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. 

 

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.

IMG_4258.JPG

We also saw the Indy Lights drivers waiting for introductions.

IMG_4260.JPG

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.

IMG_4276.JPG

IMG_4274.JPG

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.

IMG_4294.JPG
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.

IMG_4307.JPG

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!

IMG_4322.JPG
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.

IMG_0958.JPG

IMG_4312.JPG

IMG_4308.JPG

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.

IMG_4323.JPG

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!

IMG_0727.JPG

IMG_1191.JPG