Tony Kanaan looks toward 2021 with eye on driving, media and coaching

Tony Kanaan What's next
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Kanaan doesn’t think he has started his last NTT IndyCar Series race, but he also knows the decision on what’s next isn’t entirely up to him.

“I want to come back, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Kanaan said Saturday before qualifying at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. “Me wanting something doesn’t mean that’s what is going to happen. I still have to find a car and find a sponsor.

“I’ll have the whole winter toward finding a ride and a sponsor that might give me a chance to run again. If not, I’m OK with it. I had an awesome run.”

The 2004 series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner treated a 19th-place finish Sunday as if his 383rd start were the finale of a 23-year run as an IndyCar driver.

With 17 victories and 15 pole positions in 383 starts (ranking second all time to Mario Andretti’s 407), Kanaan isn’t ready to say goodbye after hardly getting the chance during his “Last Lap” season that was marred by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“I definitely want to come back after a weird year for all of us, so it’s going to take a lot of work, which I don’t mind,” Kanaan said last month on Indy 500 qualifying weekend. “I’ve done it before. I’m going to regroup with my sponsors to see what we can come up with. I’m probably in a good position if I can gather the funds and say, ‘All right, where am I going to go?’ ”

Tony Kanaan jokingly tried to fit a mask last month on his sculpted bust from his 2013 Indy 500 victory on the Borg-Warner Trophy, which he also outfitted with its own mask (Photos by Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports).
(Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

Kanaan expects to spend the next two months knocking on doors to cobble together a budget that he then can shop to teams for at least racing in the 105th Indy 500 in May. The meetings about his ’21 prospects began this week.

“I have not talked to any teams yet,” he said. “I think the best approach was going to be let’s see what kind of money I can raise, then I can go talk to the teams. I think all my sponsors are on board as far as wanting to talk to see what extent they can do something, if they can do something. The next two weeks I probably will know something, then we’ll start talking. But we’ll see. It’s going to be really hard.”

His goals are flexible – anywhere from a one-off Indy 500 start to the five ovals he had planned to run in ’20. He is “100 percent certain” it won’t be a full season.

The primary objective is a proper farewell that will allow the interaction with fans that the popular Brazilian was robbed of enjoying during this star-crossed season, which also saw the end of his record streak of 318 consecutive starts.

“We had so many plans to do it with the fans,” he said. “I hinted at (racing in 2021) and got bombarded by my fans that I need to do this, so the response was pretty cool.”

Tony Kanaan prepares to race the No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet at World Wide Technology Raceway last weekend, his final starts of the 2020 IndyCar season (James Black/IndyCar).

His ideal schedule would be at least 10 races – five in IndyCar, plus the inaugural season in the Superstar Racing Experience series started by Ray Evenrham and Tony Stewart. Kanaan signed a letter of intent in mid-August with the series and jokes “there is life beyond IndyCar!” – and it might not be behind the wheel. He has plans to branch out into media (he has dabbled in Indy Lights broadcasting).

“I have a lot of talks to do some commentary and podcasts,” Kanaan said. “That would be something I’d be really interested in doing. I’m not the type of a guy who says I need the time off.”

He is intrigued by the idea of coaching two or three up and comers in the IndyCar ladder series — as he already was a natural mentor for teammates throughout his career.

“I’ve done that all my life literally in IndyCar,” said Kanaan, whose legendary dedication to workouts and ease with interviews provide a good foundaiton for teaching the rigors of a driver’s life off the track. “And I could help these kids, not just on the driving side, but to tell them, ‘This is how you should behave with the media. This is how to treat sponsors. You’re going to work your ass off every morning like I did.’ Just guide the kids. I haven’t talked to anybody, and I don’t have a kid in mind, but  I have plenty of time to look at the ladder series of IndyCar. That’s something I’d love to do.”

But of course, he’d love nothing more than to race again in IndyCar, too, particularly after feeling good about his six starts in 2020 with A.J. Foyt Racing. He was a season-best ninth Saturday at Gateway and was contending for a top 10 in the Indy 500 before a miscue on his last pit stop.

“It was a very consistent season, if I can call that a season,” he said. ““It was nothing like I had planned. I had a lot of plans to enjoy with the sponsors, the fans, everybody else. I would say the highlight was just to be a part of it. I had a good run. I made good friends.”

That was evident by the receiving line of team members and drivers who greeted Kanaan before what could be his final start.

“It was weird, man,” Kanaan said. “I mean, it was really tough. I wasn’t expecting that. I think I kind of had forgotten without the fans, I thought it was going to be a lot easier because there would be less people.

“It was tough. Especially when you have the adrenaline kicking in right before the race. You try to concentrate. I obviously got extremely emotional. But it’s nice. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t plan it. It was really cool.”

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws

The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)