A friendly wave, familiar smile and general frenzy of anticipation are the things I look forward to when at the track. As a mere interloper, I am the one who watches from afar and is treated to small glimpses of life as a member of a racing team. Still, in those periodic instances I am welcomed in as one of the family. We share in our passion for this sport in all of its aspects.
It is said often enough, “The NASCAR Family.” You can change NASCAR with whatever series you might haunt, including IndyCar. Maybe “the racing family” might do when all is said and done. We — the drivers, teams, crew chiefs, owners, media, track staff and fans — are family. Every week we stand and say a prayer for a safe race, sing our National Anthem and raise our heads to watch the flyover. There are cheers, boos and moments of frustration. And then… there are tears.
Dan Wheldon’s death at Las Vegas on Sunday brought those tears this time.
Whether we stood on pit road, in the stands or watched on television as the field paraded for five laps to salute a fallen driver, we not only shared the moment but also the grief. Families do this.
We take the time to think on the one that has been ripped away too soon, too sudden. We remember his smiles, victories, his young family – Susie, Oliver and Sebastian – and know that we will miss his presence. And then we race.
That is perhaps the most bitter part of Wheldon’s death. The IndyCar community does not have the opportunity to carry on this year. With Las Vegas being the final race on the docket for the 2011 season, the fiery crash brought a too abrupt end to many things. The drivers agreed not to finish the event, and no blame can be placed upon competitors who had just lost a close friend.
Then on Monday, it was announced that the season’s awards ceremony had also been canceled. Nobody wants to party. I certainly have no taste for it at this time. But besides the inevitable obituaries, memorial services and remembrances, grief will eat at this community until they meet again in the garages.
The racing family will disperse to the ends of the world, grieving and unable to face one another again on the field of competition in the near future. No opportunity remains in 2011 to climb in a cockpit, start an engine and take the green flag. Why would anyone want to?
Because we are racers. The need to chase, to fly, to soar above — beyond the touch of mere mortals — beats in our veins. It is where Wheldon lived, loved and yes, died. Should everyone just walk away, we lose touch with that part that changes our lives, and changed his, from the mundane to the extraordinary. It’s a reassurance to return to that which brings all of us joy week after week.
It’s where we go to know that our lives will go on. Maybe with a commitment to change, to make sure that the loss of one so young and talented is not in vain. Wheldon’s vacant spot on the starting grid will sting, but we will remember. His passion. His love. His part in our now diminished lives. We will grow stronger as we join together and work through the worst of times, as this surely is.
Perhaps the chance will not be afforded us this year to bid farewell in truth, after the initial tears and shock have passed. But we can still say in our hearts what we feel and together that sentiment will be heard at the track and up above. It will help to bridge the gap until we meet again on the asphalt.
I call upon every member of the racing family to join hands, picture sunny blue skies over head and recall the sounds of those engines turning over for the first time on raceday. The stands are full. The day is full of promise. There will be a race. There will be a victor, as there has been before and will be again. It will be a great day.
Dan Wheldon’s death did not take that away, it made the wonder of the moment more precious. We are fortunate to have spent time on this earth with him and will never forget.
Rest In Peace, Dan Wheldon. May there always be a green flag flying. And thank you for sharing your joy with us.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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