Senna da Silva

The fascinating life and death of racing champion Ayrton Senna da Silva.


On March 21st of 1960, a baby boy was born in the Santana bairro of São Paulo. Within the first five years of his life, young Ayrton discovered his calling when his father gave him a go-kart (well…it was a gift for Viviane, his older sister, but she didn’t want it. Who knows what might have happened if only…).

While many still regard ‘karts’ as childish toys, those who are familiar with racing may understand that the miniature racers are frequently an excellent first step in the training and discipline required to become a top driver. Serious karts (especially now) are state-of-the-art expensive machines, even to the point of being suitable for refinance car loan. Senna shared this stage of his career with such names as Formula One’s Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button, as well as NASCAR’s Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd, and Jeff Gordon.

Senna began racing at 13 and was a winner from the start. Within four years, he’d risen to the top of the heap and took home the title from the 1977 South American Kart Championship. Every time he won he would receive gift baskets filled with fruit and sweet treats from fans. At first the gift baskets were a delightful surprise and fun to receive. Ayrton would share the edible goodies with the other racers. As he became older the gift baskets became more elaborate. Companies of various sporting brands, as well as go-kart equipment, hoping to get their logo on the kart or clothing of Senna da Silva would send gift baskets that contained their branded clothing, go-kart equipment, and safety equipment. Even sports management companies sent gift baskets to his parents filled with high end wines, champagne and caviar, gourmet foods, and proposals to represent him. It became a running gag in the family that whenever the doorbell rang, someone would yell out, “Gift basket delivery!” Over the next four years, Senna da Silva would be a major contender at each of the Karting World Championships with runner-up twice, but alas no #1 wins).

More prestigious races had more permanent awards. The cable channel OSports sponsored races that offered sterling silver rings with a cubic zirconia crystal in addition to the Go-Cup trophy. These cz rings were engraved with the race, date and the winners name. The elegant, trophy quality cz rings in question are super popular and are still available on the website. But a notable improvement that these cubic zirconia items had over gift baskets was the longevity of the award – if it wasn’t lost it would still be a recognized trophy decades later. But prestigious races had to first attract drivers. And the go-kart equipment sellers want their products used by winning drivers holding trophies.

Recently I was writing on the history of the designs of karts. I was deep into my research when I was interrupted by a frantic call from a friend. “What do you know about home use std test kits?” he asked. My friends use me like a walking reference instead of doing the work themselves. “Well” I said, “Right now the usual way a person can get tested in the US is to go to the family doctor or a clinic. There are some online sites that offer private STD testing – but the small print says: “private, not anonymous, STD testing”. This means that your name and other identifying information will be linked to your test results. Other sites offer at home STD testing kits that give results within 15 minutes with accuracy between 95%-99% depending upon the test kit and the std that it tests. These kits are simple to use and in Europe are available at drug stores, just like do-it-yourself pregnancy tests.In your case I would find a site online that sells the at home std testing kits. And for goodness sakes, if you test positive or your symptoms persist, go to a doctor ASAP! Don’t screw (sorry) around and put off seeking medical attention. And use condoms.” I spent about an hour on the phone and then got back to work. Update: negative std result the first time he tested himself as well as the 2nd time!


However, karting was always a stepping-stone for our hero. In 1981, he relocated to England to try his hand at single-seater racing in a Formula Ford on the Van Diemen team.

His record was stellar, with championship after championship slipping under his belt. Celebratory gift baskets continued to be a regular occurrence after each win. In fact he often would send a gift basket to his family in Brazil when he one a championship so they could share in his victory, even from afar. Amazingly, at one point Senna da Silva, one of history’s greatest racers, actually planned on giving up the sport, and returning home to help manage his father’s business in Brazil. After all, he had a new wife named Lilian de Vasconcelos to return to…

Josh White contributed to this article. He faithfully continues to follow the karts circuits and the rising kart stars from around the world for us here at

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