as planned, I will have a lot better idea when we go down to Rio, which actually I am going to be at the Rio race, and then we're going to do a couple more X-rays. But if everything goes as of today, I think that right after Portland, I should be testing the car, and then I should go to Cleveland to run the car the first time on a race event. So I think that right after Portland, I should be running in a test in Elkhart Lake, and then I should run it one more time in Mid-Ohio before I go to Cleveland.

Q. Continued good luck and progress in your recuperation.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thanks.

Q. Can you tell us, you know, kind of in hindsight now your own assessment of what happened in the accident and how it affected you, and if you could talk about the safety aspects and how well they worked, and if there were any areas that did not that may have concerned you?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: To be quite honest with you, I just think that, in a way, I took an extreme big hit, but I think that where I hit, on that specific part of the track, there wasn't a lot more that we could have done because it was basically down the straight, and like there was a small corner bearing to the right, but it was very, very small, and the way Gil and I hit down the straight, my car just went the opposite way to the corner, and I basically couldn't steer the car, and I had like a big head-on impact which was where I broke my leg and my foot was on the first impact where I hit the wall about like 150 miles an hour, and then I basically got knocked out for a second. When the car went to the other side of the track and when it rolled back again, I didn't even know that that had happened until when I saw it on TV on Tuesday, and then when the car started spinning and stopped was basically when I woke up again, and I remember Lon being right in front of me cutting the car. Steve Olvey arrived on my right-hand side, and I was talking to them. Normally, I was telling them that I had broken my leg, and that my foot was trapped and, basically, that was it. But I don't think there was a lot that we could have done to the track. I think that we did a lot in the car from last season to this year, and those new headrests and pads and everything that we had in the car definitely helped a lot because my head was standing straight a lot more because it basically couldn't move. I didn't have any room to make my head move this year as opposed to last year which we had a lot more room.

Q. We will see you down there in Rio.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yes. We will definitely see each other in Rio.

Q. Christian, I know a lot of drivers who suffer these injuries usually go to Terry Trammell or Orthopedics Indianapolis for the rehab. Where are you going to be doing your rehabilitating work and have you seen Dr. Trammell at all?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No, I have seen Doctor Steve Olvey which works together with a lot of other doctors, also, but at the same time, I am in a stage that it's a little bit too early and there's not a lot that I can do because it was a pretty serious break, especially on my right leg, and as I said before, after Rio when we have a look at the leg again, we will have a better idea of what's going to happen. Like for Portland and Cleveland, maybe I could be back in the car a little bit earlier or maybe it's not healing as quick and then I have to wait even more. As far as like the physical stuff is concerned, I started already last week here in Miami, and then I am going back to Brazil pretty soon - I am not too sure yet still this week - and then I have pretty much like a good team set up over there, and I am going to continue working hard over there, and I should be coming back to America right after the Rio race because it's when things get a little bit more serious and then when we have to make like some -- like when we really have to make our final decisions as if when I am going to be back in the car.

Q. Christian, yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk with Michael and Bryan Herta at Mid-Ohio. One of their concerns -- we talked a lot about the recent fine of Paul Tracy and that particular thing. They are worried that the CART officials may be trying to assume a driver's intentions possibly a little too much in handing out some of the fines, and it's a whole different ball game being in the race car as opposed to sitting and watching and trying to dictate these type of things. Your feelings on the matter?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, it's definitely completely different when you are outside, but I think that if you touch like you touch, it's hard like for you to judge if it's intentional or if it's not intentional. In my way of thinking, I hope it's never intentional because if some drivers have intention of like knocking other drivers out, then we shouldn't even be racing. I think it's never intentional, but sometimes it happens, and I think like when you are in a race car doing the speeds that we are doing, you honestly have to draw the line somewhere, and sometimes if there is no room for you to go, you basically have to back off and like just try again and not just leave your car there and touch someone else and then, eventually, maybe even set up a very big accident and then just help out in the car and say, "I'm sorry, like it was never intentional." After like the accident is done, it's very easy for you to say sorry. I think that in a way, they have to be strict because, in my opinion, what is basically happening nowadays, CART has become so competitive, that it's exactly the same thing as if we have in Formula One racing; 15 cars that are exactly the same starting, you would obviously for sure generate a lot more incidents during the race because they run very, very close, and this is what is happening in CART. Like we have at least 12, 15 cars that run very, very close, and it's very easy for you to basically hit each other nowadays.

Q. Can you describe your cast and what you are wearing and all of the things that are going on in your life right now?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, the cast I am wearing is a half fiberglass cast which I can take it off and then put it back on again. I tend to stay with it the whole day because last week, I hit the sofa of my house and my leg fell down two times so that was a small crash I had in here. And the other thing is, I went to eat last Friday also and my wheel came off of my wheelchair and I fell in the middle of the restaurant, so it's a pretty good idea to have the cast on all the time, and unless when I am really doing some exercises with my legs is the only time that I take the cast off, but it's pretty simple. Apart from that, I have a big rod that goes from the knee almost to the ankle, and I have two screws that are holding it in the ankle or close to the ankle, and I have two screws that are holding it again close to the knee.

Q. How much of that do you get to keep with you after all of this is done?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I can basically keep everything with me, okay. I can carry the rod and the screws, and they say it's not going to be a problem, but on the other hand, the doctors have told me that I am still young and I should think of taking everything off because it can really make a difference for me in my future, especially if I have another accident. Like if I have another accident and there is nothing inside your leg, in a way, it can be a lot easier.

Q. My question was asked already, but I wanted to follow it up with the question of whether you think there should be more excessive fines or maybe even some reduction of points to discourage rough driving?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I am of the opinion that there should be some reduction in points because like the fine, obviously, the high paid drivers, like it's a lot easier for them to pay a fine than someone that's really working hard and basically struggling to get a package together and go racing and also dreaming that one day, they will be able to run in like a very good team. So, it's one thing if you fine one driver like, for example, like 15, $20,000, and it's another thing if you fine another driver that 15, $20,000 really makes a difference for them, so I think that you will feel a lot more the loss of something if you take the points out of the championship instead of just fining all of the drivers.

Q. I was just wondering, did you compare your Formula One and CART experiences, the differences between the two sports?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, Formula One is definitely a lot more political. I would say CART, they are really like worried or they really concentrate about putting on a really nice show to the fans, making sure that the cars run very, very equal, which I think, in a way, it's very good for the sport. Formula One, there is a lot more money involved. Technologically speaking, it's more advanced than CART, and one of the reasons why CART is so successful, in my opinion, is because they really tend to hold back a little bit to make sure that all of the cars are very, very equal. To be quite honest, I am having a very nice time over here and, at the moment, I don't think of even going back, and I really enjoyed the races here. I like living over here, also, so, at the moment, I am a very happy person, and I will be even happier when I get back in the car.

Q. I was out at Gateway International Friday and we did a piece out there, and the track is being paved and, unfortunately, you have missed running on it, but it's going to be a great speedway, and I do hope you come for the race.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No, I am definitely coming to the race. As I said before, I am going to all the races from Rio onward and, hopefully, I am going to be in St. Louis I think on Thursday evening before the race, and I am going to try and cheer that Budweiser car as maximum as possible, and I am going to lose not running there, especially because the two most important races of the year for me is definitely Rio and also running over there, so I will lose a lot, but that's the way things are in life and, at the moment, the only thing I can do is look to my future, try and get better as quick as possible, and looking back to my past won't do me any good, and I just have to exercise and get better and, hopefully, I will be back in the car very, very quick.

Q. We look forward to you getting well.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thanks.

Q. Christian, I am wondering if you have talked to any of the drivers or other athletes that have experienced the same type of injury, and if so, what kind of advice have you been given.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, pretty much, I am going a lot to -- Steve Olvey is telling me -- Like Dr. Olvey has a lot of experience on the racetracks, and he has seen a lot of injuries before and, actually, he has seen a lot of similar stuff to what I have. So, at the moment, I am just trying to work as hard as possible. Like the physical therapy is really doing me good. I can really notice a difference. Like every day that I wake up, I can bend my knee a little bit more. I can bend my ankle, also, and it's really getting better, and the most incredible thing that I saw is like how much strength you can lose only after an accident. Like on Sunday before the start of the race, I was great, and then on Monday morning when I woke up again, I was completely junk, and then on Wednesday, I tried to get up, and I couldn't even stand up. Like, I would just faint, and then things slowly start coming back to you, but you really have to work hard at it and, at the moment, this is what we are aiming on doing, and I am working very, very hard, and as I said before, I hope that I can be back in the car like as quick as possible.

Q. At least psychologically, can you turn this negative into a positive in your life?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I think you have to turn it into a positive. As I said before, like looking at the past won't do me any good. I can learn a couple of things, but I can't stay at home just saying, wow, if I was in a different place or if Gil wasn't there or if that hadn't happened or if this or that like it happened. That's the way it went. I think I was very lucky because I had a very strong hit and maybe it could have gone completely in a different way and maybe I wouldn't even be here talking to you guys. I think that I was very lucky, and I have to just try and turn it into like a very good way. Just try to get the good things that I learned from the accidents and keep them in my mind and just try to wipe off all of the bad things and go to the next race, basically.

Q. Well, the first thing I want to know, who the heck was your tire changer on your wheelchair?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Actually, it was a friend of mine, and my wheelchair, you basically have to plug it in, like the wheel, and I think he didn't plug it completely, so I rolled it from where the car was parked and I came into the restaurant, and then I stopped, and then I started eating, and then suddenly during the evening, it started moving more, more and more, and at the end of the evening, I was just looking at the bolt, and I started moving -- like I started moving the wheel, and I said, "wow, there is something wrong with this," and then suddenly when I moved it a little bit more, the whole wheel just came out in my hand, and as soon as it came out in my hand, I fell completely backwards on the floor, and my mother was with me and she started shouting and everything. Like you know how moms are. At least nothing happened. I was okay, and they put me back on the wheelchair again, and I just continued eating.

Q. I do have a question about right after the accident, we saw on TV that you were in a great deal of pain. You were grabbing one of the CART safety team's shoulder and squeezing it. I think it was Steve Olvey. What goes through your mind right after the accident, and are you basically saying, "God, I hope the team gets here and gets me out of this thing," or are you relieved when you see them, and how reassuring is it that race after race, it's always the same guys. You never have any questions about their abilities to be able to help you?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, the first thing that went through my mind is I had enough of this. I am not here to kill myself. Obviously, no one is out there to do that. I am out there to try to be very competitive all the time and to make sure that we are putting a very nice show not only for ourselves, but also for the fans and for the sponsors, and no one wants to get hurt and, obviously, because of the pain at the moment, you are sitting there and you are not thinking very well, but then after when you get out of the car and you go back in the hospital and all of that and then you start asking already the doctors how long is it going to be until you are cured, and when you start rethinking everything, it's the way life is. Sometimes it happens that way, and you just have to try and be strong, and you just have to try and get better as quick as possible. Regarding the CART's safety crew, I never had any doubts. I am pretty sure that they are very good people, and they got up to my car I think pretty quick. I think it took them in-between 30 seconds to about 45 seconds, and after about - I can't remember very well - but after about seven, ten minutes, I was coming out of the car. The problem was that my foot was completely trapped, and I could move my right leg but I couldn't move my foot because everything was broken down there, so I had some pain. It was pretty big pain. It wasn't terrible. Like I could stand it a little bit, but like the people were very good, and they cut the car up completely like very, very quick, and then they managed to take my foot out of the pedals, and then I could come out of the car.

Q. I have two questions. I wonder, first of all, if you have talked with Emerson or done any physical therapy with Emerson while he is doing his?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: That's a good question. Well, yes. Like Emerson, he came last week here and he saw me and, actually, we were laughing because, lately, down in the hospital here from where we live, only like the Fittipaldi family has gone in there. So, we have to try and stop that. Apart from that, the girl that did his physical therapy is exactly the same one that's working with me, so we were basically having a laugh last week because we are going to the same hospital, getting treated by the same doctors, basically, and I wish this won't happen again anymore.

Q. Which hospital is that?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: The Jackson Memorial.

Q. In Formula One, I thought you or someone mentioned an accident that you had in Formula One, and I wondered what it was and how long it took to recover?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I had a pretty big one. That was in '92. That was in France. I broke my C4 and my C5, but it was a different feeling from nowadays, because I didn't have to get operated. I just put a neck brace on. I stayed with it for about 45 days, and that was it. Then I could take it off, and I was pretty much ready to come back into the car, and I would say that this time in Australia, I definitely had a lot more pain. I was operated on Sunday evening, and my leg is still pretty big. Like, it's getting smaller every day, but it's still pretty swollen up, and it's a different kind of pain that you feel compared to when I had my accident in '92. I think that the consequences could have been a lot bigger in '92, but I was a lot more impressed like this time.

T.E. McHALE: With that, I think we will open it up for general questions.

Q. Christian, I hope you are feeling as well as you can today. I actually missed the first couple of questions on the teleconference, so I guess I would like to ask indications now as to how long before you plan to be back in a car and driving again, and what is your rehab schedule like?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, my rehab is like pretty tough. I am working like every day in the morning about like an hour, an hour and a half just up to like the maximum that I can do nowadays because it's still pretty early. Like I was operated only exactly two weeks and two days ago. In the afternoon, usually I go out on my wheelchair, and I go out on it for about four or five miles and then I come back home. At least I can work out my arms, and that's very, very good for me. Regarding when I come back, I think that I will be back in the car testing the first time right after Portland and, hopefully, if I am okay, if I am good enough, then I can go back racing in Cleveland which, if I am not mistaken, is on the 11th of July.

Q. At this point, Christian, is Roberto going to stay in the car until you come back, and the second part of it is, how much can he really do in terms of developing the car or is he just there to keep the seat warm, basically?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I know that Roberto is on for the next race in Nazareth. I am not sure. As far as I am concerned, I don't know which type of deal that CART has with him, and apart from that, I think that he has a lot of experience. He ran Formula One for a lot of years, and I think that he can get the program going. It's a shame that I had my accident right in the beginning of the season, because if I was to choose if I wanted to have it in the beginning or in the end of the season, in a way, I wanted to have it in the end of the season and only lose out on one or two races, because I think that the whole program was running very strong with Mike and also myself, and like the car was getting better every race, and even at surface, like my car was very, very good, and it was a shame that all of that happened, so the only thing I can say is I hope that Roberto can do like a very good job in these next four or five races, and I have to take care of myself and make sure that I am better very, very quick to go back in the car and to continue all of the testing and all of the like big programs that we had set since the beginning of the year.

Q. Christian, is there a reason why you need to be at the track for all of the races even though you are not going to be driving?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, first, because I want to be together with the team. I think that it's one thing when you watch the race on TV and it's another thing when you are down there together with the team. Second, I think that it's a way to say like thank you to all of my sponsors. I think that the whole program is still continuing. Unfortunately, I can't race for about six, seven races, but I think that my PR life, in a way, it still continues, and I am trying to make up for that like the best way as possible, and I think that one of the big things that I can do is to go back to the races and try to stay with them as maximum as possible and try to be together with the team, but my major reason is being together with the team and seeing what they are doing in the car and trying to be next to them. I think that's going to make a very big difference for me like when I come back, because when I come back, at least I know exactly what's going on instead of staying at home for about two months and suddenly coming back and not having like a clue of what's going on.

Q. Christian, how disappointed are you not to be racing in Rio this year?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, a lot. As I said before, I think I am -- no, I am sure I am going to miss out on the two most important races for me which were going to be Rio, and also the following race. Going to St. Louis obviously was going to be very important for me, but, unfortunately, I won't be able to make none of those races. And the only thing I can say is, I won't be racing in '97, but I will be back in '98 and try to make up for it in '98. So, there is not a lot to say. Like I lost it, I lost it.

Q. Christian, can this question be answered in Portuguese?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Certainly. (THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ARE IN PORTUGUESE.)

Q. Christian, did you learn anything, and are you looking at races on TV trying to learn things, or are you just trying to keep up?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No, actually, I have all the races from last year, so I have plenty of time to see that also down here in my house, and I am trying to keep up as maximum as possible; talking to everyone on the team. I learned like a couple of things. What really struck me the most is when I go out in the wheelchair in the afternoon, like people that permanently have to stay in a wheelchair, it's like really, really tough. Like you can't believe how hard it is, and you only notice that once you are in one, and you have to stay like the whole day sitting down, and that's basically like what I do. I can't stand up or I stand up only for about four or five minutes, and then I have to sit down again, and life gets a lot more complicated. Like I take double the time that I usually take to do everything; if I am going to shower, if I am going to the bathroom, if I am going to even almost eat, if I want to sit down on the sofa to watch something, and my case is not terrible because at least I can stand up and I can move a little bit more. Imagine the people that have to permanently stay in a wheelchair. Definitely, like they are very, very strong.

Q. It's kind of an awakening?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Oh, yes, and it makes you like give a lot more value to life. Sometimes I think we get a little bit dragged and we get a little bit off course and we are just complaining because maybe everything is not going perfect and we are just bragging and moaning, oh, I wish things could have been different. I wish this and I wish that. When you have a hit about this size and you see what really could have happened to you, then you start saying, "wow, I am really a very happy person because I am talking to you guys over here," knowing that everything is okay in my head; knowing that I am going to be back in the car like whatever, 50, 60 days, and on the other hand, it could have been a lot worse. Maybe I couldn't even be here talking to you guys, and maybe I wouldn't even be able to drive my car again, so, sometimes, I think that God does it in a way that like he is shaking you just for you to wake up and give a lot more value to life and maybe take some approaches a little bit different than I was taking before. Not that I was taking everything like for granted before, but it's just like a very different kind of life that I am living right now. Okay. This is just a follow-up. I wanted to make a point earlier regarding the last time you did not start a race that was due to an injury that was in '92 at the French Grand Prix - you already talked about that - but I also wanted to ask you a couple more questions. I understand on your floor in the hospital in Australia, there was a gentleman with the same name as one of your owners. Talk about that. Well, I was on the left side of the floor in a room, and on the right side of the floor, they had like basically two aisles; one aisle with a lot of rooms, and then on the right side, they had another aisle with a lot of rooms. There was a Paul Newman there. So it was, in a way, very strange. I was sitting on exactly the same floor as him, and I was looking straight ahead into his room, and there was a Paul Newman that was also injured and he was down in the hospital. And the other thing that was very funny is, there was a guy - I can't remember what he had - but when Mario came into the hospital on Monday to like stay with me a little bit before he left, there was a guy - a real big race fan - he was about two rooms from mine, and then he knew that Mario had just walked in, and he called one of the nurses and he said, you wouldn't believe who this guy is. Like, this guy is the ultimate in life. Mario Andretti, he is a great guy. He is a great racer and everything. I promise you that if you bring him here to my room, I am going to get well tomorrow, and I am going to leave the hospital. I just need to see him and I just need to touch him, and that was really, really funny, also.

Q. Also, I understand lots of drivers called and came by to see you before they left Australia. Was that a surprise to you or is that type of friendship among the drivers something that is very positive in the series?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No, I think it was very good. It's very good for the series also, especially knowing that at the end of the day, all of the drivers are trying to go after exactly the same goal, but Adrian stopped by, Jimmie Vasser stopped by. He actually brought me a sock. At least it wasn't smelly. Andre stopped by, also. Then Michael came in the next day and we stayed a long time talking together, and then basically a lot of drivers just called me to see how I was, and I think that was very good. Like I really like that and, honestly, for me, it made a very big difference.

T.E. McHALE: Christian has a lot of fans routing him on and wishing him well, and we want to thank you for being with us today, Christian, and certainly wish you a speedy recovery, and we look forward to seeing you back in the car real soon.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you very much and, hopefully, I will see a lot of you guys that I talked to in Rio, and I hope to see almost everyone in the following races when I come back here.



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