Why it’s worth it

Posted: October 20, 2011 in IndyCar

For a couple of days now, I’ve been mulling over exactly how best to express what goes through a racing fan’s mind when our worst fears are played out before our eyes.  It so happens that a friend of mine has taken on that same task and done a very fine job, so allow me to direct you there for a moment:


PK makes the point that racing is an incredible metaphor for life.  To his reasoning, I’d like to add an additional point: sometimes in life, the very worst things that happen come about through no fault of your own.

So it was this past Sunday.  Dan Wheldon’s only crime, after all, was to be on the same racetrack as someone else’s accident.  There was nothing fair or just about that, just as there was little he could reasonably have done to change the outcome.

We all encounter unfairness in our day-to-day lives, often in ways we’re powerless to influence.  The only difference, really, is the consequence.  In our sphere, our microcosm of the world at large, everything is faced at 200 miles per hour.  The speed, the thrill and the inherent danger fill our highs with an extra shot of adrenalin, but our fix can’t be obtained without the payback of awful, destructive lows.  Is it really worthwhile?

My answer now is the same one I’d have given had you asked me 3 years ago, as Lewis Hamilton snatched a Formula 1 world championship on the last corner of the last lap.  It’s the answer I’d have given you in July, trying and failing to keep the Auto GP grid in sight by running along Donington Park’s home straight as they hurtled into Redgate for the first time.  Everyone involved in motor sport is a willing participant, all of us aware that our world could change at any moment but intoxicated by the sights, the sounds, the smells, the sensory overload.  I can’t hear a race-tuned V12 without grinning, in much the same way that I do when I see a driver in a full-blown powerslide – this video has both.  The drivers are just like me, only blessed with the opportunity to live their dreams and the talent to make the most of it.

However we choose to express it – through rallying in a forest, racing a single-seater on a closed course, riding a motorbike on the roads of Northern Ireland or watching those whose gifts are greater than our own – we’re all folk sharing a genuine passion.  Sometimes a passion bites back at you.  Sometimes, as it did last weekend, it simply breaks your heart.  In time, though, you appreciate that racing, like life itself, comes with its own set of lows, valleys and deep sorrows.  Ultimately, you learn to overcome them and get back to what life is all about; finding something you care about, letting it take you wherever it wishes and savouring the joys you encounter along the way, not knowing when it might come to an end.

Dan Wheldon did exactly that, and if 33 years was far too short a life, there’s the consolation of knowing that it was a life packed with success and achievement in an activity he genuinely loved, bringing a happiness shared with millions around the world.  Few writers have documented that on the way, Dan raced through tragedy himself, wrestling with his own emotions after the losses of his IndyCar colleagues Tony Renna and Paul Dana.  Each time, he reached the conclusion that the highs brought him enough joy to make the in-built risks worth taking.

I still agree with him.


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