by Frank Santoroski @seveng1967
Most days, I love being the IndyCar correspondent at Drafting the Circuits, and it’s incredibly easy to write on and on about a number of race-related topics because I love this sport so much, and I’ve been around it as long as I can remember.
On days like today, I find it significantly harder to compose my thoughts into words.
With that love of the sport comes an appreciation for, and attachments to, those that compete in motorsports. It’s never easy to say goodbye to one of our own, and it saddens me to the core to report the news that Justin Wilson has passed away following a freak accident at Pocono Raceway.
Wilson was struck in the helmet by a rather large piece of debris while traveling at speed. The debris was actually the nosecone of Sage Karam’s car that was flung through the air as Karam collided with the turn one wall.
Odd incidents like this one make me wonder if life has a design, or if we are all just victims of random occurrences. Certainly this will heighten the debate of speeds and safety, and lend credence to the argument for closed cockpit racing cars. I’ll write about that on a another day.
Today, I’d like to remember Justin Wilson, race car driver, husband and father
I have had several opportunities to meet with Justin Wilson over the years, and certain things always pop into my head when I think about Justin Wilson. First and foremost he was incredibly soft spoken and kind. Just a true gentleman, who was often quick with a smile.
And that voice. The Sheffield accent with a slight lisp that would become more pronounced when he was excited. Very distinctive and delightfully charming, an interview with Wilson always put a smile on my face.
The other thing about Justin is that he is tall. I often tell people that Indycar drivers look much smaller in person, except for Justin Wilson. His pleasant demeanor, combined with his 6’4″ frame earned him the nickname, The Gentle Giant.
Off the track, Wilson took up the cause for dyslexia. As a child, he overcame this learning disorder and made his racing dreams come true.
Of course, it was Wilson’s performance behind the wheel that I think of most. A product of European single-seater racing, Wilson landed a ride in Formula One with the Minardi team in 2003. When the economics of the sport forced him to look elsewhere for a ride, Wilson joined the Champ Car World Series in 2004.
He took four race wins for the RuSport Team before moving to Newman-Haas when CCWS merged with Indycar in 2008.
In 2009, Wilson was able to give the Dale Coyne team its first win in 24 years of trying. The victory at Watkins Glen against the likes of the Penske, Ganassi and Andretti cars was a true David vs. Goliath battle that was a testament to Wilson’s skill as a wheelman.
However, it was Wilson’s 2012 win at the Texas Motor Speedway that impressed me the most. Seen as primarily a road course specialist, the 1.5 mile high-banked NASCAR style oval was about the last place anyone would have expected Wilson to squeeze another win out of the Coyne car. And yet, he pulled it off in brilliant fashion.
Wilson left the Coyne team in 2014 with the hopes of signing onto the Andretti AutoSport team full-time in 2015. When the funding didn’t materialize in the off season, he found him on the outside looking in as the season opened. A deal was arranged that put him in an Andretti car for Indianapolis that ended with less than stellar results.
By mid-season, Michael Andretti decided that he needed a driver of Justin’s caliber to help his struggling team move forward. Andretti essentially funded a fourth car out of his own pocket to keep Wilson on the team for the final five races of the season.
Wilson responded by delivering the team a podium finish at Mid-Ohio. Things were certainly looking up for Justin Wilson.
And now this.
It all seems so unfair, random and senseless. All of my thoughts are with his family and friends.
Justin Wilson was 37 years old at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife, Julia and two daughters. A fund has been established for Wilson’s children.
Donations may be sent to: Wilson Children’s Fund, c/o INDYCAR, 4551 W. 16th St., Indianapolis, IN 46222.
Justin Wilson was one of the good guys, he truly was. He will be dearly missed.