Archive for the ‘IndyCar’ Category

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.


It is with sadness that I record the death of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon, who passed away today from injuries sustained in the IndyCar World Championship, the final race of this year’s IndyCar Series.

A racing driver chooses their life on the tacit understanding that it takes only one moment to bring their journey to an end.  Dan Wheldon’s had seen him match wits with Jenson Button in the British junior formulae, moving to America when he and his family were unable to raise the funds needed to continue racing at home.  Rising through the ranks of US open-wheel racing, Dan was IndyCar Series rookie of the year in 2003 and series runner-up the following year, claiming the title and a win at the Indianapolis 500 in 2005.  A second title would elude the Englishman, but the 500 fell to him again this year in dramatic fashion.  In a one-off drive during a year spent developing and testing the new IndyCar chassis for 2012, the only lap he led all day was the final lap of the race.

When Wheldon was announced as the driver for a special one-off promotion, in which a $5 million prize pot would be split equally between the driver and a prize draw entrant if a driver without a regular ride could start last in Las Vegas and come through to win, the racing world stood to attention.  With Dan at the wheel, the impossible became an outside shot.

In the first 10 laps of the race, he’d climbed 10 spots from his 34th starting slot.  On lap 11, in a multi-car accident not of his making, his journey reached a tragically premature end.  There’s nothing to be gained by speculating on what might have happened next, both today and in the coming seasons, but it’s beyond doubt that the loss of such a fine driver and fundamentally decent man will be keenly felt.  For my part, as a long-distant fan who was never fortunate enough to meet him, I can tell you only that I hadn’t cried watching a motor race for 17 years.

Daniel Wheldon leaves a wife, Susie, and two young sons, Sebastian and Oliver.  To them, his family and his friends, I offer my sincere condolences.

Time for another reminder that this sport of ours will always be inherently dangerous.

We’re on-board with the Penske entry driven by Helio Castroneves in the warm-up for Sunday’s Baltimore Grand Prix IndyCar race.  In a moment, we’ll be meeting another Brazilian driver, KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan.  Don’t look too hard, as by means of a total brake failure, TK’s going to handle the introductions for you:

Instead of seeking out the mechanic responsible for those duff anchors and seeking swift, brutal vengeance, as you or I might have done, Kanaan helped his team assemble a new car for that afternoon’s race.  That done, he then drove it through the field to a magnificent 3rd place.

They’re a different breed, these men.