Another Wonderful Race Weekend and Another Checkered Flag Necklace

While preparing for our weekend at Gateway my mind was on Robert Wickens and I wasn’t sure how you can enjoy a race while so concerned for a driver. Turns out a race and my IndyCar friends were just what I needed.

I pulled the boys out of school at noon so we could make the drive to St Louis. We picked up my cousin Randy and headed down. We stopped in Utica for a wine tasting and the boys went to a nearby restaurant for cheeseburgers. We continued our drive and checked in to our hotel.

We went to the Spaghetti Factory for Randy’s Birthday dinner and then walked over to the arch. It is so pretty all lit up at night. The boys rented scooters and we enjoyed the cool evening knowing it would be a lot warmer by Saturday.

Saturday- Race Day

We met Lisa in Soulard to visit the Farmers Market and have lunch before heading to the track. I had made us all #Get Well Wickens shirts and had one for Lisa as well. Many people stopped us to ask about our shirts. We enjoyed lunch at The Wood Shack. They had wonderful sandwiches and we enjoyed talking with other customers.

After lunch we headed to Gateway Motorsports Park. The day was incredibly hot and before we even entered the track I had my hair pulled up in a ponytail. I was such a mess by the end of the day. Fortunately, I had frozen water bottles so we always had something cool to enjoy. They helped a lot. We got our paddock passes and made our way through the paddock. The autograph session had started but we saw some owners, team members and friends including George and Susan Phillips and Mike Silver. The boys were hot so we went back outside the track and under the stands so they could be in the shade. Matthew did the Mazda simulators and Zach just hung out in the shade. The autograph session finished and we watched the drivers hop on their scooters and ride back to the paddock. Sebastian Bourdais was on a golf cart and I was right in his way but with my back to him. Didn’t hear him beep at me until about the third time. Oops sorry Sebastian. We missed James Hinchcliffe and he was the one I wanted to see so Randy and I went back to the paddock.

We walked by the Schmidt Peterson trucks looking for James but saw Scott and talked with him. Scott is a crew member of Sam Schmidt’s team. He works on James Hinchcliffe’s car. I first met Scott in 2015. We knew Hinch was at the Milwaukee Race in 2015 and I asked one of the crew members if he knew where Hinch might be. He wasn’t sure but we talked for a bit about Hinch’s accident and I took a picture before we left. Next race we saw him again. I had made a photo book and he got a laugh seeing his picture in it. Now I always make a point to say “Hi”. On Saturday Scott walked out of the trailer and saw me as I saw him and came right over to say Hello. I tried to not ask specific questions about how Robert was doing as I knew it wasn’t his place to share any information. Scott did tell us that Robert was awake and able to communicate through nodding or blinking. He also said that no one was trying to keep information from the public, they just still don’t know the extent of his injuries. Scott said Hinch was in a meeting and he assumed he was still there. We talked a bit more and took a picture for next years photo book.

As Randy and I continued through the paddock we noticed the drivers leaving the drivers meeting. We watched for Hinch and soon saw him. Zach and I had made a checked flag necklace for Robbie that said Get Well Wicky. I walked up to Hinch and said, “Years ago we gave a necklace like this to Ryan Briscoe.” James eyes sparked with recognition and he said, “Oh yes. thank you.” I continued and my yes teared up as I asked him to please give this one to Robert. James said he would be visiting him in the hospital tomorrow (Sunday) and would give it to him. He also noticed my shirt and smiled. His hands were bandaged from the injuries he sustained in that horrible accident in Pocono and you could see a sorrow in his eyes and that while he was going to continue to sign autographs as long as fans wanted you could tell he really just wanted to get to his trailer. I thanked him and stepped aside not even asking for a photograph. I did however ask Randy to please get a picture as I walked over to Hinch and he did.

It might look like I’m smiling but I’m actually holding back the tears and trying my best to not cry. My heart breaks for Robbie but also for James as he waits to see how Robbie’s recovery goes.

If you are unaware of what a checkered flag necklace is or what the significance of it is you can Read about it here when we gave Hinch a checkered flag necklace after his horrific accident. And also here when we learned that three years later he still had his checkered flag necklace.

Well that was my goal for the weekend. The only driver I wanted to see was James so I could give him the necklace. I was so thankful to have a chance to talk with Hinch. Tell him we were thinking and praying for him and especially for Robert. We continue to pray.

As we continued through the paddock we saw Roger Penske and Randy got a picture with him. Roger told Randy he really liked his shirt and wished him a Happy Birthday when we told him it was his birthday.

We also got a chance to talk with Curt Cavin. I hugged him and said I’m sure making that announcement about Robert must have been hard. Even though it was good news, he was awake and alert but still that was not the good part of the job as VP of Communication for IndyCar.

We enjoyed a beer and made our way to the stands for the race. We gathered the boys and headed to meet up with Lisa and DZ and friends to watch the race.

First lap crash as Sebastian Bourdais touched the wall. After the clean up the race stayed green and a bit dull until Charlie Kimball hit the wall and we thought a yellow would come out. The yellow never came. Hmm. I understand not going yellow, Charlie kept the car under control and made it to the pits. However, the race was a bit of a snoozer at that point. A yellow would have bunged the field back up and add some excitement. Well we didn’t wait too much longer before Ryan Hunter-Reay experienced some sort of engine or electrical failure that did bring out a yellow. RHR retired from the race and that yellow made for an exciting ending as teams had to decide if it was better to save fuel and not make another pit stop or go full rich on fuel but pit before the checkered flag. Wow! Fuel strategy is not my favorite way to win but this really mixed things up and kept us guessing. Will Power was among the first to pit and that was obviously the right decision as he won the race. Alexander Rossi was saving fuel and came in second. Scott Dixon also took a splash and finished third. Simon Pagenaud and Zach Veach rounded out the top five. Wow! Awesome job Zach! Love seeing the guys move up the ladder series and do well in IndyCar. Great finish for Zach. He is definitely a fan favorite. Zach even tweeted that he was overwhelmed by the amount of tweets he received about his race. Keep an eye on him.

After the race concluded we watched the fireworks and said goodbye to Lisa and DZ. Then we made out way to the track invasion. As we waited to enter the track we saw Arie Luyendyk. When I saw him I made room for him to pass but many did not recognize him so he struggled a bit to get through the crowd. This gave me a chance to talk with him. I’ve met Arie on several occasions and you could tell that while I didn’t say anything about past times that I’ve met him he knew I was a familiar face. We talked a bit and then he pushed his way through the crowd. The girls in front of me couldn’t believe his boldness so I said,”That’s Arie Luyendyk.” Well obviously they don’t follow IndyCar because that meant nothing to them. So sad when people don’t know what they are missing. A legend walked in front of them and they had no clue.

We watched the victory celebration, walked on the track and then through the paddock before finally heading back to the car.

It was a wonderful although hot day. Gateway Motorsports Park did a great job and improved greatly from the show last year. Concession stand lines were down, access in and out were much easier, the pre race show was great. My only complaint is where were the mist machines or cooling centers. We needed some relief from the heat. It was a great event though and I’m sure we will attend again next year.

Best part of the night. Schmidt Peterson Racing put out an update on Robert’s condition saying that Robbie was able to breath on his own without the aid of machines and was talking with his family. Once again it was hard to hold back the tears. Such wonderful news. We continue to pray for Robbie and his family and pray we will see him back at the race track soon.

The boys have their USWAG gear socks for Justin and homemade shirts for Robbie.

Advertisements

Driving to Gateway

It’s an odd day as we drive to St. Louis for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park. Race weekends are supposed to be full of excitement and fun and this weekend is but there are also memories of Justin Wilson who lost his life three years ago today and ongoing concerns for Robert Wickens. Justin, as you all well know by now, was a family favorite. Robert is a rookie in the Verizon IndyCar Series but was quickly making a name for himself and his fan base was growing every race because he is always in contention for a win.

Tony Kanaan wrote an article about why racers race even when they know the dangers. I need someone who is better than me at putting their thoughts and feelings into words to write a piece about the fans and why we continue to watch and love this sport even when we’ve seen how cruel it can be. Tony says, “Race car drivers are just wired a little but differently than most people. You have to be a little crazy to do what we do.” He is right. Race car drivers are wired differently but not just on the track. I’ve never seen a sport where the stars of the series interact with the fans the way the IndyCar drivers do. When I bring friends to the track with me they are amazed by the amount of drivers we meet just walking through the paddock. They will all stop for an autograph and often exchange a couple sentences. Some drivers even recognize us, though not my name–yet. How can you not love and support a series where the drivers care so much about the fans. The drivers will also make stops at local schools and hospitals to meet the kids. Scott Dixon went so far as to visit a young girl who wrote a note to IndyCar thanking them for all the safety measures they have in place that helped save Scott Dixon’s life when he had his horrible crash at Indy. How can I not support IndyCar? So while they might have a wild side that loves the thrill of the speed in a fast car, they also have hearts of gold and grow their fan base by their actions as well as their talent.

Losing Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson in recent years has been heartbreaking. My family especially grieved for Justin as we had met him several times. However, I never once thought to stop watching the IndyCar Series. I continue to hope for new safety innovations and pray before each race that the drivers remain safe but I still love to watch the drivers do what they do (and love) – race!

This weekend as we remember Justin and continue to pray for Robert I know it will be a different kind of race weekend. I also know that being surrounded by the IndyCar family, the drivers, teams and fans will be helpful. Being surrounded by people that love Robbie and are pulling for him will be an amazing thing. The fans attending this weekend have been encouraged to wear red. I’ve made shirts for my family with iron on decals that say # Get Well Wickens. We are part of the IndyCar family and it will be wonderful to all be together doing what we love. The drivers will race fast and hard. The fans will cheer and show support through wearing red, buying Robert Wickens merchandise, sending cards and continuing to keep him in our thoughts and prayers. IndyCar is a family and as long as racers are racing fans will be watching.

Pocono

I usually don’t have a fun title for my posts but was thinking I should step up my game for this post. Well after yesterday’s race I think I will just stick with Pocono. I don’t want to be disrespectful to Robert Wickens while we wait to hear more about his condition.

I always have mixed feeling about Pocono. Each year is a little bit easier but I still put on my Justin Wilson necklace that I wear to races and thought about him a lot as the race approached. I love ovals and the entertainment they provide. I love the speed and side by side racing. I love when accidents happen and front runners are taken out and the race completely changes. I love mishaps in the pits for the same reason. However, when the accidents are as serious as the one we saw yesterday or pit workers are hurt or fans are hit with debris it breaks my heart. There is a dark side to our sport and it can be absolutely gut wrenching. My thoughts and prayers are with Robert Wickens. The report from IndyCar last night is that Robbie is being treated for injuries to his lower extremities, right arm and spine. He also sustained a pulmonary contusion. Today (Monday) he will have an MRI and probably undergo surgery. James Hinchcliffe left the race as soon as he was cleared from the medical center following the accident. James was cleared and released to drive. It appears he has a cut on his hands from debris. James has remained silent on social media and I find myself worrying about him almost as much as I’m worrying about Robbie. No more news has been given.

Ok so before some of you start yelling about my statement saying I like accidents please reread what I wrote and understand that I never ever want the drivers to be hurt. There is a huge difference between the majority of the crashes we see and what happened yesterday.

IndyCar, Dallara and the AMR safety team are amazing and I am so thankful for the safety improvements we’ve seen through the years. I’m so thankful the safety cell did its job and will continue to pray for a full recovery for Robert.

IndyCar Qualifying- NBCSN mixed things up a bit for the qualifying show and I really enjoyed it. Jon Beekhus and Robin Miller joined Leigh Diffey in the booth while Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy worked the pits and driver interviews. Kevin Lee and Katie Hargitt were watching from the stands having the afternoon off. So while I missed Kevin and Katie I loved mixing things up a bit and hearing different perspectives. It was a fun qualifying show. Zach Veach was quite impressive but ultimately it was Will Power who won the pole. Power is now tied with A.J. Foyt in second for the most poles. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins more this season and fully claims the second place spot.

Race Day– The race started with some controversy which was later cleared up. Scott Dixon and others thought perhaps Will Power checked up and slowed his speed during the start of the race. Spencer Pigot spun when he was bumped from behind by Graham Rahal. Others had to make some quick moves to avoid hitting the cars in front of them. It caused a yellow before the race really even started. Will Power would later bring out a copy of the telemetry from his car showing that he kept a constant speed and he was told to do and properly brought the field to the green flag. Any shenanigans that might have happened were from someone else in the field. After the yellow flag we went back to green. Now it was a single file start. Hmm that was disappointing. Perhaps if the start does not make it past turn one we can try a second double file start. That’s what I was thinking at the time anyway. Before the crash.

Lap 7 Ryan Hunter-Reay and Robert Wickens were side by side but Robert couldn’t quite hold on. His front right tire touched RHR’s left rear and it sent RHR into the wall. Unfortunately, Ryan’s car turned out and Robert’s car vaulted over Ryan’s car. That’s where the trouble began. Robert’s car hit the fence, disintegrated and then spun in the air more times than I could count. While spinning he just missed a devastating blow to Ryan’s car, it took the camera off the top of his car. It’s incredibly scary watching the replay. Also involved in the incident were Pietro Fittipaldi, James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato. Everyone except Wickens was evaluated and cleared to drive. The race was red flagged.

Red Flag– The debris field was so extensive that cars could hardly find a path. The AMR SafetyTeam was working on extracting Robert from the car and it was a long terrifying wait for news. Robert was transported by helicopter to Lehigh Valley Hospital. I first saw it tweeted by Jim Ayello that Robbie was awake and alert. It was another 15 minutes or so before we heard from IndyCar that was indeed correct.

The other drivers in the accident slowly made their way from the medical center all stating they were fine and that they were sending good thoughts to Robbie. James Hinchcliffe was the only one who declined speaking to the reporters. He went straight to the hospital to be with Robbie, his long time friend. I stated on Twitter how disappointed I was that Hinch did not speak to reporters. I was told to leave Hinch alone as he was worried about Robbie. I completely understood why Hinch chose to not speak. I was just also worried about him and would have felt better knowing how he was doing. Hinch has still remained silent on social media and it just causes more concern for Robbie’s condition.

Repair work was done on the fence. It looked horrible but that was not the point. I’m no expert but I have to imagine that Pocono Speedway did what needed to be done to make it safe. Sebastian Bourdais was not happy with the job. I’m not sure what he specific concerns were. Thankfully the fence did not get tested and the rest of the race cars stayed on the ground. I’m glad drivers speak out when they feel something is unsafe. It’s something that needs to be done and taken into consideration.

I continued to refresh my Twitter feed and watch for more news and listened to the NBCSN broadcast. I swear it looked to me like Leigh Diffey and Curt Cavin (when he announced Wickens was awake and alert) were holding back tears. Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy didn’t look much better. How these guys can continue doing their jobs so well is a credit to their professionalism. The NBCSN crew provided us five hours of coverage and did not skimp on the post show.

Back to Green Flag Racing – Once the race went back to green it stayed there for the rest of the race. Conor Daly touched the wall but was able to pull into the pits without the yellow coming out. Tony Kanaan had an issue with his car and was out around lap 17. He joined the crew in the booth and was very knowledgeable and insightful. I always enjoy when the current drivers join the booth. Wish they did that every race.

Alexander Rossi built up a 10-12 minute lead and was impressive all race. Will Power was able to shorten up that lead but Rossi was able to keep his position, losing it only once and quickly regaining it when Will Power had a small bobble.

By lap 100 only 15 cars were still running and at the end of the race only four cars were on the lead lap. With five laps to go the TV shot showed all four cars. To anyone just joining you would assume Scott Dixon was leading because he was the first car in the shot followed by Bourdais, Rossi and then Power. Dixon and Bourdais were just barely on the lead lap and trying their hardest to not get lapped by Rossi. Had the race not been almost over I imagine Rossi would have passed them both.

Rossi won and made his way to the victory podium. He did not do donuts, perhaps out of respect to Wickens or perhaps because they didn’t go so well at mid-Ohio. He was a good winner, excited for the win and for the nice jump in championship points but also expressing his concern for Robert. The first place trophy is pretty cool and Alex had a hard time lifting it over his head.

As stated NBCSN provided a nice post show even with the extended race. I love that IndyCar is on the NBC network.

Post Race– After the race there was even more waiting as many fans refreshed twitter and speculated about how Robert was doing. Paul Tracy eventually tweeted that Robert was ok and stated some of his injuries. I have no idea if this was Tracy’s news to tell, if he was given an okay or took it upon himself to tell the general public waiting to hear. If I had to guess where I would have heard news on Roberts condition I would not have thought it would be from Tracy. However, at the time it didn’t matter I was just very grateful to hear some news. Tracy took a lot of backlash on Twitter for divulging the information though. If Tracy wasn’t given permission to speak on Roberts condition then he should have kept his mouth shut but it’s hard for me to be mad about that when I was so desperate for information. So I will give Paul the benefit of the doubt and assume he was allowed to share the information he had until I hear otherwise.

So once again I will state I’m not sure how I feel about the racing at Pocono. I love the thrill and excitement of the super speedways but the accidents are terrifying. Continuing to pray for Robbie and his family. Hope for more news soon.

A few thoughts before Pocono

Wow! Where has summer gone? Even with three weeks off from IndyCar this summer has been way too busy. Now the boys went back to school and we are back into racing with a race Sunday at Pocono and I’m feeling the need to catch up on a couple things that have been happening.

Scott Dixon- So there was a lot of speculation about where Scott Dixon would be driving next year. Many said he would be the first and largest domino in Silly Season. I can’t disagree but I never really saw Dixon anywhere other that at Ganassi Racing. As long as he continues to do well I don’t see a real reason to rock the boat. Sure Josef Newgarden made the switch to Penske and won races and a championship but often there is a greater learning curve. Now the Iceman might not need as much help as some but why switch when you are leading championships and winning races. Money would be the only reason. Is money more important than winning? I was glad to see Scott remain with Ganassi.

Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing- I’m not following this very closely. If they do make the jump to IndyCar I will then. I understand that McLaren is known internationally and that many eyes would be watching if they made the move to IndyCar. I would love to see it happen for that reason and because I’m also hopeful new teams will join IndyCar but if it shouldn’t happen I wouldn’t be crushed. I really don’t want Alonso to win the Indy 500. I much rather see one of our veteran IndyCar guys win the Borg-Warner and kiss the bricks. If Alonso does race then I would want/ hope for him to do the whole season.

Tony Stewart- Speaking of the Indy 500… Tony Stewart has talked about what running the 500 would look like for him and that he would not want it to be a circus show like it was for Danica. Kevin and Curt did a good job of explaining what Tony meant by that comment on this weeks episode of Trackside on 1070 The Fan but when I first heard the quote I did not appreciate it. I’ve said it before but….Danica did an amazing job at Indy last year. I don’t care if you are a fan or not, she qualified in the fast nine and was keeping up until a crash took her out. I firmly believe she would have had more wins in the series and perhaps a 500 win had she stayed in IndyCar. Sadly she chose to follow the money and won’t leave the legacy she could have.

So Tony- honestly I haven’t seen him lately but I don’t think he is in shape for IndyCar so that would need to be addressed first. He said he would want to run another race so he actually had a chance of winning. I wouldn’t rate him too high even if he ran all the races before Indy. He has been gone for quite awhile. I’d love to see him back but in the end I think he’d still just be a mid-pack guy. No disrespect just being honest.

Penske Racing- There is a lot of talk that Will Power or Simon Pagenaud might be out for next year. I don’t really see that. I think Power will stay for sure. Pagenaud hasn’t had a great year but with the exception of Robert Wickens I’m not sure who I would rate better, maybe Sebastien Bourdais. I really think The Captain will keep his line up for at least one more year.

Pocono- Pocono will be a 500 Mile Race. A lot can happen in that distance. For the last three weeks we’ve been seeing that amazing restart where the cars were 7 or 8 wide. Everyone is talking about how fantastic the racing is and how excited they are to get there. I’m not disagreeing but it’s always bittersweet. The 2015 race had so much excitement and fun racing. It even had a fox run across the track. It is also the absolute worst race ever, taking the life my family’s favorite driver Justin Wilson. I always have a hard time getting excited for this race.

Stefan Wilson- Stefan recently added some shirts to his website. Unfortunately, they are all men’s shirts but one is so cool I had to buy it anyway. It says “102 years of racing. 4th pair of brothers to lead” referring of course to the Indy 500. I sure hope Stefan is back in 2019. I will proudly be wearing my shirt when I attend. Make sure you check Stefan’s site out.

So do I have any predictions? I anticipate a good race but not the 8 wide we saw in 2015. I think Alexander Rossi is on a roll though and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win and give Scott Dixon a reason to be looking over his shoulder. I’m also hopeful that Tony Kanaan and AJ Foyt Racing can finish well. Tony has a knack for long races on ovals. He is the one I will be rooting for.

Thanks for reading. Sorry for my long absence. I hope to have a post after Pocono but will definitely have multiple posts at Gateway. The boys and I will be attending Gateway once again and can’t wait.