Remembering Wilson, a competitor and class act

This is one of those times I would rather be writing about something else. It’s the part of racing I hate, having to say goodbye. Justin Wilson was a fierce competitor in whatever form of motorsports he participated, but most of all he was a truly nice guy. The freak accident at Pocono last Sunday that caused his death will, I hope, encourage IndyCar to revisit the idea of a closed-cockpit car, or at least some kind of protection from intrusion by debris. James Hinchcliffe had a similar incident last season, fortunately with less dire results. And Felipe Massa’s career was nearly ended a few years back by a spring from another car hitting his helmet. It’s sad it takes a driver’s death to impel sanctioning bodies take measures to protect the competitors. NASCAR resisted safety measures until Dale Earnhardt’s Daytona accident. To its credit, the stock car sanctioning body has drastically improved in that regard in the last decade.

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Justin Wilson was regarded by his fellow competitors as one of the best drivers in the series. He had never been in contention for a championship, largely because he had never had the best equipment. Nevertheless, he scored seven IndyCar wins in his career, including the first victory for perennial underdog Dale Coyne Racing. He also competed in Formula 1, and in 2003 his Jaguar out-qualified Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari in Australia. He also won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2012 driving for Mike Shank Racing. He started the 2015 season without a ride, but hooked up with Andretti Autosport mid-year and had finished second at Mid-Ohio prior to the ill-fated Pocono race.

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I was greatly moved by a statement on Wilson’s passing from F1 and sometime IndyCar on-air analyst Steve Matchett, who said, “The brave and the fearless accept the risks of what they do because for them Life is Challenge. Their great courage teaches us to be strong.” Wilson, an organ donor, reportedly saved six lives with his organs. And several IndyCar drivers paid tribute to Wilson by driving their race cars across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco and appearing at a Giants game wearing jerseys bearing his number, 25. Oriol Servia will drive the No. 25 car in Sunday’s race.

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Justin leaves behind his brother Stefan, his wife, and two young children. A fund has been set up for his children at the Forum Credit Union in Indianapolis. Tribute t-shirts and decals featuring his helmet and the hashtag #BADASSWILSON will also be available at Sonoma this weekend and online at http://shop.ims.com/indycar/drivers/justinwilson. All proceeds will go to the Wilson Children’s Fund.

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Ryan Hunter-Reay held a subdued celebration in victory lane at Pocono, with Wilson’s condition on everyone’s mind. Hunter-Reay, despite his two wins, has been mathematically eliminated from the championship, and Graham Rahal took a big hit in the points after an even bigger hit from Tristan Vautier took him out of the race. Still, with double points on offer at Sonoma Sunday, six drivers still have a mathematical chance of taking the championship. They are: Montoya, 500; Rahal, 486; Dixon, 453; Power, 439; Castroneves, 423; and Josef Newgarden, 413. Of course, most of these are predicated on Montoya qualifying out of the fast six and finishing last.

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Locally Fernley 95A Speedway is back in action tonight with IMCA Modifieds, Pro Stocks, Street Stocks, Dwarf cars, Super Stock 4s, and Pure Stocks.

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup series has their final weekend off of the 2015 season, but the other two national series are headed north. The Xfinity cars are racing at Road America in Wisconsin today and the Camping World trucks take to the track at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Canada. The bye weekend for the Sprint Cup drivers give those trying to make the Chase just a little more time to worry. Darlington and Richmond are the only races left before the final decision on who’s in and who’s out. All 11 of the 2015 winners are locked in.

But there are still five Chase berths to be settled on points, unless we have new winners in the next two races. It’s going to get tense.

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