Alex Zanardi’s finishing position at the Rolex 24 At Daytona was rather unrewarding after early electrical issues forced a trip to the garage and the replacement of his BMW M8 GTE’s steering column. Last in the nine-car GT LE Mans field, Zanardi’s Rolex 24 debut with BMW Team RLL lacked the ending he sought, but the Italian certainly accomplished something greater during his trip to Florida.
As a focal point across television, print, web, and radio coverage, the story surrounding Zanardi’s first time competing in North American motor racing as a double amputee might be remembered — more than two decades after thrilling fans with back-to-back CART IndyCar titles — as the biggest impact he made.
Zanardi went to Daytona to win, and based on how you define success, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest his efforts in the BMW could have a lasting ability to inspire those who face similar physical obstacles.
“I bump into a lot of people who had to overcome adversity and who did not have the same opportunity that I luckily have,” he said shortly after the conclusion of Sunday’s race. “Who their name is not Zanardi. But, believe me, I’ve seen a lot of people who were surprised, sadly surprised by life, having to face and to overcome some sort of adversity, but nevertheless, reacting with a lot of tenacity, with a lot of enthusiasm, with a lot of love and affection for life itself.
“Because life is a great opportunity and theoretically, you wouldn’t want to waste any second of it. Then, when something like this shakes you, it’s kind of normal that you have a period of time where you say, ‘Boy, why me? What am I going to do now?’ And this may take longer to end, person to person.”
Zanardi’s irrepressible nature has been his greatest ally since losing a major portion of both legs from a IndyCar crash in Germany that took place in 2001. His ability to inspire is well known, which made the 52-year-old’s addition to the factory BMW IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program for Daytona such a welcome decision.
Having Zanardi up close, sharing his story on IMSA’s pre-event media tour in New York and through numerous outlets, brought his gregarious personality and fighting spirit up close for many to see and feel for the first time. Give it a few years, and by then, we’ll have a better idea of how many people were moved to follow similar pursuits in sports as a result of Zanardi’s motivating ways.
“Personally, I was very lucky because I’m a guy who was very optimistic, who had the right opportunity, who had the right people,” he continued. “I had the right people around me because even my wife, when everybody back in Germany were using her shoulder to lean on and to cry instead of supporting, she decided to call BMW to order a car with hand controls. And I tell you, it was quite important for me when I got home to have my car there ready, so I could focus on something and start immediately. Never stop.
“But again, I used what I had and I think that’s what you have to do. So the type of advice I can give is, do what you can, it’s as simple as this. Because it’s true that being named Alex Zanardi makes a big difference. But there was a day where being named Alex Zanardi was simply being the son of Dino and Anna, two great parents who gave me the greatest gift they could give me, the education I received.
“And my Dad always told me, ‘Hey, son, you know what? If you are dreaming your life, well treat it as a dream, but also try to move towards it because there may one day where you become so close, where you can turn that dream into a realistic objective. And the only way you’re going to do that is, do in every given day what you can. And one day it’s going to be a big thing, one day it’s going to be a small one but, you take a step forward.’ So this is the advice I can give them.”
Zanardi hopes more of his brothers and sisters who’ve lost limbs, or deal with other physical challenges, will join him in living their dreams.
“Of course, it may be seen from people as a great, I wouldn’t say inspiration because it’s too much, it’s not up to me to say this, but for sure, a great reference point. Where you say, ‘Boy, if they did that, I can do that, me also,’ he added.
“And it doesn’t necessarily have to be motorsports, you just may take this to say, ‘If that guy had an interest in going back racing, in spite of what happened, and he achieved that? Wow. I have an interest for doing something else and at least I can try to organize things in a way where I can forecast whether it’s possible or not. And if it is technically possible, why shouldn’t I try?’ It’s as simple as this.”