These last few days I’ve wrote a million stories in my head for this blog. You can even read one I started Sunday night. I have so much I want to say about the hurt I’m feeling, the awesome driver Justin was, my families interactions with him, why IndyCar will continue to be a sport I love and the list goes on and on. While I could get into all the details on Justin’s life and races won and charities he helped what I always enjoy sharing the most is our personal interactions with the drivers and why we are such big fans. I’m not doing this to show off how close we were to Justin – we weren’t, we barely knew him but because he made such an effort for those he barely knew proves what a great guy he was. So while I don’t need to prove anything, we all know it, I’m still going to share our stories once more and remember why we loved him.
I had only been watching IndyCar full time for a year or two before the merger. When all these new (to me) drivers came on the scene it took a bit to learn their names and figure out how they would fit in. It didn’t take long for us to start following Justin, he was driving a McDonalds car. My then 5 and 3 year old loved that car and therefore loved Justin. They would actually watch small portions of the race to see the car. My boys don’t have the same passion I have for IndyCar but it would be a lot less if not for Justin and the McDonald’s car.
In 2008, Matthew attended Qualifying for the Indy 500 for the first time. He was so crushed we didn’t find a Wilson/McDonalds shirt. It was 2011 before we finally found a Justin Wilson shirt and by that time it was no longer McDonald’s but Dad’s Root Beer as the sponsor. Fortunately that was just as cool. We were at time trials and went into one of the merchandise tents. Matthew saw the tshirt on the wall and ran to it, insisting we buy it even though the smallest size we could find was a men’s small. I of course bought it for him. He was so happy.
The following year when we attended Time Trials we were also members of the IMS Kid’s Club. That Sunday we would be attending a Kid’s Club event. I sent a tweet to Justin, Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe saying I hoped they would be attending. Justin sent me back a message asking where and when. I responded and later at the event tweeted that I once again hoped he would show. His response- “Well I’m here.” I looked up and sure enough there he was. I ran over, acting like a giddy school girl meeting a rock star babbled about how glad I was he came and ran to find my kids. We were pretty much the first ones in line and got our autographs and pictures. I regret that even when the kids were there I just babbled a lot and didn’t let the boys talk. They both said hi but were shy and didn’t get their words out quickly. I was on an adrenaline high being so excited to meet one of our favorite drivers that I finished the boys sentences for them and rushed them off. The autograph line had also grown quite long and I wanted everyone to have a chance to meet Justin so that also fueled my need to say all I wanted and move along without taking all his time. However, we still got some great pictures and Justin signed Matthew’s shirt. He commented that we had last years sponsor and said the Dale (Coyne) would hopefully have merchandise out soon. That was a great day. We never did hear from Tony or Hinch.
The boys would not see Justin again until July 2015. I saw him briefly at races but just to say Hi. He was always great though about responding to tweets or favoriting them. Always brought a smile to our faces. When we attended the race at Milwaukee this summer we purchased paddock passes and spent a lot of our days there looking for drivers. We just never seemed to be in the right place at the right time to find Justin. After the race we wandered over to the paddock and Matthew immediately ran off for Justin’s transporter while Zach wanted to do the track invasion. Zach was laying on the track in the tire marks made by Sebastien Bourdais when we received a text from Matthew saying he found Justin and got a selfie. Zach and I made it over and saw Justin too. Justin signed Matthew’s old Dad’s Root Beer shirt just above his almost worn out signature from 2012. We took another picture and asked about the race and if he thought he would be with Andretti next year. It was the perfect ending to our weekend. Our story had a neat little addition to it though. As I’ve been reading everyone’s articles on Justin these last few days I came across one by Tony DiZinno. (@tonydizinno, @MotorSportsTalk on NBC Sports)
It’s more than an hour after the checkered flag at this year’s Milwaukee IndyFest. It’s been even longer since Justin Wilson’s engine went up in flames, with a late-race mechanical failure sabotaging what could have been a runner-up finish to old Champ Car sparring partner Sebastien Bourdais at the classic one-mile Milwaukee Mile.
Most drivers would have been out of the premises by then. But not IndyCar’s gentle giant, fast giraffe, and benevolent badass. Pick your nickname de jour.
Wilson, who’s still there at the Andretti Autosport transporter and still in his firesuit, tells me he’ll get to my relatively inane and pointless questions about the race as soon as he fulfills the wishes of a couple kids standing outside awaiting an autograph and a picture.
He walks outside and the smiles surpass the sunshine on that Sunday afternoon.
He makes their day, and I’m happy to wait the extra few minutes for him to answer my questions.
How cool. That was us- well okay I don’t know if it was us exactly but that was when we were there. Justin was still in his fire suit and Matthew was standing outside waiting so…(and just like that I’m crying again but thank you so much Tony for writing just what I needed to hear and making our special memory even sweeter knowing the back story.)
As we sat and watched and waited I felt sick. Sage eventually got out of his car and limped to the truck. Justin still wasn’t moving. Then we saw the replay and the nose cone hitting Justin. I knew it wasn’t good but tried my hardest to stay positive and pray. The next 24 hours were so hard. Please don’t misunderstand I know my pain is nothing compared to Justin’s family I am just sharing my experience and quite honestly, it sucked.
I spend a lot of time thinking about Indycar. I watch the races, plan trips to the races, write my blog, contribute to NextGenIndy.com, listen to podcasts about IndyCar, follow twitter etc. When I talk about IndyCar drivers I usually refer to them as “one of my IndyCar guys”. I feel they are my friends and they are a big part of my life. The reality though is I’m not a part of their life and no one was going to call and give me an update. I could not stop refreshing twitter. It was the only way to find out information and the only other people that shared my heartache over not knowing how Justin was were my friends on Twitter. I’m so thankful for those twitter friends who knew just what I was going through. By Monday evening we received the news that Justin had died. My boys and I each grieved in our own way. I cried uncontrollably for an hour or more and continue to shed tears.
It’s been a hard couple of days and then I think of Julia and Justin’s girls, Jane and Jess. I can’t imagine what they are going through. Stefan so looked up to Justin, I know his heart is breaking. Justin’s parents, no parent should have to watch their kids die. I will continue to keep them all in my prayers.
We did receive news that Justin was an organ donor. Stefan tweeted that six peoples lives were saved through Justin’s donation. How awesome is that. I know many of you already have but please be encouraged by Justin’s selfless act and sign your donor card too. How cool to know that six people have Justin to thank for saving their life. It would be so awesome to be able to meet them.
Sometimes in the midst of sorrow we find joy through the little things. Today I received my tickets for Road America in the mail. I smiled.