It’s incredible how much one can mourn the loss of someone who I have never met.
This afternoon, Dan Wheldon, a 33-year-old Indy Car driver died.
And I’ve cried. And I’m angry. I’m actively grieving the loss that my favorite sport, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, suffered today.
It was the IndyCar series finale. We were supposed to be celebrating – a championship, a rookie of the year, Danica’s last race, and the likelihood that Dan Wheldon, a non-series regular this year, was going to win $5 million dollars after winning the race from the back.
My introduction to motorsports started following a very similar situation. I started watching the Daytona 500 20 minutes before Dale Earnhardt died. It was also a day of celebration – the start of a new season, a new TV contract, and the year’s biggest race.
Today, watching Dan’s wreck, I flashed back to those moments.
The tarp, the broken faces, the choked-up announcers. It all felt so familiar. But I had hope. I refused to believe anything but that Dan had survived.
As more and more broken faces appear, I lost hope. Slowly. Danica Patrick being shielded by her PR person and husband as she broke down and cried started making it sink in.
And then, after a meeting with the drivers, they showed Tony Kannan. I knew TK as a friend of Dan’s. I remember being so angry with him years ago when a lost bet between the two resulted in TK shaving Dan’s head. (I was young and had a huge crush.) And TK, the garage joker, was crying. Openly.
And I knew I couldn’t make believe any more.
Dan Wheldon, this funny, talented, adorable British IndyCar driver – two-time Indy 500 champion and Indy Racing League champion was gone. Just 5 months ago, we watched him win the Indy 500, celebrating with his wife and two very young boys.
I’m so angry. Dan had so much talent. He was a great driver. He was an EXCEPTIONAL driver and person. He was young and had a family. But these wrecks do not discriminate. They take the best and they take the worst. Death takes the good people among us, and the bad.
It’s not fair. Dan had years left of racing, and commentating, and raising his boys- two and seven months.
The past decade has made us forget how dangerous this sport can be.
We see the bad wrecks, but thanks to HANS devices and safer walls and all of the other safety innovations over the years, we’ve grown accustomed to our drivers walking away.
NASCAR hasn’t seen a death in competition since Dale Earnhardt in 2001.
Indy Car’s last loss occurred 5 years ago, when Paul Dana died in an early-morning practice before the season opener.
We’ve been lulled into a false-sense of security. Last night, Jimmie Johnson was involved in a violent wreck that probably ended his chances of winning his sixth concecutive NASCAR championship. And the crowd cheered.
We may not be in the dark days of racing when drivers were often injured or died following wrecks.
But the fact of the matter is, the cars still go 200 miles an hour. And race inches from each other. A wrong angle changes everything. Unless physics change, this sport will always be dangerous.
Cheering a wreck could mean that you’re cheering the ending of a life. Which is why the rare “fan” who says they watch for the wrecks sicken me.
When I started watching IndyCar, I cheered for two drivers.
One, Sam Hornish Jr., has since moved on to NASCAR.
The other, Dan Wheldon, died today.
It’s still unbelievable to me, eight hours after it all happened.
It may take until next season for it to really sink in.
Goodbye, Dan. Rest in peace.
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling/From glen to glen, and down the mountain side/The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling/’Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide./But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow/Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow/’Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow/Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.