When I started IndySoup shortly before the 2011 season, I had hoped to run a blog with parody videos, snarky comments and photoshop fakes to make fun of the IndyCar drivers, teams, races, series – and myself – not as a form of ridicule, but to literally “make fun” with the only sport I follow. Now, four years and 2 tragic driver deaths later, I’m finding it harder and harder to parody a series that has become so serious, filled with in-fighting, poor leadership, safety concerns and an often vitriolic ‘fan base’ that has become as divided as it has dwindled. Although I will never give up on a series that I have been following regularly for almost 40 years, these are trying times to be a fan.
Now, after the loss of much beloved Justin Wilson, I wonder if I can go back to poking fun at these drivers and teams. At this point, I’m just glad we still have an IndyCar series, that it’s still on TV, and that races are still being run. I rarely cheer on a particular driver or even concern myself with the championship, instead, I just hope that everyone finishes the races safely. At Fontana this year, I didn’t find it exciting at all. After witnessing Mikhail Aleshin’s horror crash the year before and Justin Wilson’s accident the year before that, I was relieved it was finally over and no one was seriously injured. My race highlight for that day was going back into the garage area and seeing Ryan Briscoe alive, standing and smiling.
The loss of Dan Wheldon in 2011 was an accident that many of us thought was preventable and unnecessary. Pack racing is for Stock Cars and not what IndyCars were designed to do. However, with the sheer amount of cars involved in that terrifying crash, it was a miracle that none of the other drivers were killed or seriously injured as well. For those of us at the track that day, it was perhaps the moment when the ‘IndyCar Family’ came together in a way none of us could have imagined. The tears and hugs, the lost looks of anguish and utter disbelief, and the solidarity of fans, drivers and teams were shared by all – individual pains attended to by a collective compassion that transcended the tragedy.
Justin Wilson’s fatal accident was almost the opposite of Dan’s: one crashing car, one piece of debris and a single impact to the driver. Dan’s crash seemed inevitable; Justin’s seems impossible. But either way, the loss is the same. We, as fans, have lost another driver; their families have lost a son, a brother, a husband and a father. With Wheldon, we had the hope of a newer, safer car that he helped develop to take us into the next season. With Wilson, we end this season not so much with the crowning of a new champion this Sunday, but with the loss of champion and all of us at a loss as to what the future holds.
I’m sure Justin, Dan or any other driver would not want their death to be the reason why the IndyCar series should perish, nor that the fans would lose their enthusiasm and love for this one-of-a-kind sport. We, as fans need to do all we can do to support the survival of IndyCar, even if we do not approve of the decisions made by race control, even if we despise Tony George or the Boston Consulting Group, even if we can’t stand each other sometimes. Many critics have foreseen doom for the series, “if this happens” of “if this doesn’t happen,” and so on, but the only thing that can bring the whole thing down is if the series loses the fans. You, me, us…the fans.
IndyCar is at a crossroads and I offer no solutions for the safety of the car, the attendance at the tracks or the ratings on TV. The solution lies with us – the fans – to determine the future of IndyCar. Every driver and team owner, every mechanic and PR specialist, and every radio and TV broadcaster are first, and foremost, IndyCar fans, or they wouldn’t be involved. As I driver who I had seen win many times in CART, I was never really a fan of Michael Andretti; I thought he was arrogant and took his name and position in the series for granted. But in recent years, Michael has done so much to promote races and preserve the series, and to provide talented drivers such as Simona and Justin Wilson with well deserved rides, even when the only ‘sponsor’ on the car and funding came from his own Andretti Autosport. Michael may be perhaps the biggest IndyCar fan at the track each week, as no one has done as much as he has for the series since reunification. And for that, I have become a huge Michael Andretti fan, and I will listen to what he has to say in the upcoming days and weeks ahead.
In the wake of 9/11, then New York mayor Rudy Giuliani asked everyone to see a Broadway show, visit Times Square and do all the things tourists can do to support the wounded city. I am mayor of nothing, but I’m asking IndyCar fans to support the upcoming race in Sonoma, to buy a Badass Wilson t-shirt, and to donate to JW’s family fund. Even more than that, to continue to enjoy the IndyCar series – warts and all – and to keep the faith, love the family and have all the FUN that we as IndyCar fans are supposed to have…even, and especially, in difficult times as these.
So for my part, I will remember why I love IndyCar and try to once again make funny comments about this crazy sport and all the crazies that are as passionate about it as I am. I will do my best to get myself and my girlfriend who was with me in Vegas up to Sonoma this weekend and do my damnedest to find something funny and to share a laugh along with the tears with my IndyCar family. In times of tragedy, it has often been said that it’s too soon for a laugh, but for me, especially in tragedy, it’s never too soon. I will leave you with a couple pot-shots I took at Justin: one from 2011, another from 2012 and one from Long Beach.
Race in Peace, JW.