LONG POND — There must be times Helio Castoneves has to wonder if some of his fans even know he drives a race car for a living.
The personable 38-year-old Brazilian admitted Friday that there are days he garners as much attention for his successful stint on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars as he does for his success on the track.
“People want me to donate and sometimes the don’t ask me for racing memorabilia,” said Castroneves, who won the dancing competition on the show in 2007. “They ask me to donate a dance.
“I tell them I’m not a professional dancer. I won a competition. They told me what to do and I did it.”
Still he says he’s very proud of his accomplishments on the show.
But dancing isn’t how he earns his living. And he’s not at Pocono Raceway this weekend to do the tango.
No, he’s here to compete in Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar series Pocono 400, the series’ first race at the Long Pond track since 1989.
The race is crucial to his bid to remain atop the IndyCar points race.
“I believe it’s about consistency and the continuation of what we had from last year,” the Team Penske driver said about his nine-point lead in the standings over Ryan Hunter-Reay. “We can’t stop. We got to keep going.
“Right now, everything is awesome and we just have to keep our heads in the game.”
That won’t be easy, considering Sunday will be his first race on Pocono’s 2 1/2-mile tri-oval layout.
“There’s good and bad in (racing on a new track),” said Castroneves, who has run tests on the track several times. “The good thing is it’s the same for everyone. Hopefully, we can take advantage of that.
“The bad thing is that at several of the races we know or strengths and weakness.”
While he’s never raced here, Castroneves knows all about Pocono and it’s place in IndyCar history.
“I have been hearing about Pocono since I started in IndyCar,” Castroneves said. “I’ve always wanted to come here.”
One of the people that has been telling Castroneves about Pocono should give the driver a big advantage over the rest of the field.
Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears serves as an advisor to Team Penske and will be Castroneves’ spotter on Sunday.
Castroneves called him his mentor Friday. He could hardly ask for a better one at Pocono.
Mears dominated “The Tricky Triangle” when he was racing. In 10 starts at Pocono, Mears recorded three wins and four additional podium finishes. He also won the pole four times.
“He’s the expert here, so I just hope I can carry his success,” Castroneves said. “For our team, we always have someone of that calibre and that experience. I will take advantage of that. And I’m not shy to say that because there is always somebody that knows more.”
If Castroneves can follow Mears’ advice on Sunday, he could be one step closer to an IndyCar championship that he badly wants to win for team owner Roger Penske.
And if he can manage to claim that coveted trophy for Penske, maybe — just maybe — the next time he is asked for a donation, an autographed racing helmet will be more appreciated than a dance.