Three years ago today, we lost Dan Wheldon.
There are a few moments in our lives where we remember exactly where we were when a significant event happened. For racing fans, these kinds of moments usually correspond with the loss of one of our own.
Where were you when we lost Dan?
Three years ago today, I was in an RV on I-95, crossing through Virginia. I was watching the 2011 IndyCar season finale on TV. The race was just a few laps old, but I was already captivated by the intense, Talladega-esque action.
We were just settling in when they decided to check on Dan Wheldon, who was rocketing up through the pack after starting last. He was hoping to collect $5,000,000 for winning the event, making just his third start of the season. A few months prior, he won the Indianapolis 500 in one of the most exciting finishes in the race's history.
As the commentators discussed his progress, I noticed smoke up ahead seconds before they do as well. "Right now, the position he's in, he's actually got a small advantage because everyone else has opened the air up right in front of hi -- Oh! Here we go!"
Chaos. Carnage. The unthinkable.
Cars were sent somersaulting into the air like a video game, landing on top of one another. Smoke, debris, fire everywhere. Half the grid was obliterated and as the remaining drivers went through the debris field, it looked like nothing short of a war zone. Soon after, I lost the TV signal, left to wonder the fate of the 15 racers involved.
Many were injured, a few walked away shaken but otherwise unscathed. As we now know, one driver was far from okay. I heard through a phone call first. Dan's gone. By the time I got the signal back, all I could see were grown men weeping, thousands of people who couldn't believe what was happening walking around aimlessly.
They did a five lap salute, and then they went home. In the years since Dan Wheldon's tragic death, as is always the case with motorsport, we've lost more racers.
There's the names that have been immortalized such as Allan Simonsen, Sean Edwards, Marco Simoncelli, and Jason Leffler. Sadly, there's dozens more whose names few will ever be able to recall
Now we pray for Jules
Today, we wait to see what fate has in store for rising Formula One star, Jules Bianchi. He lays unconscious in a Japanese hospital with a severe brain injury. Should we lose him, it will be the first driver fatality during an F1 race weekend in two decades, which will make it sting that much more.
There's still hope for Jules though, we haven't lost this one yet. The chances are slim, but a chance at all is more than many others have had following horrendous accidents. Today, we remember one fallen racer and pray that another escapes death.
An unwelcomed companion
Due to incredible safety improvements, death has become a stranger who rarely crosses racing's path instead of a frequent visitor whose presence is awaited with intense trepidation. We can never fully protect our drivers though, death will always be an unwelcomed companion of auto racing.
We can just bury the fallen with tears, embrace the ones who escape death’s firm and final grip with relief, and race on, because that’s what racers do.
Rest in peace Lion Heart, and Forza Jules.