Smoke: Another Winning Formula

  • Richard Carleton Hacker

A decade ago, while recuperating from a broken neck that he had suffered a year

earlier in a crash at Michigan International Speedway, racecar driver Emerson

Fittipaldi was flying a small airplane over his farm in Brazil when the aircraft

lost power and plummeted to the ground. Fittipaldi survived, but with back

injuries that for years afterward prevented him from piloting planes or driving


The latter restriction proved especially disheartening for Fittipaldi, who, in

1972, at age 25, became the youngest driver to win the Formula One World

Championship. He won it again in 1974, and later claimed two Indianapolis 500

titles, in 1989 and in 1993. (He was the first driver to earn $1 million from

Indy 500 races, and his total earnings from those contests exceeded $4 million.)

As trying a time as the recovery period was, cause for celebration did arrive a

few months after the crash, when Fittipaldi’s grandson Pietro was born.

Fittipaldi’s friend Augusto Reyes, a Dominican Republic tobacco grower who had

been making cigars for various brands since 1990, presented the new grandfather

with a Churchill he had rolled just for the occasion. “I really enjoyed it,”

recalls Fittipaldi of the cigar. “It was a celebratory experience. It reminded

me of our get-togethers [with other drivers] after winning a race. It was not

just a smoke; it was a ritual. It has to be done in the right place, and with

the right people.”

Reyes said that he could make more cigars for Fittipaldi, with different tobacco

blends, and put the racer’s name on their bands. Initially Reyes made only

enough cigars for Fittipaldi to smoke himself and to give to friends. In 2001,

he and Fittipaldi, whose racing career seemed to have been ended by the injuries

he suffered in the plane crash, launched the Fittipaldi brand. They introduced

their cigars in Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States. “I was very

picky,” says Fittipaldi. “He would make a number of blends, send them to me, and

I would pick and choose until I finally approved—milder ones for the United

States, fuller-flavored tobaccos for Europe.”

The Fittipaldi brand now includes five different blends that range in strength

from a fast idle to full throttle. All are made with Dominican binders and

fillers. The latest release is the Anniversary Edition, which arrived in the

United States in August 2006. The medium-bodied robusto (Fittipaldi’s favorite

size) with a Connecticut shade wrapper celebrates the racer’s 1972 and 1974 F/1

championships. The cigars were made in 2004 and then aged a year before being

released in Europe in 2005.

In addition to having his own cigars, Fittipaldi also is back on the track. He

has raced in the Grand Prix Masters series with other racing legends, and he

represents Brazil in the World Cup of Motorsport. Having experienced crashes as

a younger man—in racecars and in an airplane—Fittipaldi, who is now 60, is aware

of the risks of these competitions. “In golf or tennis, if you lose a ball in

the lake, you either lose the game or you can start over,” says Fittipaldi, who

was named for the poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. “But in motor racing,

if you lose your car, you crash. So you learn to enjoy every day. Cigars are a

part of that celebration.”

In March, Fittipaldi had another reason to celebrate: His fifth child, Emerson

Fanucchi Fittipaldi, was born. As is customary, he marked the occasion by

handing out cigars, ones with his signature on the bands.

Arango Cigar Co.

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