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.


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