Racing With Spirit: The Legend of Ayrton Senna

September 2012

The other evening I watched a movie on TV that I had heard of when it was making the theatre circuit a year or so ago. This film merged two of my worlds which don’t usually go together – my deep interest in the spiritual realm and my longstanding interest in motorsports. As some of you may know, my first passion was making cars go fast. I built a hot rod roadster and raced it at Bonneville Salt Flats, did some drag racing and was a NASCAR car owner in my late teens and early twenties. These days my interest resides in watching an occasional race on TV.

 Ayrton Senna

I had seen the movie “Senna” advertised and I happened to be home the evening it was being broadcast so I decided to watch it. I knew a bit about the Formula One (“F1”) legend – Ayrton Senna – who was killed in 1994 but had never seen him race, live or on TV. So I was expecting to learn more about this man who seemed to have been a major celebrity in Brazil, Italy, Japan and many other places around the world. So my interest in motorsports put me in the chair to watch the movie. But what kept me in the chair for the entire film was a surprise – how spiritual the man was….and how willing he was to talk publicly about his relationship with God. I saw the mystic side of the man.

He was well-known by his racing colleagues for his serenity, his calmness before a race rooted in his faith. Before one of his early races he says, “I think God gave me this chance, which I have been waiting so long. And now He is helping me stay calm, relaxed, tranquil.”

In the film, he recalls leading a race and starting on the final lap, on his way to winning his first F1 race, and being overwhelmed with the feeling of spirit – what many would call a spiritual awakening – that stayed with him the rest of his life.

In his nine complete F1 seasons, he won three world championships, placed second, third and fourth two times each – a very impressive record indeed! He was killed in his tenth season in a crash while leading the San Marino Grand Prix in Italy.

His death was considered by Brazilian fans to be a national tragedy and the Brazilian government declared three days of national mourning. About three million people poured into the streets of his hometown – São Paulo – to pay their respects, widely accepted then as “the largest gathering of mourners in modern times.” Over 200,000 people filed past as his body lay in state at the Legislative Assembly. Senna remains a national hero in Brazil and his gravesite attracts more visitors than the graves of John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley combined, according to Wikipedia.

In 2009, a poll of 217 current and former F1 drivers conducted by the British magazine Autosport named Senna as “the greatest Formula One driver who ever lived.”

As his popularity rose, Senna expressed concern over the widespread poverty in Brazil. Prior to his death he had quietly donated an extremely large portion of his personal fortune (estimated at around $400 million) to help poor children.Shortly before his death, he created an organization dedicated to helping Brazilian children, which later became Instituto Ayrton Senna, which is run by his sister Viviane.

His intense empathy with the poor and his compassion for the children in Brazil, his fellow drivers, even his rivals, and his unyielding faith in God reveals Senna as a vital, spiritual, caring and extremely talented man. His gravestone is inscribed: “Nothing can separate me from the love of God.”



  1. More about the man:
  2. More about the movie on NetFlix
  3. Ayrton Senna “Lap of life” on YouTube
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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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