I drove home from VIR feeling like we had made progress from the last round at Road America, but still had a lot of work to do to catch the Porsches. After an intensely hot race, I was looking forward to getting home, ordering some takeout and watching the F1 and IndyCar races that I had recorded on my DVR.
I called my dad on the way home, which can be risky if I don’t want to know the results of a race until watching it tape-delayed. He asked if I had watched IndyCar yet, and I immediately snapped that I didn’t want to know anything about it until I could see it on TV. He knew better though, and told me that Justin Wilson had been airlifted from the track after being struck in the head by a nose cone at speed. The past few years have been a reminder that despite hugely advanced safety measures, we are still taking part in a dangerous sport. However, this is the first driver lost whom I actually knew and interacted with.
I wouldn’t claim to be close friends with Justin as we never saw each other outside of the racetrack, but I would always chat with him whenever we were in the same paddock. Although he had earned the nickname “BadAss Wilson,” you would never know it by talking to him.
I remember watching F1 in the middle of the night when I was little (since DVR’s weren’t a thing yet) and being amazed that some driver had pushed himself to his breaking point trying to bring the car home with no power steering. After meeting Justin Wilson years later, I was even more struck that the same guy who could push himself that hard mentally was possibly the most unassuming and least entitled person in the paddock.
Although a loss like this can make people wonder what drives us to compete in a sport that can have such devastating consequences, I don’t think any of us ever question whether we’ll be back at the next event following a catastrophe like this. I’ve sometimes wondered why that is, but just yesterday I clicked on Justin’s twitter page and noticed his profile description; “…I love going fast and competing. Technology and adrenaline make me tick.” If adrenaline is what makes us tick, then that’s all we need to keep going. So with that, I’m focusing forward on our next event. We’ve made progress but still could not match the pace of the Porsches at VIR.
It was an interesting race for Lucas and I, but not because we were involved in any battles. Instead, we ran flat-out with the plan to make an extra stop during the race while our teammates ran the conservative strategy to make only two stops. At the end of the day, we were only slightly ahead of the white car after running an alternate strategy, but it did not let us break into the top three. However, after making some progress I am optimistic that we will only continue the trend and close the gap. I’m looking forward to standing back on the podium at COTA.