"For sure, it changed a lot of things," he continued. "The perception of all the people watching was that, after that day, I was a different guy, I was definitely a guy to keep an eye on. I'm sure I won a lot of fans that day and caused come controversy, as well. But, hey, this is what keeps us alive, and I was definitely alive that day."
And although Zanardi was clearly excited and rather moved by the reception he received in Indianapolis this week, he admitted that the Indy 500 hadn't been a childhood dream for him in the way that it had been for so many other motor sport drivers down the years.
"I cannot say it was a dream of my childhood because my dream was to drive a red car at Imola and pass Jody Scheckter on the last corner on the last lap," he admitted of his ambition to be a Ferrari driver racing in an F1 Grand Prix. It wasn't a Ferrari in the end, but he did get to race for Jordan, Minardi, Lotus and Williams in his time in the world championship.
Yet all these years later, the red car with the really special place in his heart turned out to be the Reynard 96I/Honda on which he and Chip Ganassi sat on Friday morning.
"It didn't look exactly the same as the one I was dreaming of as a little kid but it was as beautiful and as joyful for me to drive it and I had my last lap pass, although it was not Imola it was Laguna Seca," he said. "I had my great relationship not with Enzo Ferrari but with a friend named Chip Ganassi who changed my life," he insisted, adding: "My dream came true.
"It is really difficult to put it into words," said Zanardi. "I'm lucky enough to have had a long career, a career with many highlights, along with the two championships we won with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. which were, for sure, amazing accomplishments."
Chip Ganassi handed over the car on the famous yard of bricks that runs across the start/finish line at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
"Nothing that Alex Zanardi has done has surprised anybody, from Laguna Seca to two Paralympic gold medals. There is no one like Alex," said Ganassi. "The mold was broken when Alex Zanardi was born.
"In Alex you see a guy who transcends all the issues of the day when we were racing in the mid-'90s," Ganassi continued. "It was a breath of fresh air to see somebody who transcends all that and is all about racing.
"He's had some real accomplishments since he has not been in racing," he added. "Don't forget, you're talking about an Olympian here, and that's pretty heavy stuff. To be at the top of one sport and to go and be at the top of another - enough said. Only someone with his fortitude could accomplish that."