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Ayrton Senna, happy birthday

March 21, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
Forgive my indulgent trip into gearhead land today, but today would have been the great Ayrton Senna’s 54th birthday.

The tremendous Brazilian Formula 1 racing champion was taken from life too soon, fittingly in an auto race he was leading 20 years ago in April, when the Formula 1 circus travels to Imola.

When he was alive, what most non-Brazilians seemed to know was that he was a passionate, almost single-minded man about racing.

What I’ve learned since his passing, especially through the wonderful independent film “Senna”is that this man was far from single-minded. Passionate, competitive, yes.

But there was more at work than the playboy stereotype of the handsome, single, rich Brazilian racing driver. In fact, he may have been as far from that as one can get and still be an incredible racing driver.

His charities to the poor, especially the children of Brazil, continue long after his death to provide hope and education.

And his words impact me when I think about them.

He never would have seemed to be a praying man or a Vince Lombardi type of inspirational speaker in life. More soft-spoken, intellectual, possibly even shy sometimes, the three-time champion was inspirational in his very being.

How about: “Whoever you are, no matter what social position you have, rich or poor, always show great strength and determination, and always do everything with much love and deep faith in God. One day you will reach your goal.”

Or: “Wealthy men can’t live in an island that is encircled by poverty. We all breathe the same air. We must give a chance to everyone, at least a basic chance.”

Or the almost religious experience he describes about driving at and beyond what he thought were his capabilities: “On a given day, a given circumstance, you think you have a limit. And you then go for this limit and you touch this limit, and you think, 'Okay, this is the limit.' As soon as you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high.

Or: “I believe in the ability of focusing strongly in something, then you are able to extract even more out of it. It's been like this all my life, and it's been only a question of improving it, and learning more and more and there is almost no end. As you go through you just keep finding more and more. It's very interesting, it's fascinating.”

There was a quote from him his performance in a qualifying run or a race that makes it obvious that he truly felt God was in the car with him, that it was God driving through him:

“And suddenly, I realized that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension.”

I teared up at hearing him say that during “Senna.”

God doesn’t need a car to perform at a high level. But he can work through people to achieve, even in the driving of a car, albeit one amazing legend for the ages Marlboro McClaren.

Senna used his sport, his fame, his very being to deliver the message that life is about passion, about taking care of our fellow man, and to be the absolute best we can be at all times. It showed in his physical fitness regimen, in his performance on the track and in the way he dealt with his fame and fortune.

He was a loss to the world at large beyond the sport I love.

Happy birthday to a great example of what the life of sport can be. Perhaps, if I am blessed to reach that other dimension where I can drive like Senna, I can understand, too.


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