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 racecars.
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.