But the tragic events all started with a horrible freak accident at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. The result was another IndyCar driver's life cut short: Justin Wilson. He was 37.
Wilson was really in the wrong place at the wrong time. Driver Sage Karam crashed into the outside wall, sending pieces of his car flying. Part of the nose cone flew high in the air and unfortunately made contact with Wilson's helmet. It took a couple times for me to catch it on the replay, but once he was hit, his car veered toward the inside wall.
Seeing it unfold
I was multitasking with work at the time and noticed my Twitter feed was lighting up with race fans concerned that Wilson wasn't getting out of the car, as racers typically do after a crash. Then I flipped channels and saw the medical helicopter at the track fire up. That's never a good sign. I still remember the sinking feeling I had when I saw the helicopter camera shot after the fatal Dan Wheldon crash in 2011.
I feared the worst, especially when there wasn't an update on Wilson's condition until later that evening. It's understandable, of course, but at the same time you know it must not be good news. Hearing he was in a coma was definitely not good news, though at least he was still alive.
Then the news came the next evening that he died. Another IndyCar driver gone, just like that.
Everybody loved Justin
What I didn't realize, was the love and admiration for Wilson from his fellow drivers and racing community. Of course, being just a fan, how could I know that exactly? And let's face it: People are often talked about in a much better light after they've died, right? It happens. You want to remember the good in people, I suppose.
But the outpouring of memories and the type of person Wilson was came through with all kinds of sincerity on the broadcasts and social media. He was the nicest guy you'd ever meet, according to everything I heard. I believe it.
Take this piece from reporter Robin Miller, for example. A fitting tribute.
No easy answer to safety concerns
Now on to safety. When tragedies like this happen, everyone wants answers and wants to find out how these things can be prevented. That's valid. However I will say that this isn't just some black and white issue. I've heard some people talk about this crash, people I'm fairly certain are not avid open-wheel fans and haven't spent much time watching the sport. I've heard that the solution is simply to put a canopy over the cockpit so this doesn't happen anymore. Again, I don't think it's that simple.
Of course, I am fully aware that I am no expert on the mechanics of these race cars. Machines that consistently travel at speeds higher than 200 mph. But here's what I want people to know: Safety and advancement are priorities for IndyCar. Think about it. Cars have raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for more than 100 years. Does the car look the same now as it did in 1915? Or even a decade ago? No, just as the cars that you drive look different and have gotten safer, too.
|Justin Wilson in 2010 at Mid-Ohio|
The most recent and notable IndyCar deaths are Wilson and Wheldon, in 2011. In both incidents, there was trauma to the head. Wheldon's car was airborne and went up into a catch fence. His head struck a pole. For Wilson, it was a heavy piece of debris that flew at his head.
One death is one too many, but it's a possibility in this sport. That doesn't mean safety measurements aren't in place and evolving.
Truly a freak accident
I labeled Wilson's crash as a freak accident because I think that's correct. Cars crash during races, often spewing debris in their wakes. Other cars on the track have very little time to try and slow down and avoid what might be in their way. Even just watching I know that's no easy task. How often has debris come in contact with a driver's head? Not very.
There was one recent example, which was minor. James Hinchcliffe was hit with a much smaller piece of debris in the 2014 Grand Prix of Indianapolis. It was clear he was affected by the hit and veered off the course. He suffered a concussion.
Let me wrap up by trying to explain why drivers race, from my view as a fan, when the consequences could be severe injury or death. They love it and they wouldn't want to do anything else. It comes down to that. Think about your dream job, a job you've loved or anything else you've loved to do. I imagine that's how the drivers feel. They take the risk every time they get into their race car, during practice, qualifying and race laps. They know what they're getting themselves into. But they love it.
Veteran driver Tony Kanaan really summed it up the best, so I'll leave you with his Tweet:
Why do we do this? Because we love it, don't want to be anywhere else but a race car. We will keep your legacy my friend. Racers race.— Tony Kanaan (@TonyKanaan) August 25, 2015