Monday, August 15, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: What I Feel Going Back to Pocono Raceway

The NASCAR race at Mid-Ohio was raced in the wet and then the dry and then in the wet again. Justin Marks took a surprise victory. The average speed of the race was 53.437 MPH. Sam Hornish, Jr. spun like a top. Darrell Wallace, Jr. was all over the place. Andy Lally nearly had a top five. Former Indy Lights driver Alon Day nearly had a top ten. There was a first time winner in MotoGP. Valentino Rossi fired his Moto3 rider. The Newman name is on verge of returning the Road to Indy ladder system. Álvaro Parente lost his championship lead in Pirelli World Challenge to Patrick Long. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

What I Feel Going Back to Pocono Raceway
Everything feels like it happened yesterday since last year's IndyCar race at Pocono. That might explain why I am still in disbelief that Justin Wilson is gone. He was just here. He was just high-fifing a spectator while walking back to the paddock after an engine failure at Milwaukee. He was just on the podium at Mid-Ohio after challenging Graham Rahal for the victory. He was just here. I saw him during driver introductions. I have a picture of his blue and silver #25 Honda zooming by on track.

Despite being at the race, I didn't see Wilson's accident. I saw Sage Karam spin from the lead and threw my hands up and head back in disbelief that the local kid who had been up front all race lost a chance at victory while leading. It took a moment to realize another car had hit the barrier. I had seen the replays but the screen about a quarter-mile away from down the front straightaway couldn't translate to me what had happened. The long delay with cars humming by at caution speed created itchiness in the crowd. No driver was walking away from the car. The helicopter came to life and flew away from a silent grandstand but full of nervous hearts.

I always wanted to go back to Pocono and I wanted IndyCar to come back to Pocono. I think if there is one thing learned from Dan Wheldon's accident is there was no closure and Las Vegas Motor Speedway became the enemy to many. To some, the track is the reason why Wheldon is gone and some never want to see IndyCar go back there. I can't grasp that logic. If IndyCar stopped racing at any track a driver perished at then the Indianapolis 500 wouldn't exist, Phoenix wouldn't have returned to the schedule this year and Toronto would have ended twenty years ago. Creating safer catch fences and a racing package that prevents pack racing were sound discussions to have after Wheldon's accident but many made it about the track and the relationship frayed so quickly between IndyCar and Las Vegas that there has been no closure and to many in the IndyCar community it is a wound they won't acknowledge and it will never heal until it receives proper attention.

Returning to Pocono is proper attention. I didn't want it to become another festering wound. It was a freak accident. Something that could have happened anywhere and it did the year prior during the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, only James Hinchcliffe got out with a concussion and Justin Wilson didn't. It was an accident through and through and neither the series nor Pocono Raceway could be charged with negligence.

I am excited because it is another race to attend and another chance to gather with 20,000 thousand-plus people (I am probably going to get eviscerated for suggesting 20,000 people will attend Pocono) to celebrate IndyCar and the thrill of competition but I know there will be a sense of reflection on the life of Justin Wilson. I expect to see a couple hundred of those off-white Justin Wilson memorial shirts; I know I plan on wearing mine. Do I expect to see tears? Maybe. Maybe if a moment of silence is held during pre-race festivities or something else is done to honor Wilson but I do expect people to be smiling and laughing and swarming Mario Andretti for autographs while he sits on his scooter. I expect young boys and girls to come exhilarated to meet drivers they idolize and leave with the dream of racing one day. I look forward to the always-welcoming staff at Pocono Raceway. The Igdalsky family provides one of the friendliest facilities and I cannot commend them enough for keeping that atmosphere through all these years as sporting events have become edgy and ushers at football and baseball games can give you a hard time as you look for your seat.

Justin Wilson will be watching, at least that is what I would like to believe, and I would like to believe he will smile when he sees the fans strolling around the paddock and the cars in the garage. Hopefully he can do something about the weather forecast and make sure showers don't arrive on Sunday afternoon.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Justin Marks but did you know...

Andrea Iannone won MotoGP's Austrian Grand Prix, his first MotoGP victory and Ducati's first victory since Casey Stoner won the 2010 Australian Grand Prix. Johann Zarco won for the fifth time and fourth time in the last five Moto2 races. Joan Mir won in Moto3, his first career victory.

Bryan Heitkotter swept the weekend in Pirelli World Challenge's GT class at Utah Motorsports Campus. Anthony Mantella and Scott Heckert won in GTS.

Jason Johnson won the Knoxville Nationals, preventing Donny Schatz from winning the event for a tenth time.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar returns to Pocono raceway.
MotoGP does not take a week off and heads to Brno, Czech Republic.
NASCAR makes it's annual August trek to Bristol.
DTM heads to Moscow Raceway.
Sébastien Ogier looks to defend his Rallye Deutschland victory. He hasn't won since Rally Sweden in February.
The fourth round of the Super Formula season takes place at Twin Ring Motegi.