Monday, August 24, 2015

Thank You, Justin Wilson

I was on a flight back home from Denver tonight when I heard the word that Justin Wilson had passed away as a result of the head injuries he suffered during Sunday's race at Pocono. Like many of you, I was immediately numbed by the news. And still am.

I spent the rest of the flight thinking about lots of things, but I just kept coming back to how sad and how unfair all of this is. While we as human beings can achieve incredible things, we still can't figure out why people die and why the worst things happen to the best of people.

Because writing is how I deal with lots of things, I knew that this post would be forthcoming soon. But as I thought of the words I was going to use and how I was going to convey my feelings, the most simplest of tributes popped into my head.

And this tribute is just two words long: Thank You.

Thank you, Justin Wilson, for week after week thrilling us with your amazing driving talent and for entertaining us with your incredible skill. Thank you for show us that you can race hard while still racing fair and clean and still doing amazing things behind the wheel of a race car.

Thank you for showing that you can be an intensely competitive person (all professional athletes are the most competitive people on the planet) when the visor went down, but when the race was over you could treat people with love, compassion and kindness. Very few athletes are capable of doing that.

Thank you for representing IndyCar with class and dignity. While the ride of your lifetime may have unfortunately eluded you, you never complained, instead you made the most with what you had and still won anyway.

Thank you for loving the Indy 500 as much as we all do. You may have been born across the ocean, but you were one of us.

Thank you for your smile, for being great with the fans, and for knowing what kind of impact a minute of your time could have for someone.

Thank you for loving your family, for being a good husband and father. Though your time with them was short, they will carry you with them forever. Love never dies.

Thank you for choosing to donate your organs so that someone else could have life. Sometime tomorrow, a person will wake up with your heart beating in their chest, guaranteeing them more time with the people they love. Giving others life is one of the most selfless things any of us can do.

It's human nature to think about the legacy we are going to pass along when we leave this world. The older I get, the more I feel the best legacy you can leave is one where your love for others lasts forever. Justin Wilson had great success in his chosen profession, winning races and making a comfortable living for his family. But in the end, his legacy is his gentle nature, kind heart and compassionate spirit...not to mention being a total badass behind the wheel of a race car.

He leaves behind a lot of people that will grieve for him, but in the end I pray that everyone's hearts continue to stay full with the memories of who he was. Justin was the kind of man I aspire to be, and while I'm far from perfect, it's people like him who make me strive to do better.

Whether you are a spiritual person, say a prayer tonight for Justin's family, his wife and his two daughters. Also throw one up for Sage Karam, who while in his heart of hearts knows that what happened wasn't his fault, is still hurting as well.

Faith, hope, love...but the greatest of these is love. We will all miss Justin Wilson, but he will be in our hearts forever.

Godspeed, Justin, and thank you for making all of our lives a little bit better.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Road America...Finally!

Like many of you, I was thrilled to see that Road America will be part of the IndyCar schedule next season. The 4-mile, 14-turn circuit in east-central Wisconsin was a stalwart on the schedule for 25 years, and it is hard to believe the series hasn't run there since 2007.

I know I had played it off in recent posts, both here and on social media, mostly because I was a bit skeptical of it happening. But now that is has, I can't be more excited and look forward to heading up there next June.

My attitude about it was this: it would be nice if it happened, but it's not a make or break thing for me. Now that it is happening, though, it's kind of like when you haven't seen a friend in a long time: you talk about how having not seen them in a while is no big deal, but when you do finally see them you realize how much you missed them.

In my opinion (and I am biased towards all things Midwest, BTW), Road America is the best road course in the country, and for anyone who is a fan of natural road courses, it should be in their top five. What I like about the course is that even with 14 turns there are some sections on it that are very, very fast. Dario Franchitti's track record of one minute, 39.866 seconds translates out to 145 miles per hour. For a road course, that is super fast.

And to go that fast, you have to have a lot of technical skill, which means the course does what a race track is supposed to do, identify the best driver. If you go to Racing Reference and view the list of open wheel winners, it's a pretty impressive list. As a fan of the sport since they began racing there, I remember some pretty epic races, and with the series the way it stands now, it should be a really awesome race next year too.

Make no mistake, though, beyond the racing part of it, this is a huge step forward for IndyCar. There is no denying that at its core, IndyCar is a business, and the series has had to scratch and claw mightily to find good partners to do business with. It took a long time, but Road America has finally decided that IndyCar is now a good partner, and hopefully that gives confidence to other tracks (like, say, Phoenix, Michigan or even Chicagoland) to maybe open the lines of communication a little bit more.

I think this is also a big step forward for IndyCar management. I know the thought of this pains many of you, but credit here goes to Mark Miles, Derrick Walker and the rest of the series' staff for getting this done. I've never really understood the hatred for Miles, anyway. Every single metric you can think of shows that this series is on the rise, yet people still think the guy should be fired.

Is the series in better shape now than it was two years ago? You bet, and no matter where else you decide to deflect the credit, it points to having the right people in place to get the job done. Over the last couple of years, Mark Miles maybe hasn't done what you've wanted him to do, but that's not his job. His job is to grow the business of IndyCar, and he has done that. So even if you have to cross your fingers behind your back to do it, give him a tip of the cap for this one.

I'll end this post like I have many times in the past, IndyCar fans. You wanted it, you've got it. All I've heard for years and years is "Road America needs to be on the schedule!". Well, it's here, and with 10 1/2 months until race day (June 26), you have no excuses to not support this race. It's put up or shut up time...again! IndyCar gave you what you wanted, and now it's time to do your job. Show up, and not just next year as a one and done thing, make this, and other races, a part of your summer schedule.

Given the rise in attendance and TV viewership, a lot of you have been doing that, but we have to keep it going. I know I have said it before, but if you are looking back to the 1990s for the "glory days" of this series, you are missing out on what the future holds. IndyCar is as poised as ever to start working its way back to those days, we as fans just have to keep working hard and doing our part to help make it happen.