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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: An Open Letter to the Unsung Heroes of Racing

To the emergency workers and officials at California Speedway:

I don’t envy your jobs. You (and hundreds like you at tracks big and small, across the country and back) work in anonymity, but you have an awesome responsibility placed on your shoulders. You don’t know, when you get to that next car, what you are going to find, and you go anyway.

Many times emergency crews are criticized for their slow response time to an on-track incident. On Sunday, in a business where seconds count, too slow can be the space of one heartbeat, but you didn’t wait even that long.

I think my heart almost stopped when Casey Mears, car listing sideways on its door, became momentarily trapped when the car of Sam Hornish Jr. burst into flames just inches away from his window. It was a terrible eternity to a race fan, not being able to see if Mears was moving in his car or not.

But it was not the eternity it could have been, because you were there with fire extinguishers and an array of tools and equipment that I know better than to hazard a guess as to its identity. One of you was already tending to Mears before the flames were extinguished… a selfless act that not enough people these days might have undertaken.

More of you raced to put the flames out, and because of your quick response, a potential tragedy was averted. Both drivers walked away unscathed. It’s scary to think what another 10 seconds might have changed. Still more went to the aid of Hornish, making sure he was tended to on his mandatory trip to the care center, while even more went to Mears’s car, to make sure he could get out, prepared to do whatever was necessary to help him get out safely.

Many of you, and those like you at racetracks all around the back roads of this country, give up your own free time to work the tracks. You work long hours and the recognition you get, if any, is often brief.

I can’t imagine what it must be like, approaching a crashed racecar and not knowing what you might see. Do you think of your own children, friends, or families when you look in that window and see a driver safe and sound? Does the face of the one you couldn’t save hover in the periphery of your life?

As race fans and media, we look at the drivers in those cars as heroes, men and women to be revered. Our children want to be them someday, our adult selves wish we could go back and find out if we could have made it ourselves. They are applauded and looked upon as celebrities as you hover in anonymity on the sidelines. Be assured that on days like Sunday, we are reminded who the real heroes are. The real heroes don’t drive the racecars.

The real heroes make sure we can see our heroes race again.

Thank you. For all that you do at the track on race weekends and on the streets the rest of the year, thank you.

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