Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Down Side to Auto Racing

Many times over the years, I've mentioned how much my other half loves auto racing. Modify that to anything with wheels and an engine will be watched if they're broadcasting it on television. (that modification is needed because I ended up watching lawnmower racing with him one time.)

As a result of this passion of his, I've become more educated about the motorsports than the average wife. I know the drivers, usually the series they drive for, can probably tell you if they've won a race or a championship, can identify their voices when they're being interviewed (from the other room) and just generally 'get' his love for the sports.

Today, we had to go somewhere, but he was watching the start of the final IndyCar race of the season. The final race, as I commented to Ed, can sometimes be boring, especially if the championship has already been determined, but this was going to be down to the wire, what with Dario Franchitti and Will Power (a name that always makes me think of Sky High) separated by the thinnest of margins.

In the pre-race coverage, they showed Dan Wheldon and mentioned that the previous Indy Car champion stood to win a cool five million if he came from starting last to actually win the race. The fact that this could even be considered a possibility says something of the man's skill.

The race started and not very far in, while I'm surfing the web, I hear the intake of breath from Ed, the sign that things are not good on the television. It is what is known as 'the big one' in racing parlance, and those are especially scary in open wheel racing, because the driver's head is out in the air, and debris doesn't hit a windshield, it hits the driver. Two cars are on fire.

I worried about one of those drivers, because it looked like he was having a hard time getting out of the cockpit, but he was okay. The replays from in-car cameras were scary, the debris on the track looked like several cars exploded and the red flag thrown. It was going to take a while to clean up this mess.

Then, we see a car on the track and it's got a yellow tarp on it. This is not a good sign. In open wheel racing, where you can see the driver, the need to cover the car signifies that someone is severely injured, possibly dead. We didn't know which car it was and the announcers weren't saying. Not good.

Then, they start talking about who has been released from the infield care center and these drivers are getting interviewed. The word at this time is that Dan Wheldon, the guy in last place, is among the injured. They show Will Power getting onto a golf cart. He's fine, his car is toast and Dario Franchitti is determined the champion, but the mood is somber, all the competitors worried about their colleagues.

One of the drivers comes out of infield care and as I'm saying to Ed that everyone is very careful about what they say, and it's rough to be in that situation, knowing what happening inside and having to hide feelings, one driver comes out and says "My prayers go out to Dan, Susie and the kids." To me, this says that if Dan survives, he won't be racing anytime soon.

Among those interviewed is Danica Patrick. She's moving over to Nascar next year, and Dan is supposed to replace her in the GoDaddy car. Danica mentioned being nervous today, but at that time, early in the interviews to fill air time, I don't think she knew what was going on. They later cut to her talking with her husband and I think the wife of the car owner. She's clearly upset, they quickly pull her under a canopy. It was at that point I think she was given the news.

Minutes later, all the drivers are called into a meeting, where they get the sad news that Dan Wheldon, airlifted to the hospital, succumbed to the injuries he sustained when his car went airborne and hit the wall in the wreck.

The race is over and the champion named, but the drivers all decide that they want to race five laps in tribute to Dan Wheldon.

It's a risk they take, getting into those cars. They all know this, but when it comes down to it, they'll get in those cars again to honor those who have died doing what they love best. And today, their sport lost a class act.

RIP, Dan Wheldon.

1 People talked back:

songbird's crazy world said...

I'm not a racing fan, but I can understand how this affected you. When you're a fan you feel as if you know the person, and that's why it's so upsetting when tragedy strikes.