It’s like sitting on a Denver freeway in December in the middle of multi-car collision: you just sit waiting for the next hit to come. There have been numerous harrowing crashes in major motorsports in recent years, with numerous drivers walking away as we all held our collective breaths waiting for the driver to emerge. The moment never came for defending Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Not Wheldon! The guy has a wife and two young sons who will one day scarcely remember him, if it all. It doesn’t seem right. Wheldon was all set to return to a fulltime ride in 2012, and was beloved by many. He’d experienced the best of times, and the worst of times, it things were looking up again, though he maintained a smile through it all. Hollywood endings don’t read like this, but we have seen this ending more times than we like.
May we not forget that regardless of whether or not we love or loathe a particular driver, he or she is someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s husband, brother, wife or sister. May we not be so quick or so rash in wishing ill will upon a rival. There’s no “next week” after you’re gone. Death is permanent.
Don’t get me wrong, like many of you, I have flashed that knowing, devilish grin after a driver I didn’t like wrecked out. Like 99-percent of you, I never wished death upon a driver, nor even pain for that matter, but you can rest assured that, for this fan, I will be more circumspect in the future. It’s a race, for Pete’s sake!
We can argue all the live long day about IRL staging race at Las Vegas, safety measures for Indy cars, the racers involved, and the concerns the participants had going in to the 2011 season finale. The cold, hard reality is that Dan Wheldon is gone, and before the green flag waved, he knew the risks involved and chose to climb into that car Sunday, and nothing will bring him back.
I remember the words of the Pettys after they lost Adam over a decade ago. There are those moments when you just hate racing. On the other hand, like those who had gone before, heck even Wheldon’s dad Clive said so, Danny was born to race. Instead of going out with tubes attached to him, the young man went out doing what he loved. The ones I feel for most in this moment is his family.
It’s a harsh reality, the risks in racing. Fans see career ending injuries in other sports, but their favorites live to share memories, and enjoy adulation beyond their playing days. In racing, it doesn’t always play out that way, and today we’re reminded of that as Dan Wheldon goes the way of Paul Dana, Kenny Irwin Jr., Tiny Lund, Scott Brayton, Fireball Roberts, Art Pollard, Dale Earnhardt, and so many more.
In recent years, NASCAR has been fortunate to see Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Elliott Sadler ,Brad Keselowski- among others- walk away from collisions that may have come out worse in another day and time. Let us hope we never see another racing fatality, but let us not forget that the danger is always out there, and to that end, may we never regard life cheaply, and may we respect and appreciate those who put on a high speed show for us each and every week.
R.I.P. Dan Wheldon. You will be missed.
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