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Emmo

Emerson Fittipaldi and Emmo, Jr. [Photo by Eddie Lepine]

Emerson Fittipaldi and Emmo, Jr. [Photo by Eddie Lepine]

Emerson Fittipaldi at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1972.  [Photo by Jack Webster]

Emerson Fittipaldi at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1972. [Photo by Jack Webster]

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with legendary driver Emerson Fittipaldi at a karting track here in Florida where he was coaching his son, Emmo Jr.

The years have been kind to Emerson, who looks today like he could jump into a race car and start right up where he left off in the 1990’s.

It was quite a career for the Brazilian legend, who made his Formula One debut with Lotus at the 1970 British Grand Prix. Shortly after that debut, his teammate and soon to be World Champion Jochen Rindt was killed at Monza and Emmo found himself suddenly promoted into the glaring spotlight of Formula One by being named #1 driver for Gold Leaf Team Lotus.

In true Fittipaldi style, he responded by taking his first Grand Prix victory a couple of weeks later at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. That race, perhaps more than any other, marked the beginning of the changing of the guard in Formula One. It was Emerson’s first win, and Sir Jack Brabham’s last race.

Emmo continued on to great success in the very dangerous era of the 1970’s in Formula One. He won 14 races, earned 6 pole positions, set 6 fastest laps and garnered two World Championships – in 1972 and 1974. He raced against all the best of that decade, and survived. Many did not.

Who was the best driver he raced against? He cannot name just one, because they were all so good he told me. But ask him who his biggest influence was and he doesn’t hesitate. “Colin Chapman. He was an innovator and I saw him as my mentor. The Lotus team was like family.”

After leaving Formula One, Fittipaldi stayed away from racing for 4 years, finally being enticed to try his hand at Indy cars in the CART series. That venture was quite successful as well, as he won the Indianapolis 500 twice – in 1989 and 1993. On top of that, Fittipaldi won the CART Championship in 1989 and in his CART career won 22 races. His racing career ended with a bad accident at Michigan International in 1996 and while recovering from that accident he was in a bad airplane crash in 1997 when his plane lost power while he was surveying his orange groves near Sao Paulo.

Emmo has no regrets. He had a legendary career and is without doubt one of the best drivers of all time. He told me he was blessed to drive against three generations of legends in CART – the Andretti’s and the Unser’s, and he looks back fondly on that magical decade spent in Formula One.

He is now mentoring a new generation to success – his son Emmo, Jr. who is an up and coming driver in karts. He told me that coaching his son is “Like being born again.” Perhaps what goes around comes around, with Emmo now taking on the role of mentor to Emmo, Jr. just like Colin Chapman did with him.

“Racing is all about winning.” He told me. Without doubt, there will be much more winning in the Fittipaldi family.

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Eddie has been involved in motorsports for over 30 years as photographer, columnist, and driver. Eddie also is now a retired racer (well, retired unless a good ride pops up).