Much will be written about this day in the coming hours, days, and weeks. I’ve been thinking about writing a piece something like this and I don’t think there’s a better time than now. If you’re not a racing fan, please read on… In the end, it’s not about racing.
Dan Wheldon, an amazingly talented driver, an incredible gentleman, a loving husband, and a proud father, was taken from the World today. In the hour or two following the accident, one could easily get a sense that the news was likely not good. Yet even when the inevitable came, the news that Dan had lost his life in a violent accident that seemed so preventable, the loss is immense.
I took the attitude for the two-hour wait between the accident and the news of preparation. How will this news affect my mood? Will I cry? What will people think when I explain a racing driver died and that’s the reason for something I display very little, in the end?
Yet the end result was still the same. I made it through the announcement, the drivers climbing into their cars, and even the first two of the parade laps to honor a fallen hero, a talent gone by the wayside. I started to lose it at the bagpipes. I then attempted a mass text to my marshaling friends, my track family, that this day was a tragedy for the entire racing fraternity and a reminder that everything that goes on is still dangerous.
I didn’t make it through the text. I simply could not do it.
I broke down and began to cry at the thought of the five or six people who would receive the text. Why? They’re not necessarily Dan’s best friend, few of them likely even knew him personally.
Ultimately, my three years marshaling and the thirteen years of boyhood enthusiasm that evolved into productive passion taught me one thing: racing is a fraternity. When one enters racing at one of the many levels racing offers involvement – as a fan, as an analyst, as a writer, as a volunteer, as an official, as an amateur driver, as a professional… No matter where, you inject yourself into a realm of reality reserved for people that have a level of passion unparalleled by the casual fan. Your level of passion as someone who cannot get enough is matched only by the drivers who insist on risking their lives week in and week out.
That level of passion, unmatched anywhere in sport, is the bond that holds the racing fraternity together. US Sports like football and baseball and sports more popular overseas such as soccer have been “reduced” to PR and money machines. While they still include elements of sport and athleticism, the will to win and the desire to succeed is becoming increasingly evident as being driven by money and fame.
Racing, at popularity levels below NASCAR, has little fame. It has very little money being circulated and the rewards for drivers outside of the major events in the public are slim. What, then, drives the desire for success? What drives someone past the obvious life-threatening dangers of such a sport and pushes him to the top of his game?
It’s the same thing that pushes marshals to the corner posts despite their insistence that they have lives outside the track, placing themselves in harm’s way for now pay. It’s the same thing that pushes journalists to their keyboards and microphones. It’s the same thing that pushes analysts to a spreadsheet or fans to their wallets and to uncomfortable bleachers. It is a level of passion that only one’s self can understand. It doesn’t make sense to anyone that isn’t you, and can’t be articulated.
It is a level of passion that in and of itself can bond people who have never met into a fraternity, a fraternity that can be so jarred by the loss of a brother yet is strong enough to stand in its own reality, a microcosm of the reality “everyone else” knows.
Because frankly, being a real racing fan isn’t about seeing “your driver” win or making sure that your fantasy picks are fulfilled. Being a real racing fan is about the love of sport, the desire to see a fair fight and a safe race. It’s about wanting to see everyone that goes out make it home safe so that at the end of the day the fraternity remains strong and complete and is ready to accept new brothers who have “seen the light” and to welcome them with open arms.
It is strange, isn’t it? New racing fans, new marshals, new reporters, and even new drivers often go unnoticed. Those that enter the fraternity rarely are given a second look. Yet somehow, when someone is lost from any realm of racing, from a passionate fan up to a world champion, it jars the fraternity into shock. Anyone may enter and anyone may leave… But when the harshness of the real world sets in and breaks the bond of a level of passion that cannot be articulated or broken by will, it hurts.
I was so bold as to ask a friend for a hug in all of this mess. Sadly the person was unable to oblige, but was nice enough to ask what was wrong. In trying to explain I hit a massive mental and emotional block. How do you explain that you spent in hour in tears over the loss of someone you have no actual friendship with? How can you justify that kind of reaction?
I stated a couple of times today that some days I feel incredibly blessed to be a racing fan, and other days I feel amazingly cursed. From the highest of highs during Bathurst last weekend to the loss of a driver whose love for his sport was beaten only by his love for his family, there are few things like this swing of emotions. Ultimately, though, one can only feel blessed and only be thankful for the ability to enjoy such a sport. For in the end, you get an appreciation for so much more in the real world – safety, security, freedom, passion – than most people ever could.
But Dan’s passing isn’t just about reminding us that racing is still dangerous.
It is a reminder that something that brings so much joy can still bring so much pain.
It is a reminder that people in your life can never, ever be taken for granted.
It is a reminder that you don’t ever have to do things alone. Someone will always be there with a hand on your shoulder.
It is a reminder that the more you love something, the more you give it, and that the more you give it, the more it gives you.
It is a reminder that life doesn’t last forever, and opportunity doesn’t sleep at your doorstep night in and night out.
It is a reminder that your world does not only exist around you, but exists with you.
It is a reminder that your life means something to more people than you will ever know, and to make that count.
But more than anything, it is a reminder that you cannot go through life without understanding just what it means to be passionate about something, or indeed about everything. You cannot move idly day-by-day, for though you remove yourself from the pains life mistreats you with, you never understand the joys you are blessed with. The more you love something, the more it will make you cry but the harder it will make you laugh and the broader it will make you smile.
Just a temporary bump in the road is all it is.
We’ll remember Dan Wheldon for the mother he shed tears for, his family and his children for whom he beamed with pride, his team, his coworkers, his friends, and his entire racing fraternity. But to Dan’s memory, I raise a glass. Thank you for sharing everything you had with us – your talent, your passion, your smile, your joys, and your tears. The world lost a hell of a guy today.
Rest in peace, buddy.
This was forwarded to me by my daughter Anna. It was written by a friend of hers – an SCCA Flagger named Brendan Kaczmarek (who some of you may know – he’s an ATC student at Embry Riddle and a CFR member). – LH