Rapid Response- so much more than a documentary

What started as a review of the documentary Rapid Response became more of a personal story of the loss I’ve witnessed in the years I’ve watched IndyCar and how seeing this movie has made me even more grateful for the safety innovations brought about by some incredible doctors. Hope you enjoy reading and please make time to see the movie.

If you are a regular reader of my blog the one thing you know is how I became a fan of IndyCar. It is a story I don’t tire of telling and somehow many of my posts seem to go back to that story. Maybe because I’m a girl but I also seem to get asked that question a lot – how did I become such a big fan of IndyCar. So today I will do a bit of retelling because it is also how I experienced my first lose of a driver I really liked.

The first driver death for me was Eddie Sachs. Okay some of you realize I’m not old enough to have even been alive for the 1964 race but nonetheless that was the first driving fatality that shook me up. I was reading AJ Foyt’s biography for my freshman English class in 1985. There are several references to Eddie Sachs and I remember him being a driver I liked hearing about as I made my way through AJ’s life story. I was shocked and sad when I read of Eddie’s death. It all seemed so unfair and while I was not yet a race fan I wondered how people could risk their lives like they did.

Yesterday, as I made my way to the theater to see Rapid Response, the film made from the book written by Dr Stephen Olvey, I reflected on the driver deaths I’ve experienced. Eddie Sachs was the first, Scott Brayton was the next one for me. Scott Brayton was a popular driver at my house and by 1996 I was hooked on the Indianapolis 500. I wasn’t following the sport full time yet but I watched every bit of qualifying and practice that I could. My family was happy with Brayton’s poll win and we were crushed when we learned of his death. Tony Renna was just a year or two before I became a full time fan and I was unfamiliar with him. Always sad to learn of a death but similar to Paul Dana’s death I was saddened to learn but did not know much of these drivers. Things changed greatly in 2011 when Dan Wheldon was killed in the first few laps at Las Vegas Speedway. Dan had won the Indianapolis 500 the previous May and while he didn’t have a full time ride in IndyCar he was very much a part of the IndyCar Paddock. He helped in the booth, did pit run interviews alongside Robin Miller and made sure no one missed him and his desire to be driving full time. It kept him very much in the public eye and made him a friend and not just a driver. We heard his thoughts, his dreams, saw him laugh and enjoy life. Just minutes before his death we listened in on an incar interview with Dan before the green flag flew. It was unbelievable watching that crash on TV and waiting for news about Dan. The race never concluded and news of Dans passing was announced. The drivers did some parade laps in his honor. I admit it was so much harder on me than I could have imagined.

Justin Wilson was next. I hate even typing that because Justin was our favorite driver. We met him several times and had great interactions with him. His accident was so random and heartbreaking. I was depressed for weeks after his death and still to this day his picture with my son Matthew is on my phone lock screen.

So why tell you all this- just a little background as to why I was so eager to see the film Rapid Response. The amazing safety innovations that have been made over the years are incredible. I’ve experienced relatively few deaths in the sport I love. Several older than me lived with it on a much regular basis. Stephen Olvey describes how as a young boy he would consistently need to pick a new favorite driver as his favorite would perish driving their race car. Bill Vukovich was the first driver loss Stephen experienced as a young child.

While Stephen initially dreamed of becoming a racecar driver, his father convinced him to become a doctor. Eventually Dr. Olvey was the doctor at the track taking care of the drivers. The movie goes into detail about how Dr. Olvey saw a need for more medical staff and equipment to be in place at the track and eventually not just the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but all tracks. Over the years more and more advances were made and what was once a sport that saw numerous deaths every year now sees so many less. As stated I can only think of a handful I personally remember. I am so incredibly thankful for Dr. Stephen Olvey’s passion and desire to help make racing more safe. Dr. Terry Trammell is the doctor name I am most familiar with in IndyCar. He was brought on by Dr. Olvey and the two of them have changed the world of Motorsports. I am so grateful for them both and so many others like them who continue to make racing safer. Tony Kanaan tells a story in the movie about breaking his wrist during the Motegi race in Japan. Tony refused to have his wrist looked at until he was back in the states and Dr. Trammell could attend to it. Three weeks of therapy in Dr. Trammell’s basement and Tony was ready for the Indianapolis 500. He finished third that year.

Dr. Olvey and Dr. Trammell would watch trends in racing accidents, analyze data and consistently make advances which made racing safer. Injuries to feet and ankles which were once so prevalent have greatly decreased. Neck and head injuries are reduced with the introduction of the HANS device. Better tests are put in place to determine if a driver has suffered a concussion. The doctors even make a hard call to cancel a race at the Texas Motor Speedway when it was discovered that the G-load the drivers were experiencing was causing them to blackout. Without these men seeking new advances and being willing to make hard calls like cancelling a race the death rate in racing would have been so much higher of the years.

If you have a passion for IndyCar that goes beyond watching cars go fast. If you are fascinated by the drivers and the whole world behind the scenes at a race track, particularly the Indy 500 then you will greatly enjoy the movie Rapid Response. It is playing in limited theaters and I was fortunate enough to have a showing just 20 minutes from my house. I would have driven farther if needed and would recommend to any fan that they take the time to go see this incredible documentary. It was inspiring while also heartbreaking. So much loss, such terrible crashes and yet these men (and woman) who love to race will not stop. It is in their blood and part of who they are. Men like Dr. Olvey and Dr. Trammell have done so much to make the sport safer and for that we can’t thank them enough.

Pocono, race review and track safety

I remember watching the 2015 Pocono race on the edge of my seat. That race was so fun and exciting, seven wide on the front straight, a fox running across the track and lots of entertaining racing. After Justin was hit by debris and killed my thoughts changed. As stated a million times before Justin was our favorite driver and losing him will always hurt. For that reason I always have mixed feelings when the IndyCars return to Pocono. Then in 2018, Robert Wickens was involved in a horrible crash that a year later he is still fighting to overcome. I prayed for the race and every driver by name before the green flag flew. I love watching racing at Pocono but it scares me.

One lap in and my heart jumps because we have a huge accident and cars are leaving the ground. Thankfully the cars stayed relatively low and didn’t see the disastrous results of hitting the catch fence full on. Takuma Sato on the high side, for reasons unknown, turned into Alexander Rossi, who had Ryan Hunter-Reay beneath him. All three lost control and Sato landed upside down on RHR’s car and one of the cars was on fire. James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist were also caught up in the accident. James had some scary moments but was fine. Rosenqvist caught some air and was dangerously close to the catch fence. Thankfully one wheel stayed down and he dragged along the wall without hitting the fence full on. The AMR safety team responded immediately but Felix was the last attended. He also was the only one who required further evaluation. We were told it was for non life threatening injuries but I am very curious to know what exactly happened to him.

The race was red flagged on lap four to fix the fence and clean the track. It was a solid 45 minutes later before we returned to green. During the red both Rossi and Hinch’s team decided to take the penalty and work on fixing their cars under the red. I think that was a wise move, especially for Rossi. A lot of work needed to be done and he would be several laps behind regardless, what was a few more. In hindsight it was the right call. Rossi did rejoin the race and had it not been called by rain he would have moved up a couple more positions than he did. Every point counts when you are trying to win the championship. Honestly, I don’t totally understand why Hinch went back out. He was 10th in the championship and so far out of the running that I didn’t really see the need to for him but that’s why I don’t get paid the big bucks to make decisions like that.

When we returned to green flag racing it was a bit processional for the next stint. Spencer Pigot made contact bringing out the yellow. The skies were darkening and rain looked like it might factor in after the halfway point. That would mean it could be an official race and be finished when the rain appeared. That made everyone a bit more competitive and we saw some fun racing. Power and Pagenaud battled for the lead. Santino Ferrucci made up several positions and is always exciting to watch. Tony Kanaan even had a great day finishing 8th when the race was called on lap 128 when lightning enter the vicinity. When the red flag flew it was Will Power in the lead. The race was eventually called and Power continued his streak of winning every season.

I think most are happy with Power winning. Josef remains the championship points leader and I think has a great chance of winning if he doesn’t dnf in the last three races. So the big question that remains is should IndyCars race at Pocono.

Pocono seems to have a lot of bad luck but that is exactly what it is- bad luck and coincidence. Justin Wilson’s accident in 2015 had nothing to do with the track, he was hit by debris. A couple years ago every race ran at Pocono that particular season was delayed by rain. Last year Robert Wickens has his horrible crash. Again this crash was very early in the race. Was there really such a need to be pushing that hard so early. I’m not saying it was Robbie’s fault, it was an accident, but perhaps showing some restraint early in a 500 mile race might help. Then this year-more bad luck. Rain caused practice to not take place so race control decided to cancel qualifying and run an extra long practice. This is fine except we saw some cars we don’t normally see running faster times up front. Most noticeably was Tony Kanaan. TK was fastest in practice but because the starting grid is based on entrant points TK started in the back of the field. This is not how fans want to see a race begin. The back luck continued when the lap one accident took place. Thankfully everyone was fine but again for fans this is not how we grow our sport, now we have a 45 minute red flag. Add insult to injury and the race ends because of rain. So many things I just described are not in the tracks control. They are just a series of unfortunate events.

Most fans realize the dangers of racing and see no reason to take Pocono off the schedule. Social media has made it so easy for us to interact with the drivers that we come to know them on a more personal level. We know about their families, pets, likes and dislikes, hobbies and the list goes on. That makes us so much more invested and so much less willing to put them in harms way but the truth is every time they strap in at any track they take a chance that it could be their last time. Robert Wickens tweeted yesterday about the need to stop racing at Pocono but do you blame him. He is living every day with the injuries he suffered after his crash. I can’t imagine he will ever feel good about racing there. James Hinchcliffe had a very different reaction returning to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The track wasn’t blamed. Indy has the highest fatality rate and yet no one discusses taking it off the schedule.

I believe racing can continue to grow safer and safer. We saw it yesterday as a piece of debris was blocked by the new deflector piece (can’t recall its exact name) on James Hinchcliffe’s car. What might have caused a serious injury was deflected from the cockpit and did not hit James. IndyCar continues to make great improvements in safety. I think they can still look at some things at Pocono. Perhaps a different aero configuration, maybe single file starts, less horsepower or more? I won’t pretend I k ow what would help make the racing safer but I’m confident IndyCar continues to keep their racing as safe as possible at every track.

Pocono has seem some crazy years, some sad years but that is what the drivers signed up for, what they live for. I respect Max Chilton, and Mike Conway for admitting that oval racing is not something they desire to do. Ask Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly, Tony Kanaan, I think they get a little skip in their step when they are given a chance to race on an oval. It’s their passion. Let’s keep moving to make IndyCar safer but let’s not blame Pocono. I hope it remains on the schedule. I will say a few extra prayers and hold my breath during side by side racing but I know what happened at Pocono could have anywhere.

The Wilson Brothers

I never tire of telling our stories about Justin and Stefan Wilson and after learning that Stefan Wilson will not be racing in the Indianapolis 500 this year I can’t stop running the stories in my mind so I decided to share again.

I don’t remember which race I was watching but my young boys came into the room and watched for a short time with me. As most young kids do, they loved eating at McDonalds so when they saw the McDonald’s car on the screen they wanted to know more about it and who was driving. Justin Wilson was driving and that was all it took for him to become a favorite. My oldest, Matthew, especially liked Justin. Zach was a little more drawn to Danica’s bright green GoDaddy car in his early years. Matthew never did get a McDonalds shirt at a race but a couple years later he found a Justin Wilson/Dad’s root beer shirt. It was way too big but he did not care. He loved that shirt and proudly wore it.

I believe it was the following year we joined the IMS Kid’s Club. They were having an event and we tweeted our favorite drivers hoping they would show up. James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan did not respond. Justin responded to our tweet asking when and where the event would be. He showed up and tweeted that he was there. We were first in line and as the event coordinators were getting a spot ready for him to sign autographs I overheard them saying they were so surprised Justin came. They had no idea he would be there. Seriously, the IndyCar drivers are the best. He showed up because one fan sent out a tweet.

Justin signed Matthew’s shirt and we got this awesome picture.

As the years went on we had some twitter interactions with Justin and I met him at a couple races. Justin did not make the kids club event the following year but tweeted to us that he couldn’t make it because he would be on track practicing.

Fast Forward to Milwaukee 2015. All weekend my boys and I looked for Justin. We just never seemed to be able to find him. We saw every other driver in the paddock but just couldn’t catch a break with Justin. Justin was out of that race early after his engine was smoking. When the race was over Matthew went in search of Justin. Zach and I did the track walk. Then I got the best text from Matthew. He found Justin and got a selfie. Zach and I made our way over and talked with him too. He signed Matthew’s shirt again. The selfie Matthew took is still my lock screen on my phone. (Read more about that day here especially an excerpt from an article Tony DiZinno wrote)

That would be the last time we saw Justin.

While Stefan was racing in Indy Lights we always watched to see how he did. While Stefan didn’t drive a cool McDonald’s car we didn’t care he was by far our favorite Lights driver. We loved it when he won during the 2011 season. It was also so fun to watch Stefan and Justin race together in the IndyCar Series at the Grand Prix of Baltimore in 2013.

We meet Stefan in 2016 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We tweeted we were looking for him and like his brother he tweeted back and said where we could find him. We didn’t have garage passes but he met us. That was incredibly special.

The following year Stefan gave up his ride to Fernando Alonso. I still am upset over this. He showed what an awesome team player he is but wow that was so frustrating as someone who loves Stefan and could care less about Fernando. I was able to again meet Stefan at the Speedway and cried when I told him what an incredible gesture it was to give up his seat.

In 2018, Stefan was back in the car with Andretti Autosport. Michael promised he would make good on Stefan’s willingness to give up his seat the previous year and I’m grateful Michael kept his word. Stefan qualified in the 23rd position. Quite well for someone not racing full time. He led late in the race but unfortunately did not have enough gas to make it to the end. He and Justin made history though becoming the fourth pair of brothers to lead laps during the Indianapolis 500.

Now we have learned that Stefan was not able to secure a ride for the 2019 Indianapolis 500. The Driven to Save Lives car (Stefan’s previous sponsor) has sponsored Pippa Mann and the Andretti Autosport no. 25 car was given to Conor Daly. Conor is a good driver and I understand that decision although to be honest after Stefan’s sacrifice in 2017 I think Michael could have given him a second year. What I don’t understand is why Driven to Save Lives would chose Pippa over Stefan. Pippa fail to make the race last year. She qualifies in the middle or back when she does make it and has never even finished on the lead lap. She might be a great spokeswoman for organ donation but I believe Stefan has a very powerful story too. If I were the one making decisions on the Driven to Save Lives, Clausen Marshall Team I would want Stefan for my driver. Pippa is great and I do enjoy having woman race in the Indy 500 but for me, I would chose Stefan.

Anyway, there is my story about why we will always hold a special place in our hearts for the Wilson brothers and why I feel Stefan should be in the Indy 500 field this year. Praying for a miracle, we’ve seen crazy things happen at Indy.

Windscreens, Matheus Leist and The Amazing Race!

If you haven’t figured it out by now my blog is a place for me to state my opinions. My husband could care less about IndyCar so I need a place to say what I’m thinking. I’m a girl after all and girls like to talk, it’s how I process things so thanks to my readers I have a place to say what I’m thinking about some things happening in IndyCar. So if you want more details read George Phillips blog post about Windscreens or Mark Glendenning’s article on Racer.com about Matheus Leist.

LETS START WITH WINDSCREENS-

Dan Weldon’s death was such a shock but losing Justin Wilson, my family’s favorite driver, made me ready to consider anything that would keep the drivers safe. I love the speed, the sounds, the cars but the really reason I love IndyCar if the drivers and teams. They could be racing on tricycles and I would still watch. I like the people. If we need to greatly alter the cars to keep them safe I’m all for it but what is safe when you are traveling at 200+ miles per hour. I never once thought a closed cockpit was the answer. So currently IndyCar is testing windscreens. I’m impressed with what I’ve seen and heard so far! You almost don’t even notice them on the cars. They look like they’ve always been there. I don’t think they distract from the new sleek design at all. The car still looks fantastic to me. I have some concern about rain, bugs and dust/ debris obstructing the view since drivers won’t be able to reach tear off strips or turn on wipers to remove any thing on the windscreen but it does seem a lot safer. I don’t think this design would have helped save Justin’s life. I am less sure how it might have helped Dan. It’s racing, it will always be dangerous. My fear with the windscreen is where the large debris that hits the screen goes next. Again- racing will always be dangerous. I’m thankful to IndyCar for continuing to seek ways to make it safer through time and research. So far I’m excited and optimistic about the windscreens. Here is a view from Scott Dixon’s visor cam. It looks great!

MATHEUS LEIST

As disappointed as I was that AJ Foyt Racing did not resign Conor Daly, I’m excited for their 2018 season. I think Tony Kanaan will be an amazing asset and I hear good things about Leist. The good news keeps coming, Matheus was the fastest rookie at the IndyCar rookie test at Phoenix on Thursday. Matheus ran 63 laps on Thursday. His fastest lap was 184.236 mph. Pietro Fittipaldi was close behind with 183.347 mph. I imagine AJ is quite pleased to have his guy on top. We all know teasing is just that- testing. Drivers aren’t necessarily attempting to go their fastest but it is still a hopeful sign for the 2018 season. Tony Kanaan and Leist also seem to having a bit of fun with the new partnership. I hope they both have a great season.

So that brings us to THE AMAZING RACE!

I hate that fans of the Amazing Race might be wanting to tune into IndyCar to watch Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly only to find out that Conor does not have a spot in the 2018 season. So disappointing. That said if I wasn’t a fan of IndyCar already I’m not sure that Alex and Conor would be the team I was rooting for. We see glimpses of their personalities but I feel the other competitors get more airtime than the IndyCar guys. Maybe it’s because I want to see more of Alex and Conor so it’s very obvious to me when they aren’t on screen. So far the guys are holding their own and progressing on the race. I actually enjoyed it more when the teams did a partner swap. Alex and Conor were chosen by team Ocean Rescue, Lucas and Brittany, Alex paired with Brittany and Conor with Lucas. Alex and Brittany did fantastic and came in second. Conor and Lucas got stuck their truck stuck in the mud. That was a bit embarrassing since the Big Brother contestant was able to make it through- although he did go through before Conor and it seemed obvious that the trail was going to be in worse condition as more trucks eroded the trail. Then Conor waited in the car as Lucas winched it out. I know someone needs to give the car some gas but it made Conor appear lazy. I kept screaming at the tv for Conor to jump out and help. Conor seems a lot stronger to me than Lucas so I was getting frustrated. They did get the car out and advanced in the race but while I love Conor this episode did not show the best side of him. I actually preferred Alex paired up with Brittany (as least for this episode). They made a great team. Hope the IndyCar guys stay around longer so viewers can see how great they really are.

So all that said, I can’t wait for The IndyCar season to start. St Pete can’t get here fast enough! Oh and I love that Helio Castroneves will be the Grand Marshall for the St. Pete race. What a great way to honor him. He will definitely be missed so I’m thankful to have him participating in this way and look forward to seeing him at Indy.

Pocono Preview

This weekend the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Pocono Speedway. Last years race was so exciting, cars were eight wide on the front straight, a fox ran on the track and rookies were leading laps. Then the unthinkable happened. Sage Karam crashed and the nose cone from his car hit Justin Wilson. We lost Justin the next day. I’m still grieving this loss. I understand that returning to Pocono is completely different than a return to Las Vegas Speedway, where we lost Dan Wheldon but for me, I’m not sure I’m ready to see them race there again.

 The Tricky Triangle has been on my list of tracks I wanted to visit and yet I was so very thankful I was not in attendance last year.  If you were to ask my family who our favorite drivers are we respond that I like Tony Kanaan, Matthew’s favorite was Justin Wilson and Zach likes James Hinchcliffe. I’ve been a big Tony Kanaan fan but honestly after meeting Justin multiple times and having such neat interactions with him he really was my favorite. If asked I wouldn’t name him because he was Matthew’s favorite and we all had our “own” driver, Justin belonged to Matthew but deep in my heart I knew Justin was my favorite too. I was sad when we lost Dan but was crushed when we lost Justin. To this day the screensaver on my phone is a selfie of Matthew and Justin. Matthew gave me his autographed Justin shirt the night Justin died. I set in on my dresser and it has remained there except for Road America weekend when Matthew wore it one last time. I have a beautiful print of Justin by Doug Garrison on the mantle. I miss him terribly. It is going to be a very emotional weekend. 

So while I am thankful for an end to the three week break in the IndyCar schedule and am eager to see how the championship is affected (if at all) I’m not sure I’m ready for Pocono. I do know I will be wearing my USWAG Justin Wilson socks, have a box of tissues nearby and will be keeping Stefan, Julia and the girls in my prayers. I will also be praying for a safe race for everyone involved. We’ve lost too many good guys and having just lost Bryan Clausen I’m sure it will be a hard weekend for many. 

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama plus bonus Indy 500 talk

The race at Barber was the second race this season without a yellow flag. While that might sound like good to some it actually makes for dull racing. Passing was tough so we basically watched Simon Pagenaud lead, saw some passing farther back and green flag pit stops. Scott Dixon got spun around and lost his track position, he regained some positions and finished tenth. Juan Pablo Montoya started last but made his way through the field to finish fifth. JPM might not be my favorite driver (in fact he is my least favorite) but you can’t deny he has talent. Graham Rahal though was the bright spot in the race making the last laps exciting. I was yelling and cheering for him as he passed Pagenaud to take the lead. Unfortunately, he damaged his front wing and Pagenaud regained the front position. Graham held on to finish a very respectable second. Hopefully the Hondas are figuring out their issues. 

Barber looks beautiful on TV and I would love to attend that race in the near future. NBCSN did a great job as always. I really enjoyed having practice aired and live qualifying even though I watched later on the DVR. All in all a good clean race but missing some excitement, had Graham won that would have changed things. 

Next up is the Grand Prix of Indy. My boys and I will be attending, arriving in Indy on Friday. They are excited because they get to miss a day of school. I’m excited to return to the Speedway. Sadly, we won’t be attending The 500 this year- more about that in a later post. 

Speaking of the Indy 500, we received great news this week. Oriol Servia will compete with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.  Servia has always been a driver I liked but I appreciate him even more after drove Justin Wilson’s car in the 2015 season finale. Servia is a good driver and I expect him to do well. 

Even more exciting was the news that Stefan Wilson will also be competing. Stefan will be driving for KV Racing Technology and will be driving the No. 25 car.  The news literally brought tears to me eyes. My family loved Justin Wilson. (Read about it here) I was thrilled when I learned his brother Stefan would be driving in the 500. Stefan is parterning with the Indiana Donor Network and a program named “Driven2SaveLives” which promotes organ, tissue and eye donation. Justin was an organ donor and his donation saved five lives. Through the program Stefan and the Indiana Donor Network hope to sign up 2,500 new donors. I already am an organ donor, are you?  Sign up here-Indianadonornetwork.org I’m sure this will be an emotional month for Stefan. I am just as sure that he will be on everyone’s favorite list for the race. From what I’ve seen of Stefan he is just as kind and generous as Justin was and I sure hope this leads to more racing for him. 

So after two caution free (and a bit dull) races we will move on to the GP of Indy. Even it is goes caution free it will be amazing. I will be at one of my favorite places with my two sons sharing my passion for IndyCar. I can’t wait!

2015 Indycar Season- Part One

The 2015 season will always bring a tear to my eye as it will be remembered as the season when we lost Justin Wilson. Justin was a family favorite we had the privilege of meeting a couple times and we will greatly miss him. While nothing can ever take away the pain of losing a driver, there were still many positives to the 2015 season. Many I’ve already wrote about but here is a quick look at how the season went for us.

May 2015- The boys and I attended the second GP of Indy. We took advantage of the free garage tours at IMS and met Larry Foyt and James Hinchcliffe among others. Read about it here

 I was also thrilled that we finally attended our first Indy 500. It was a perfect day and we had a fantastic time. Read about it here

   
June 2015- Shortly after the Indy 500 I received a tweet from Ben Hinch of NextGenIndy.com asking if I would be interested in contributing to his website. It didn’t take me long to decide that I would love to. I still struggle to write some pieces for the site. I’m so used to stating my opinion rather than just the facts but Ben has been great and I’ve been able to write some opinion pieces for the site too. It does take up more time so I’m afraid my posts on Ikissedthebricks have not received the attention I would like to give them. I hope to have a better balance in the future.

July 2015- The boys and I attended the race at Milwaukee. It was their first time at Milwaukee and their favorite race I believe. We had such a fun time. Read about it here and here.We also had the coolest ending to our story with James Hinchliffe and Ryan Briscoe. Read about that here. I had over 300 visitors to my blog to read that post, so much higher than my usual. I was so thankful for that because that post showed how great the IndyCar guys are and that is the message I always want to get out. 

 August 2015- The loss of Justin hit my family hard. but seeing the way the IndyCar family pulled together reminded me why I love this sport so much.

September 2015- Graham Rahal put together an auction to raise money for the Wilson Children’s Fund. It is currently running and so far is doing great. Most things are way out of my price range. That is a good thing though. I want to see lots of money raised for the Wilson family.
Doug Garrison of Garrison Studios also encouraged donations to the fund. Doug offered a print of Justin to anyone who sent a contribution of $59.00 or more. I took advantage of Doug’s generosity and am now the proud owner of print No. 6/25 of Justin Wilson Bad Ass. I had it framed immediately and am just deciding on the perfect place to hang it. 

 So how do I rank the 2015 season? I can’t. I would have said it was the best season ever. The racing was fantastic and I shared so many fun times with my boys. The loss of Justin though changed everything. While I will always remember the fun times of the 2015 season I will always struggle with saying it was a great season. How can you say a season was great when we lost Justin?

Contributions for the Wilson family can be made at justinwilson.co.uk/donate

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.

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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.

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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. 

 

Milwaukee IndyFest Race Day

After an exciting and fun weekend it was finally race day. The boys and I had a lazy morning at the hotel. I really wanted to attend the TweetUp but it was so early and I knew it would be a long day. I couldn’t ask the kids to get to the track any earlier than qualifying time. We did arrive just in time for qualifying but I let the kids play in the Family Fun Zone rather than sit in the stands. I could kinda see the cars and of course I could hear and follow on my phone. Took a bit longer for the boys to get a turn on the trampoline so after one turn I convinced them to head to the paddock and see who we could find. We ran into Sage Karam right away.

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We also saw the Indy Lights drivers waiting for introductions.

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The day was much warmer so we sought out some shade and a snack. While we were eating I received a text from Mike Knapp (15DaysinMay) that he and his son had arrived. Mike and I have become pretty good friends over the years, I believe we have met up at the Milwaukee race four years in a row now. Mike had his son, Kevin, with him and we all caught up for a bit before walking through the paddock. Shortly after that we ran into Eric (Erock_in_Indy) and spent some time catching up with him. As we talked, James Hinchcliffe walked by. I’m not sure where he was heading but he was in a rush. I walked along with him for a bit because I wanted to let him know that the story I posted about him and Briscoe had my viewership up so much higher than I imagined (big thanks to Steve Wittich, Curt Cavin and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for sharing my story). Mike was also able to get a quick picture. After that we looked at the couple vintage cars still there and then watched the winner presentations for the Lights race. Then the boys and I went in search of shade to cool off before the race began. We sat on the blacktop under the tents set up for the vintage cars and it turned out to be a good place to sit. It was nice and cool and Zach was able to get a couple more autographs on his hat. The boys took advantage of the cool and rested.

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We watched the first half of Driver Introductions but I didn’t want to take a chance on being late to our seats so hopefully I can catch the rest on Youtube. James was doing a great job. As we neared the stands our seats were in I heard someone calling my name. It was Butch and Dan from the previous day. They were finishing their beers and hopefully made it to their seats in time. I had to run up and say hi. They were also wanting to get the blog address again- (Hope you guys found it. We sure did enjoy meeting you.) We made it to our seats with only a few minutes to spare. We were mostly in the shade by green flag and it was a perfectly delightful time to watch the race. I haven’t watched the race on TV yet but I will share what I saw from my seat and hopefully have a race review up in the next day or two.

Green flag waved and Josef Newgarden led the field. Matthew was asking questions, which of course I could barely hear. Where is Justin Wilson? How do I know what Lap it is? How fast are they going? He was really engaged. Zach begged to go to the Family Fun Zone and tried to take a nap. It was Lap 90 before Matthew finally was willing to take Zach for a snack and stretch their legs. I love that they can wander slightly out of eyesight (with firm instructions and Matthew’s cellphone) so different from our first trips to the track. So I continued to watch the race which had been caution free and had Josef looking really good.

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Without notes here is what I remember– James Jakes car was smoking and that brought out the first yellow. Of course pits were busy. I believe it was the pit under yellow when Josef had a long pit stop and that was at least in part to having to wait for Carlos Munoz to get into his pit box which was right in front of Josef’s. Josef lost quite a few positions on that one. Ed Carpenter came into the pits at least three times. I’m still not sure what exactly was going on there. He was in so much I am very surprised he ended up with a tenth place finish. When we did go back to green it wasn’t for long. Unfortunately, Ryan Briscoe lost control of his car and took out Will Power with him. Matthew immediately texted me- he was still listening to the race even if not watching announcing he won our bet. I had picked Briscoe to win and Zach had Power. We said whichever driver finished highest would be the winner. Matthew had Justin Wilson. So even though the next yellow would be for Justin, Matthew won the family bet and walked away $10 richer. The boys rejoined me and we watched as the race continued and Sebastien Bourdais took the checkered flag- yes he literally took the checkered flag.

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It was a really good race. Good passing and just enough side by side to be interesting and yet not scare anyone. I’m looking forward to watching the broadcast.

So the boys and I headed to the infield to try and congratulate the drivers and Matthew was still trying to find Justin Wilson. We had spent so much time in the paddock that when we got there each boy ran a different way and all I could do was hope they were going where they said. I followed Zach (as best I could because Matthew had his phone but if I lost Zach that could get interesting). Zach and I got out on the track for a bit and got a sweet picture of Zach in the tire marks from the donuts Bourdais did. Then Zach and I gathered autographs- Tony Kanaan, Sarah Fisher, Pippa Mann and Simon Pagenaud before we received a text from Matthew. He had found Justin Wilson!

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I love his selfie with Justin. Eventually Zach and I made it over and got another picture with Justin and had him sign an old Justin Wilson shirt Matthew insisted on buying years ago when it was way too big (see picture) but was the only one we could find. Justin signed it in 2012 and you can just make it out. Now we have a nice new autograph near the old one.

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Our day was complete! We had hung out by Justin’s transporter so often hoping to see him without luck. Matthew was super excited to get to say Hi.

I was reluctant to leave but it was time and we had to drive back home so it was time. We bought Zach a Graham Rahal/Steak n Shake shirt and waited for a shuttle ride to the parking lot. The boys loved hitching a ride. On our way home we stopped for Whatchamacallit bars. Seems that is now officially a tradition on the way home from a race.

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We had a great time and both boys were upset when I said we would not be going to another race this year. We attended three this year so they sure can’t complain. I guess I’m finally turning them into fans. That makes me one happy mom.

Hopefully, I will have a better race recap soon but before I close I just want to give a shout out to Pippa Mann. When Zach saw Pippa he ran up to her. We’ve met her a couple times so we know how great she is with fans. When we reached her though it was very obvious that she was upset and frustrated with the days race. She was talking with a crew member but put on a smile when she saw Zach and signed his hat. I didn’t even ask for a picture and instead gave her a hug and reminded her that she had a lot of fans pulling for her. If you follow her on social media she has admitted it’s been a really hard time for her. I’m hoping things go better next week and that she can use this experience to learn and move on. I truly believe she has the talent, she just needs more time in the car. I sure hope she gets it.

Why Justin Wilson deserves a full time IndyCar ride

I could go on and on about all the solid reasons Justin Wilson should be in a full time IndyCar seat. I could tell all the statistics on his amazing driving and what a great team player he is. I could explain all the ways he is a key leader in this sport and his expertise is relied on greatly by all those in the sport. If I wrote more on all those things I wouldn’t need to list a single additional reason on why Wilson should have a full time seat. However, as you know my blog is less about the technical stuff and more about the heart and Justin Wilson has a lot of heart.

Justin became a family favorite while driving the McDonalds car. My kids love McDonalds so they naturally gravitated towards that car and Justin. As the years went on he drove the Dad’s Root Beer car and the Boy Scouts of America car. Hard to get more kid friendly and family oriented than that.

Justin is always a class act. I can think of very few times when we have seen Justin angry. Of course there have been a few but even then he has kept his temper in check and has been a great role model for my boys.

In 2012 Justin would cement a place in our hearts. We were attending a kids club event during qualifying weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The morning of the event my boys begged me to tweet Justin, Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe to please stop by the kids club to sign autographs. Justin replied asking where and when the event was. He showed up at the event and made our day. I remember hearing the woman running the event say she had no clue Justin was going to show up. He was there because we tweeted him. How cool is that. Over the years he has regularly responded to tweets. We need more drivers like him.

We’ve also seen him overcome adversity. In 2011 he sat out the remainder of the season after injured his back. Then in 2013 he fractured his pelvis during the season ending race at Auto Club Speedway. He also suffered a small pulmonary contusion from that accident. After both incidents he couldn’t wait to get back in the car, showing both his determination and his love for racing. He has such passion for the job he does and that is just another way he is such a great role model for young fans.

With only a month till the IndyCar season opener in St. Pete it is getting tough waiting for the news on Justin Wilson. My family is keeping fingers crossed, saying prayers and eagerly awaiting news that he has signed with a team so we can cheer him on during the 2015 season. IndyCar needs him!

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