Monday, August 24, 2015

Goodbye Justin

Goodbye Justin Wilson. We already miss you.
We lost a great man. Justin Wilson didn't rewrite the record books. He didn't win multiple championships or an Indianapolis 500. Despite that, he was one of the most respected drivers in IndyCar. It always felt he was one phone call from Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi away from becoming the man to beat every week.

And despite never getting that call, he was still able to beat the big boys. He got Dale Coyne Racing its first ever win at Watkins Glen in 2009. He was the only non-Penske/non-Ganassi driver to win that season. Then-Andretti Green Racing with Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti didn't win. Newman-Haas Racing didn't win. The long-time cellar dweller Dale Coyne Racing usurped the powerhouses of Penske and Ganassi.

To put it another way, Justin Wilson is to the 2009 IndyCar season what Gerhard Berger is to the 1988 Formula One season.

If the British ever decide to embrace oval racing, they would challenge American prowess. Wilson struggled on ovals but like Jim Clark, Nigel Mansell, Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon, Wilson developed into a respectable oval driver. He only ever had one oval victory and he was fortunate that Graham Rahal brushed the wall that night at Texas but he did score a top five and three top tens in the Indianapolis 500. He got a podium at Milwaukee. He finished in the top ten multiple times at Chicagoland. He finished in the top ten at Richmond, Iowa and Homestead. This season he qualified in the top ten again for Indianapolis and qualified in the top ten at Pocono. His weakest link no longer existed.

I was at Pocono and as I said before, I didn't see the accident. My mother texted me afterward and asked if it was scary and it wasn't. I told her that I was more afraid the prior two years when she attended the race with me because I was worried about a piece of debris coming up into the grandstand and potentially striking her or someone around her. The accident happened so far away from the grandstand that you really couldn't tell what happened, nor were any spectators at risk of being hurt by debris. While it happened within my sightline, the whole scene was so distant that it felt as if it was happening in another world.

I have been scrolling through my camera looking to see if I got a picture of Justin Wilson and I just can't find one. I did catch him on track.

It's not the greatest photo but it's all I got. 

Wilson's career will forever look like this: seven IndyCar victories, include the most recent IndyCar race to take place in Europe and the final victory for Newman/Haas Racing, 2001 International Formula 3000 champion, 24 Hours of Daytona winner, one Formula One point, which came at the 2003 United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one Formula E point, which came on the streets of Moscow.

This has been a rough summer. From Jules Bianchi to Bernat Martinez and Daniel Rivas Fernandez to now Wilson. While motorsports are much safer and drivers aren't perishing at the rate they were in the 1960s, it's still emotionally draining. 

A few years, a video was posted of a karting race from the United Kingdom that featured many drivers that would become world-class drivers. You had Anthony Davidson (kart #8), Dan Wheldon (kart #1), Jenson Button (kart #14), Jay Howard (kart unidentified) and Justin Wilson (kart #10). To me, it is a motorsports artifact. How many karting races have that many drivers go on to have successful careers in the world of motorsports? 

I imagine that at the Great Racetrack in the Sky, Wilson is being greeted by Paul Newman and Dan Wheldon and they are heading off to the karting track.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Justin Wilson's parents, his wife Julia, his two daughters, his brother Stefan and all other members of the Wilson family.