On November 27, 2007, the Brazilian racecar driver Hélio Castroneves and his partner, professional ballroom dancer Julianne Hough, win the fifth season of the TV show “Dancing with the Stars.” The runners-up were former Spice Girl Mel B (“Scary Spice”) and her partner, dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy. After his victory, Castroneves returned to the Indycar racing circuit, but his good luck did not hold: though he finished second overall in the 2008 season (and fourth in that year’s Indy 500), in 2009 the racer found himself in federal court, charged with conspiracy, fraud and income-tax evasion.
“Dancing with the Stars,” the American version of the hit BBC series “Strictly Come Dancing,” pairs celebrity dancers with professional partners. Each week, the teams perform a specific dance—the mambo, the foxtrot or the paso doble, for example—for a panel of judges. The judges give the dancers a score; meanwhile, in typical reality-show fashion, viewers may also vote, and one pair of dancers is eliminated each week. Castroneves faced a motley crew of celebrity competitors, some better known than others: the actors Josie Maran (“Melrose Place”), Jane Seymour (“Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”), and Jennie Garth (“Beverly Hills, 90210″) along with entertainers Marie Osmond and Wayne Newton and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
Though he had won back-to-back victories in the Indianapolis 500 race, in 2001 and 2002, it took “DWTS” to make Castroneves really famous across the United States. “When I’m in the airport people recognize me now,” he told a reporter after his victory, “but I never know if it’s for my racing or my dancing.” (It’s probably for his dancing: 25 million people watched the “DWTS” finale in 2007, and only about 5 million watch the Indy 500 each year.)
In 2009, the IRS accused Castroneves of failing to pay more than $2.3 million in taxes on almost $6 million in licensing fees from his racing team, Penske Racing. In April of that year, a jury acquitted him of the fraud charges and prosecutors decided to drop the others.
Castroneves won the Indy 500 again in 2009.