End of Season Struggle

I struggled to write an article this week. I still haven’t pinpointed exactly why – maybe it’s the fact that writing my last article about the 2013 IndyCar season truly solidifies that it is indeed over, maybe it’s because I can’t lie and say that it turned out the way that I, as a fan, wanted it to, or maybe I’m just having that age-old problem of writer’s block. Either way, I sit here on an October morning in Cleveland… snow outside my window, hot chocolate on the table to my side and a fireplace burning across the room… still unsure of where this is about to go. I have a feeling it won’t be as lengthy as my usual contributions, but hey, if you’re as curious as I am… join me and keep on reading…

This past Saturday was interesting to say the least – watching the field race on an oval for the first time since June 23rd in Iowa (unless you count Pocono in July) was a nice change of pace and gave great opportunities for passing & running 3-wide, which is always a thrill. However with 25 cars starting the race & only 9 finishing, one has to look at that and perhaps be a bit more understanding as to why street circuits and road courses are the dominate tracks in the IndyCar circuit right now and in the foreseeable future. I’m going to address all that in a later column, however, so I digress for now.

Thankfully the accidents that did occur, knocking nearly half the field (11 cars) out of competition, did not yield any horrifying results – I think it’s fair to say that the general fan consensus is that none of us are all that fond of October racing in IndyCar – too many bad things have happened in this month over the years from injuries to deaths and we all watch now with clenched teeth, nervous minds & bitten fingernails.

Sadly, Saturday did not leave the field entirely unscathed, as Justin Wilson received three pelvic fractures on lap 111 of the MAVTV 500 in Fontana, when his car was involved in a wreck with Tristan Vautier, Josef Newgarden, Oriol Servia and James Jakes. The other drivers were evaluated and released from the medical center on the track while Justin was transported to a nearby hospital and released earlier this week to his home in Colorado to begin rehabilitation. Based on what has been made public, it sounds like his injuries denote a long road to recovery so I wish him the best and hope to see him back in the driver’s seat come March.

The biggest story of the Fontana Finale was definitely the Championship – Scott Dixon went home with his third IndyCar Championship, landing 26 points ahead of Helio Castroneves by race end. Helio, who dominated the points the majority of the 2013 season and seemed nearly infallible until Houston, completing every lap in the circuit up until that point, found himself in second place… close enough to smell the sweetness of ultimate victory but having it slip just out of reach. I hope to see him come back next season with the same passion and drive as always, in search of that elusive Championship and lovely Astor Cup.

The other interesting ending to the race was that Will Power found himself atop the podium after having his last few seasons end with DNF’s. Even though he was not in contention for the Championship this time around, he was visibly emotional and proud to finally have finished that last race of the season AND to do so at the front of the field. I’ve never been a big Will Power fan, but the happiness and relief he exuded as he jumped out of his car in victory at Fontana was refreshing and contagious. It was good to see the light-hearted side to him, as opposed to the usual brooding & serious demeanor.

Saturday’s finale at Auto Club Speedway in California was the perfect definition of this season. Extreme highs and extreme lows gave us a true rollercoaster of emotion and results. We watched one of IndyCar’s biggest names and best drivers, Scott Dixon, clinch another Championship, ending the season with the consistency he has become known for while also keeping our eye on “the new kid on the block”, Carlos Munoz, who showed that he is definitely ready to race with the big boys – making all of us take note of his strategic maneuverability, his confident control of the DW12 and his obvious determination to make a name for himself in this racing series.

I think that’s one thing I will indelibly love about racing and sports in general – you get to see these seasoned veterans absolutely thriving in their field of expertise, doing what they love and doing it so well that we admire their talent more than we can express sometimes, and in the same breath we go on this journey each season with the rookies as they find their footing, surprising us with their ability to contend and their desire to win. Seeing someone’s dreams come to fruition is one of the coolest things, I think, that racing fans get to enjoy. We may not be the ones operating those incredible machines, but our enthusiasm for IndyCar and our adoration for these drivers is just as strong as the feelings that the driver’s themselves have when they stand on that podium, looking out at all of us, cheering and laughing in celebration of victory and in celebration of this sport we all live & love so dearly.