Friday, August 28, 2015

Godspeed, Justin Wilson

IndyCar driver Justin Wilson. Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs
These are the hardest pieces to write. Unfortunately, this is the second one I’ve posted this year.

Monday night, the racing world lost a kind and genuine man, Justin Wilson. During the Verizon IndyCar Series event at Pocono Raceway, a piece of debris hit Wilson’s helmet and knocked him unconscious. He succumbed to his injuries the next day. He was 37 years old and survived by his wife and two daughters.

Everyone will tell you that Justin was a sweet man. They are all right. If you were meeting him for the first time, he’d smile and talk to you like a lifelong friend. He was always happy, always content, even when he was out of a ride. No matter the circumstance, he made the most of it. His part-time stint this season was no exception; the opportunity to race for Andretti Autosport on a limited schedule was a blessing, and he treated it as such. He raced his heart out every weekend, his highest finish being second at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

As many of you know, Mid-Ohio is my home track, and that’s where I met Justin. My first IndyCar and media experience was in July 2012. Justin’s PR contacted me about doing a piece on his helmet design contest. Dyslexic children submitted their designs and the winner’s drawing appeared on his helmet. After Mid-Ohio, he planned on auctioning it off and donating money to a dyslexia foundation.

I had to cram for the interview. Being new to on-site reporting and IndyCar, and I didn’t want to sound like an idiot. It was also my first sit-down interview. With nothing written down, we sat and talked and in an instant, I felt relaxed. We chatted about the helmet contest, the one-year anniversary of breaking his back, and his brother in the Indy Lights Series. When the conversation ended, we shook hands.

I thanked him for going easy on me. He smiled and told me I did great.

I never wrote that interview, and can’t remember why, but I always regretted it. I regret it even more now that he’s gone.

This is the most difficult side of racing, yet it brings the entire racing community together. These are the times when these racers amaze me. When the unfathomable comes to life, it’s hard to think about continuing on and racing again. Although that does enter the minds of drivers, wives and fans, competing is the best way to honor their brother.

There's no doubt in my mind that Justin would want his friends to finish out the IndyCar season as planned. That’s exactly what they’re doing.

Many will talk about safety and what needs to be done, and I agree that reform is quite necessary. However, I can’t get past how sudden everything happened. Here and gone in a matter of one day. Things like this remind me to live life to the fullest. That’s what Justin did.

Godspeed, Justin. We miss you already.

If you would like to help the Wilson family, please send donations to:

Wilson Children’s Fund
c/o Forum Credit Union
P.O. Box 50738
Indianapolis, IN 46250-0738

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