Monday, August 24, 2015

Racing Deaths

I am a huge racing fan, I admit it. NASCAR, the IRL, F1, the LOORRS, if it has two or four wheels and goes fast I am likely to be watching it. Never cared much for drag racing, but those who race in that fashion also have some skills. Sadly, today we lost another driver, Justin Wilson.

I have been watching him race for since 03, when he was running in F1, I always thought it would be cool to see him running in a Ferrari, as with many drivers, but I felt if he had the equipment under him, he would go far. When I learned that he was selling stock in himself to get into racing, he had given my respect. Look, drivers are a dime a dozen, good drivers are less common, great drivers, the guys you see on the track every week are even less common. Guys like Wilson are rare. He might not have been the most talent guy, he certainly didn't win the most races, but what he has done for Andretti Motorsports is beyond what those rare guys can do.

His passing is a great shock to many people. The truth is, since Earnhardt passed away at Daytona, so many lengths have been come to make auto-racing safer, not only for us fans, but for the men and women we cheer for. We now have HANs devices and helmets to ensure that drivers are better protected in the event of an accident. We have safer barriers for these instances. NASCAR has designed safer cars, and while the results haven't been stellar in the eyes of the fans, the drivers are better protected.

I was watching when Earnhardt, Wheldon, Wilson, Senna, and many others died on the track. Before that I was listening when McDuffie, and others passed while on the track. I was shocked and heartbroken over people like Adam Petty. In my lifetime, I have watched far too many people pass for the sports I enjoy. I have seen the lucky ones like Davey Allison, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Dario Franchetti, and so many others who escaped with their lives, often times unable to continue racing, and each time it comes down to safety.

Look, if you are a racing fan as I am, you know. You know just as I do that racing is a dangerous occupation to get into. Up until the 1970s there was normally a fatality related to the Indy 500. It was considered an odd year for it not to happen. God, how far we have come., its great to see an accident and people walk away, we have become so accustom to it. Really we should, with technology being what it is today, we should never see this.

But once again, I was watching. Once again, a man that I had respect for was involved in a racing incident, and I watched as he either died, or sustained injuries resulting in his death. It breaks my heart, and it should because it may or may not have been preventable. You will have people who will stand solemnly and say he died doing what he loved. Yeah, he died doing what he loved to do, but it could have been prevented. We can do so much more to prevent

I am not saying that going slower would have stopped this, redesigning cars could have helped, or any number of solutions I have seen in the past day would have stopped this tragedy. It is a fact of racing, sadly, that people will die or become seriously injured in the line of doing what they love, and what I and so many others love to watch. It's just heartbreaking to know that as far as we have come, that it can still happen.

These men and women put their lives on the line every time they strap into a car, or straddle that bike. We owe it to them to ensure that they are as protected as possible, and I do believe that all racing organizations are doing just that, but we can do better, we have to. I, for one, am tired of seeing an accident and wondering if the driver is alright. I am tired of getting this sinking feeling in my gut when I see a driver slumped over behind the wheel or slow to exit the car after an incident on track at speed. I doubt I am the only one. But I, like so many others, have seen enough drivers die in the line of racing.

While Wilson's death stop me from watching racing, no. The fact is, if given the chance, and if I had talent enough for the job, I would do it in a nanosecond. Consequences, and risks be damned. I would run at Daytona at 200 mph in a second. If I had the talent and abilities I would have been racing seven wide into turn one at Pocono. I think I would have enjoyed that, and to do it, you need to have that kind of love for the sport. I think I could easily call it a career if I had a trophy from any one of the tracks these guys run at. Yet, they want more, they want it more than I do. I couldn't imagine wanting to crawl into a car after what happened Sunday, I really do not think I could do it. To race after a friend , mentor, or rival had died while running in a race I was, I don't think I have it in me. Yet, his peers, friends, those he mentored, and his mentors will strap in next week. They will give us a show, we will be in awe of them, but they will do it with a heavy heart. For as heartbroken as we fans are, I can say that they feel it more than we do. They knew Wilson on a level most of us can only imagine. Yet they will run in his honor. A man whose career never got the chance it deserved. And while the IRL will be tasked with finding a way to ensure this never happens again, we will be left wondering what if? What if Wilson would have gotten a top tier ride in F1 or some other sanctioning body. What if this incident would have never happened.

But there is another question some of us are thinking about. What of Sage Karam. The man whose nosecone hit Wilson. I can imagine right now that he feels as bad, if not worse than Wilson's family. I can imagine that he is feeling the guilt of this, personal responsibility for the accident which ended Wilson's life. I can say that there are many people he can talk to about it, and this will not affect his career in the long term. He will be there with the rest of the IRL field next week, he will race just like they will. He is after all the future of the IRL, but I doubt we will see the same young man on the track. One thing about it, even through the tragedy, there will be changes forthcoming. That is the only good I see from a fatality in any sport. Changes will be made.