By Helio Castroneves
Photography by Billy Coleman
Styling by Ana Carolina Gonzalez
Ryan Hunter-Reay is on top of the motor-racing world. Fresh off a spectacular 2014 season that included a dramatic Indianapolis 500 victory and an induction into the Broward County Sports Hall of Fame, Hunter-Reay has helped boost open-wheel racing viewership in South Florida.
His list of accolades reads beyond his 34 years: 2012’s IZOD IndyCar Series champion, a two-time ESPY Best Driver Award recipient, 2007’s IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year and the only driver to record wins in IndyCar, CART, Champ Car, ALMS and Grand-Am.
Off the track, the Fort Lauderdale resident and father to 2-year-old Ryden is just as active. He founded Racing For Cancer after his mother, Lydia, lost her battle with colon cancer in 2009. The foundation has a simple message: beat cancer. Hunter-Reay drives No. 28 not only in memory of his mother, but also for the 28 million people worldwide that are currently living with the disease.
Hunter-Reay takes the time to chat with friend, neighbor and fellow racer, Helio Castroneves, whom he passed in sensational fashion during the final lap of the 2014 Indianapolis 500 to take home the title. As the two show, rivals on the track can most certainly be friends off of it.
Helio Castroneves: I hear you’re a big fisherman. What do you enjoy about the water and the sport of fishing that racing can’t give you?
Ryan Hunter-Reay: I sort of grew up boating and fishing—tends to happen when you grow up in the Fort Lauderdale area! My close group of friends that I’ve known since I was 4 or 5 years old all fish offshore regularly (some professionally on the Sailsmen Fishing Team). We were miles offshore by ourselves fishing as early as 13 or 14. I have a Yellowfin 36 with triple Honda 250s, and we fish when I am at home, between commitments. In the summer, I most enjoy free diving and hunting fish with a Riffe pole spear. Usually I’ll target mahi, hogfish, grouper and snapper. I’d really like to go after big wahoo and yellowfin tuna in the future. During the offseason winter months, I do more fishing, like kite fishing to target sailfish. I’d like to do more sailfish tournaments in South Florida, but they tend to conflict with preseason testing as well as the Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do that more later in life. Freediving and fishing share some similarities to racing, but it’s a total escape from the pressure-filled environment of racing.
HC: If you could choose an opportunity, what you would like your son, Ryden, to be when he grows up?
RHR: You know, I’d really like to share with Ryden my love for motor sports. As I grew up racing karts across the country, it was a great bonding experience with my father. The years we spent competing in karting are some of my best memories, and I’m sure his, too. With that said, making a racing career a reality has been an unbelievably long and twisted road, and so many variables are out of your hands—not to mention how dangerous racing really is. I’m not sure I could stomach watching him on a racetrack! I know he’ll be in a race kart sometime soon (I won’t be able to help myself there!), but I’d really like to see him do what he really loves. That’s the key: having an opportunity to do something you truly love for a living is a blessing. But I’d be happy with golf or tennis!
HC: Who wears the pants in the house, you or your wife, Beccy?
RHR: “Happy wife, happy life,” the saying goes, right? Beccy and I work as a team, so not sure how to answer this one! You know how hectic it can be balancing a racing career: constantly traveling for races, tests, sponsor appearances, etc. with having a family life at home. It’s certainly not easy, but we’re incredibly fortunate to live this way. Honestly, I think Ryden wears the pants! Everything pretty much revolves around him. He is priority No. 1!
HC: Do you have plans to have more kids?
RHR: Actually, we’re expecting our second in March! The timing isn’t ideal, as March is the start to our race season and I believe I’ll be home just a few days that month, so fingers crossed. We may even hold out in finding if it’s a boy or a girl until Beccy delivers, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to wait that long. We’re having a blast with Ryden, so we’re just happy he will have a younger brother or sister so close in age.
HC: If you could change the world, what would you change?
RHR: This a tough one! I guess I would go with eradicating cancer entirely. There are 28 million people currently battling the disease around the world and a staggering number of people lose that fight each and every day. If you haven’t been affected by cancer one way or another, just ask the person next to you. There are so many people working tirelessly to make this goal a reality.
HC: My daughter attends Pine Crest School. How did that school as well as Cardinal Gibbons shape who you are today?
RHR: I attended Pine Crest pre-kindergarten through 10th grade, and it’s a great school—very challenging academically and prepares you well. I ended up graduating from Cardinal Gibbons and am very proud of it. The Gibbons administration was willing to let me pursue my dream of racing cars for a living. It wasn’t easy; I missed just about every Thursday and Friday, but I made up all the homework, tests and quizzes while getting the grades. Our principal, Paul Ott, granted me the permission under very strict circumstances to miss school for racing. I had to hold up my end of the bargain, but it required so much cooperation and understanding from every teacher as well. Thank God it paid off! I still receive much support from my teachers and faculty from both schools. To this day, I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up in a great community like Fort Lauderdale.
HC: If you could go back in time, what would you change?
RHR: I guess this comes back to that cancer topic again. I was very close with my mother, Lydia. I lost not only a mother but also a best friend. After founding our charity, Racing For Cancer, in her honor, I made it one of our primary objectives to preach cancer awareness and prevention. When she lost her battle to colon cancer in November of 2009, she had just turned 55. She was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, the disease had spread throughout her body and she was only given months to live. They call colon cancer the silent killer because symptoms usually don’t exist until it is far too late. Had she been proactive and had her colonoscopy done at the recommended age of 50, she’d still be here with us today. I only wish she could have had the opportunity to meet and spend time with Ryden.
HC: It seems we should end this interview with one of your favorite topics:?water. When you have time, how do you incorporate the water into your life?
RHR: My favorite vacation is one taken by boat. There’s a certain feeling of escape you just can’t match when you leave your house on a boat and pull up to an island hours later. Lately we’ve really enjoyed Cat Cay, south of Bimini in the Bahamas. The trip across the Gulf Stream from Fort Lauderdale only takes about two to three hours on our boat door to door, and you can’t match the quality of water in the Bahamas. We also love to run the boat down to Islamorada or Lower Matecumbe Key. I guess the bottom line is: as long as I’m on the water or in it, I’m happy.
Originally appeared in the Winter 2014 issue.