Justin Wilson

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.

IMG_0958.JPG

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.

IMG_0727.JPG

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)
Tony wrote
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.) 

 So that brings us to Sunday’s race at Pocono. I have four pages of notes for what I would blog about after the race. The last thing I wrote was – Karam spins- Wilson out too.

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. 

 

Advertisements

IndyCar Fans

I began this post Sunday night. I never finished it and while I plan to use parts of it in the piece I write today I didn’t want to delete this one nor keep in hidden away as unpublished. So here it is just as I left it Sunday night. I am very grateful to my IndyCar friends who understand how hard these last few days have been.

IndyCar is the only sport I follow so perhaps it is not unique to our sport but it sure seems to me that the true fans of IndyCar have a bond with each other and drivers that surpasses other sports relationships. I can’t tell you how many twitter friends have been helpful either at the track or just giving advice on Twitter. The drivers are amazing too. They always go above and beyond to take time and talk with the fans. Our very first experience with the way drivers exceed expectations has to do with Justin Wilson.

Justin became my son Matthew’s favorite driver as soon as he saw him in the McDonalds car. Like any kid, Matthew loved McDonalds. We were at time trials for the Indy 500 in 2012 and were going to attend the kids club event. I tweeted Justin, James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan saying we would love to see them at the event. Justin tweeted back asking when and where. He then showed up and signed autographs. My boys and I were first in line. Mostly because I was watching for him and he tweeted me that he was there. They weren’t expecting him at the event and while they got things set for him to sign autographs I had a minute to say hi before gathering my boys for autographs and pictures.

IMG_0727.JPG
That was such a fun day. Knowing Justin was there just because we tweeted was very cool. While I saw Justin a couple more times at races Matthew did not meet him again until this summer. We were at the Milwaukee race and must have passed his transporter a million times hoping to catch him. After the race, Zach and I did the track Invasion but Matthew searched for Justin. Then I received a text that Matthew met him and he sent a selfie. It’s one of my favorite pictures.

IMG_0950.JPG
Matthew was so happy to have found Justin. I loved seeing him so excited about it. Zach and I eventually made it over and we got a picture too. Then I had the shirt Justin signed for Matthew in 2012- the ink just barely visible and Justin signed it again just above the old one.

IMG_0951.JPG

So know here we are, we just received word that Justin is in a coma and in critical condition. I’m sick to my stomach and heartbroken over this news while trying to remain optimistic. It is so frustrating because I can’t help. Well that is not true- I can pray and that is huge. God can do all things. I truly believe that and have been and will continue to pray. What I meant though was that Justin (and all IndyCar ) feels like a good friend to me. I want to do more to help. I want to send flowers, make meals, watch the girls, let the dog out (do they have a dog?) or just help with whatever needs to be done. I hate that I can’t do more.

Pocono Qualifying

In 2013, IndyCar returned to Pocono Raceway. While I was excited to see the racing there I wasn’t overly thrilled while watching the two previous races. Perhaps that was because Dixon won in 2013 and Montoya in 2014. Neither are my favorite. I just don’t remember being wowed during the races. Tomorrow will be the 2015 race but if qualifying is any indicator it will be a great race. I loved watching qualifying today. I watched it on my DVR but thankfully was also taping IndyCar chronicles so I only missed Scott Dixon qualifying. Honestly so much happened so I will just briefly touch on the highlights. Here is goes–

Ed Carpenter- He was first out and did extremely poor. He was so slow. Not at all what he was wanting. He has just been having a terrible season and tomorrow is his last day to get it together. I personally think the pressure will be too much for him and I’m predicting a DNF for him. That makes me sad but it’s what I think will happen.

Sage Karam- SO COCKY!!! I’ve said it before but man he is cocky. In his interview after his qualifying he said, “Seemed like I was the only one to pass cars out there this morning.” Wow! Really Sage? He expected to do better and was surprised at his result. C’mon kid you are a rookie. Perhaps it’s his arrogance that makes him a good driver but wow what comes out if his mouth always surprises me. He is great for our sport. You either love him or hate him. I still haven’t decided yet.

Marco Andretti- he had a horrible qualifying run. Not sure what was up there. He was fast in practice so this was a huge surprise. He said they got greedy with the set up but still surprising he did so poorly.

Pippa Mann- YEAH!!! She needed this good run for her confidence if nothing else. So excited to see her starting ahead of Montoya, Briscoe, Andretti and others. She needed that.

Charlie Kimball- Holy Crap. Hate seeing crashes like that. So very thankful he is ok. Loved seeing him immediately give the thumbs up sign. IndyCars Dallara chassis is AWESOME. Has to be so frustrating for Charlie though after being fastest in practice.

Interviews during crash clean up–
Please shave Hinch. I love you but you look awful.
We need Conor Daly in a full time ride.
Derrick Walker- I don’t think plexiglass would be an answer to the catch fence. Too hard to keep clean and it would scratch. I’m so thankful for what he has done for IndyCar. I hate that he has resigned.
Justin Wilson- suggested sitting in the infield. While that would help for crashes it would not provide as good a view.
Dario Franchitti- Man, I miss him.
Brian Barnhart- Saw him overseeing fence repairs and as Carlos Munoz began his qualifying run. I know many don’t like him but I don’t know many others that have such a passion for Indycar and have stuck around and take the heat the way he does. He truly has a heart for IndyCar and that makes me a fan.
A.J. Foyt- he is at home with knee problems. I hate to hear that.

Juan Pablo Montoya. He had a horrible run. I’m not a huge fan so I may have been grinning ear to ear after that run. It was said he declined interviews- could he be feeling a bit of pressure about the championship? Interesting.

Tony Kanaan- Not a great job on qualifying but we know he will pass several cars at the green flag so I’m not concerned at this point.

Tristan Vautier- Happy Birthday! Good qualifying run for him. Love seeing both Dale Coyne cars showing some improvement with consistent drivers.
Interview with Tristan- Love watching interviews with drivers I’ve met.

Helio Castroneves- took Pole Position and kept it. 220.530. Good for him. He needs a win this year.

Justin Wilson- still so thankful he is in a car. Qualified ahead of RHR. Great job!

Graham Rahal- SWEET!!! Great job getting P5. Love seeing the momentum of that team and the Steak ‘n Shake car up front. Go Graham. I want him to win the Astor Cup!

DVR ended with one driver to go. Are you kidding me. Ran to get phone and check results. Helio kept the pole and Dixie did not have such a great run. I was surprised he didn’t do a bit better. He is in 11th position.

Between some surprising qualifying runs and Kimball’s terrifying crash (which I hate to see but sure adds drama) the qualifying was edge of your seat. If the race presents the same we are going to have another great day. Can’t wait to see how it turns out.

MIA

So sorry that I haven’t been posting much here lately. Please check out NextGenIndy.com. I have been contributing to their web page since early June and lately have been concentrating on that. It’s time though to get back here. 

So here are briefly some thoughts on what has been going on in the IndyCar world. 

Sage Karam- ok this might be old news by now but I still want to touch on it. I had no idea Sage was so cocky and arrogant. His comments and actions are cracking me up. The boy has a lot to learn. Fans will either love or hate him. I’m still undecided. I completely understand why Ed went to have a talk with him after Fontana. Veterans can pull those moves but they appear much bolder and scarier when done by a rookie. Sage is unpredictable so driving that close to the edge would make anyone uneasy. But man he didn’t even back down or apologize when confronted. So cocky. Which brings me to my next point. Sage is way too cocky to throw the race. At Mid-Ohio his car spun at an odd point on the track and many suggested he did it on purpose. I don’t believe that for a second. There is no way he would give up the race he had going even for a teammate. That was just his inexperience showing. Sage is going to be interesting to watch in the future. He is just the character IndyCar needs. 

Derrick Walker resigns- Check out my article at NextGenIndy. I was kinda hoping they wouldn’t use it so I could post it here. Not everyone will agree with me–I’m fine with having Brian Barnhart as president of competition. The biggest disappointment though is losing Walker. He was well liked by the fans and that is hard to find. 

Road America and Milwaukee- great news that IndyCar is returning to Road America. I can’t wait to attend. There is a special deal available now- four days admission, parking and garage passes for $100. That is a steal. 

Milwaukee is still up in the air but it sounds like everyone is trying to keep it on the schedule. I sure hope it is. 

Fontana will not be returning. That is a huge disappointment. We had some great racing there and I hate to lose an oval. I currently don’t know the whole story but hope that this is a short term thing and IndyCar can get it back on the schedule for 2017. 

Phoenix looks to be on the schedule for 2016 so that is good. This is another track IndyCar has been missing and should have fans excited. 

Graham Rahal has been winning races and is currently second in standings. Loved, loved, loved that he won at Mid-Ohio. That was a great race and live seeing him challenge for the championship. I’m hoping he kicks Montoya’s butt. 

Only two races left. How has the season gone so fast?  The good news is we will be starting earlier in 2016 than past years and I’m optimistic that the schedule will just continue to improve. 

Thank you all for putting up with my random thoughts. Hope you check out Next Gen Indy and I will do my best to keep updated here as well.