Since the Verizon IndyCar Series returned to Pocono Raceway in 2013, it’s been home to the famous hashtag, #WhatTurn4 – insinuating that this track, with its unique tri-oval shape doesn’t need things symmetrical to keep race fans intrigued, drivers on their toes and entertainment at a high. The tricky triangle, as its known to race fans throughout multiple series, produced a race today that was all of the above and then some. Unfortunately, it’s that extra “some” that led to another hashtag: #PrayersForJustin
Twenty laps remained in the last 500-mile race of the IndyCar season and the last superspeedway track before our finale, when a devastating accident occurred. Sage Karam, the hometown boy from Nazareth, PA was leading the field to what appeared to be his first career win, when he lost control and the car was sent hard into the Turn 1. Karam’s car slid down to the inside of the track. The trailing field maneuvered their way through the debris, but Justin Wilson caught a piece of debris from the No. 8 to his helmet. It appeared that he lost control of his Andretti Autosport Honda at this time, careening towards the bottom of the track and making hard contact with the SAFER Barrier before bouncing back into the apron and coming to a stop.
The Holmatro Safety Team was on the scene and at the side of both drivers within seconds. Karam was able to climb from his car after a few minutes and ended up being transported by ground to a local hospital for further evaluation of a foot injury. Wilson still remained in his No. 25 Honda, with numerous safety crew professionals tending to him.
According to Wilson’s teammate and the winner of this afternoon’s ABC Supply 500, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Wilson was unconscious and unresponsive when the Holmatro crew got to him and upon transport to the Lehigh Valley Health Network Cedar Crest Hospital in Allentown, Pa. Wilson was life-flighted to the hospital from Pocono Raceway. Approximately three hours after the incident, IndyCar released a statement confirming that Justin Wilson did sustain a severe head injury and was currently in a coma, listed in critical condition. He is undergoing further evaluation.
Wilson is one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to run into – in the paddock or in life. The genuine and good-hearted nature of this man is no secret to the racing world and the response to his accident solidified those feelings. The immediate out-pouring of love and support from fans, teams, media, the series, race tracks around the country, other professional drivers from within and outside the series (Tony Stewart even donated his personal plane to assist the Wilson family with transporting their family members to Justin’s side as quickly as possible), was amazing to see and further confirmed the reality of #racefamily within everyone. Rob Tiongson from The Podium Finish said it perfectly:
While we may all debate about which series produces the best racing, who has the greatest on-track product, who has the best season schedule and tracks, the best personalities and access, etc… when it comes down to it, were are all connected so tightly by this bond of racing. It’s a love for a sport that, truthfully, not many understand. Not really. Those of us that do… those of us that get it… moments like today stay with us. We never forget it. The pain never lessens and we appreciate the positive aspects of racing and the good weekends at the track that much more.
I mean heck, this is coming from a girl who started her own racing content website and named it, Live Full Throttle. It’s not because I think we should be reckless… it’s because I am acutely aware, in more ways than I care to get into right now, how absolutely precious life is and how quickly health and wellness can be stolen away from us. So we take the good with the bad, we live our lives fully – taking precautions and not carelessly putting ourselves in harm’s way, but approaching opportunities as educated as possible and as safely as possible; embracing whatever comes our way at that point and accepting that no level of preparation can guarantee us any one particular result.
We trust in ourselves, our families and in the case of these amazing individuals that get to call themselves racecar drivers, they trust in their teams, manufacturers, and series to keep them safe.
Racing is inherently dangerous and we can sit on social media and argue things point-by-point until our fingers bleed… but guess what, NO ONE is more aware of that danger than the men and women who opt to strap into those cockpits every week. So don’t second guess them, or the engineers that help keep them as safe as possible. The technology and advancements in track and car safety develops every day. IndyCar racing is the safest it has ever been… and I promise you that drive to keep making it better is happening. This is not something that sits idly. It is constantly evolving and growing.
Have faith and have patience.
Those are two things we all need to focus on doing right now – especially for Justin Wilson and his family.
Update at 8/24/15 at 9:14pm ET:
INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 24, 2015) – INDYCAR announced that driver Justin Wilson, who enjoyed success in multiple motorsports series during a two-decade professional career, died today from a head injury sustained in the Verizon IndyCar Series race Aug. 23 at Pocono Raceway. He was 37.
“This is a monumentally sad day for INDYCAR and the motorsports community as a whole,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Justin’s elite ability to drive a race car was matched by his unwavering kindness, character and humility – which is what made him one of the most respected members of the paddock. As we know, the racing industry is one big family, and our efforts moving forward will be focused on rallying around Justin’s family to ensure they get the support they need during this unbelievably difficult time.”
Wilson was struck by debris from a single-car crash on Lap 180 of the 200-lap race on the 2.5-mile triangular oval. Wilson was attended to by the Holmatro Safety Team and airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pa.
A native of Sheffield, England, Wilson recorded seven career Indy car victories – the most recent in 2012 at Texas Motor Speedway – and eight pole starts in 174 races. He totaled 711 career laps led, including two in the Aug. 23 race. He competed in Formula One in 2003 with Minardi and Jaguar, and his initial F1 points were scored that year in the U.S. Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He co-drove a Michael Shank Racing sports car entry to the overall victory in the 50th anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2012.
Wilson, a road cycling and mountain biking enthusiast, also was an ambassador for dyslexia, a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading that challenged him as a youth. He often would speak to groups at the racetrack and visit schools near INDYCAR race venues.
Wilson is survived by his wife, Julia, and two daughters. His younger brother Stefan is an accomplished race car driver who has competed in the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indy Lights. Funeral arrangements are pending. In lieu of flowers, a fund has been set up for Wilson children. Donations may be sent to: Wilson Children’s Fund, c/o INDYCAR, 4551 W. 16th St., Indianapolis, IN 46222.