by Jay Prasuhn
Ed. Note—if the name Tony Kanaan rings a bell for you, but you're not sure why, do we have a story for you! The Brazilian Indy Car champ is also a decorated triathlete, and he made a return to our sport last weekend at the MiamiMan half-iron distance race in South Florida. Contributing Editor Jay Prasuhn caught up with the superstar racer and brings you this update.
“Miami-based racer Tony Kanaan finished P6 on the Sunday race.” It would be a typical line you’d find any given Sunday in USA Today, The Miami Herald. But last Sunday, it wasn’t in reference to Tony Kanaan, the world-famous race car driver. Rather, that sixth-place finish came from Tony Kanaan, triathlete. The Key Biscayne resident took on one of his local races, MiamiMan Sunday. After a bit of a respite from racing recovering from a shoulder injury, he was unsure how it would go. The result? “Better than expected,” Kanaan said. In IndyCar parlance, he did indeed finish P6, or sixth place. For a return to tri, “better than expected” is a humble understatement.
But that stands to reason. If you’re familiar with Kanaan’s name, it’s for good reason. A veteran of the open-wheel IndyCar racing circuit, TK has won it all. He was the IndyCar series champ in 2004, and he won the crown jewel in 2013, the famed Indianapolis 500. 17 career wins, 15 poles, it’s a resume that has earned respect on and off the track. For the Brazilian-born racer, the new partnership with Wattie Ink was fated. As a Hoka One One-sponsored athlete, Kanaan met fellow sponsored athlete Heather Jackson and Wattie founder Sean Watkins. The trio hit it off.
“Heather’s always been one of my favorite triathletes,” Kanaan said. “I remember meeting her at Ironman 70.3 Clearwater years ago, and she was just awesome.” Then, conversation turned to a theme common among the three: tattoos. “I’ve always loved Wattie’s kits, and funny enough, we all started talking about tattoos. Wattie has a lot of tattoos, and I have a lot,” Kanaan says. “He was looking at my Indy 500 tattoo, and he said ‘can you imagine doing a kit with that tattoo?’” It was the hook—and the birth of a partnership. “He sent me a few kits to train in, and they were amazing,” Kanaan recalls. “I called him and said ‘so Wattie, is that proposal we talked about still on the table?’” The deal was done; TK would Rock the W.
“These partnerships I have are really personal for me,” Kanaan says. “I love Wattie’s energy. He and Heather are just good people, and the kits, they’re just awesome." Now that he has a race under his belt, he’s looking forward to the 2019 race season—both in triathlon, and in his IndyCar. And don’t for a minute think tri is just a fun diversion. With physical and mental acuity being paramount to succeeding in tri, it’s become a key part of his racecar training regime.
Kanaan raced the Hawaii Ironman in 2011, so he knows how to suffer. “This is the time of year I ramp up my training. Triathlon is my passion, but it helps me immensely in my job. With both, you fight with your body and mind, you have to save yourself for key moments,” he says.”We encounter the same challenges in the race car. It’s absolutely an important part of why I do it.” Of course, a return to Kona isn’t out of the question, either. “I plan on doing a 70.3 next year, and I’m looking for a good 70.3 next year and am open to suggestions,” he says with a laugh. “Kona is always on my mind. I’ll be there next year regardless if I race or not, but it’d be great to go back and race. It was a few years ago… maybe it’s time to do it again.”