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‘I don’t want to think about it’: Legend Tony Kanaan prepares for final Indy 500

SPEEDWAY, Ind. (WISH) — After 22 years, former Indianapolis 500 champion and IndyCar fan favorite Tony Kanaan will say goodbye to his favorite race Sunday.

“My love for this place is real. Since I was a little kid, that’s all I ever wanted to do,” Kanaan said.

One final turn for TK. The 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 will be the legend’s last.

The most emotional part comes when he walks out during drivers’ introductions for the final time.

“That actually has been the coolest part of my entire career here in this place. Probably that will be the worst time of my career this year, but in a good way,” Kanaan said.

“It’s going to be extremely emotional,” he added. “Your nerves are already so high before the race but I think not a single person here doesn’t know that this is my last one. I’m not sure how much louder they can cheer because every year they make me feel so good but yeah, I don’t want to think about it.”

“We just said ‘You know what, it’s important to take every day, everything that we’re doing and just really soak it up. Really take it in. Really be present for all of those,’” Kanaan’s wife Lauren said. “But on race day, if you ask on race day, ask me again, because I’ll be some kind of mess.”

Kanaan started racing in the US back in 1996. However, he refused to even visit IMS until he was a driver in the Indy 500. 2002 was that year. Eleven years later, he finally got his ride up to victory circle.

“When I was 13 years old, I lost my dad. The day before he passed, he made me make him a few promises, and one of them was to win this race one day, and then that became an obsession, a goal, whatever you want to call it,” Kanaan said. “We had so much disappointment here that some people felt that I had all the rights to hate this place but I never did, but I just said, ‘Well it wasn’t my day, and if the track would choose me to win one day it will,’ and it happened.”

“We had a pact that whoever would get there, meaning win championships and being the big one, we would hire the other one to carry their helmets,” longtime friend and four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves said. “Thank God, destiny made us, we didn’t have to hire anybody and we had a long career.”

The moment will mark the end of an era of one of the most beloved drivers to ever get in an IndyCar.

“TK is a person that made me who I am,” Castroneves said. “A driver not only on the track but outside the track, as a man, as a father.”

“He’s definitely a big character, which goes with his very large nose,” Scott Dixon said, laughing. “He’s always a lot of fun. He’ll always make you smile.”

“I think he’s got something planned where he’ll still be in the mix so that’s a good thing because not having TK around at all would make the series far less fun,” owner and driver Ed Carpenter said.

“Oh, he’ll be back. This is just the sixth retirement, right? We’ll see,” Dixon said. “I hope it’s not our last. Obviously, I hope for good things, great things for him. Maybe not to win the race again, but it would be pretty special for him to win and for us to see him again next year.”

Pretty special, indeed.