Bobby G. On the Soapbox

On the Soapbox: Justin Wilson’s Death


We’ve lost another very good race car driver, and from everything I can tell by the tributes from his fellow IndyCar drivers, a damned fine human being with the passing of Justin Wilson.

Let’ me be clear, I didn’t know Justin, I never even got to shake his hand or get an autograph, but I sure did always cheer him on.

Like many others, especially in IndyCar circles, I always felt that if he could just catch a break, he’d prove that he was a ‘shoe’ and would get the job done. I really became a fan when he had the Sonny’s BBQ sponsorship, (many of you know that I am ‘que aficionado and had first tasted Sonny’s sauce after ma n pa  brought a bottle back after ISMA ran at Volusia County back in the 90s), but I really cemented my appreciation for Justin when the Boy Scouts of a America was the main sponsor on the side of his car.

Being a former Boy Scout myself, I could see that Justin genuinely embraced and espoused not only the Boy Scout Oath but also the Boy Scout Motto. I liked that a lot and therefore, Justin became one of my favorite IndyCar drivers.

Justin Would Have Fit in a Supermodified

I think Justin would have been a good fit in supermodified racing. He always seemed to stand on it and wring the most out of anything he drove and that’s someone who I would have loved to see behind the wheel of the Ultimate Short Track Race Car.

I think that a good many of the IndyCar drivers are similar to our supermodified drivers. They are approachable, likable, easy to cheer for and harder to hate. Even those IndyCar drivers that some would think have less skill, sure have more talent hustling an open wheel open cockpit car at 220 mph than any of us would ever dream of having. I think that’s why losing one, especially in an incident like this, makes it harder on the entire community.

Justin’s death seems like it’s senseless to a lot of people. Many are already calling for closed cockpits. Again the cry has gone out that the cars have become too advanced for racing on high-speed ovals. The race should have been canceled. There’s too much down force making it too easy to drive some say. On and on and on and on it goes.

I say, “SHUT UP!” I mean come on, we just lost a really good guy and a damned fine race car driver! Can we at least wait until he’s buried to start screaming non-sense about stuff most of us haven’t got a clue about and is really just opinion?

Then while scrolling through my Twitter feed the day after he passed away, I came across something that says I’m not the only one feeling this way-

Dealing with Death in Racing

You all know how much I believe that we as supermodified fans have a real connection to IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We have a page dedicated to those drivers that raced both. As supermodified fans, I think we should be more irate that the track in upstate New York that calls itself “The Indy of the East” has said nothing publicly about the passing of an IndyCar driver.

I think Justin Wilson chose to race. I think Justin Wilson knew the risks inherent with that choice. I think Justin Wilson was like many other drivers in all forms of motorsports, including supermodified racing, that accepted those risks and understood them completely as well as the impact his death would have on his family. Who are we to second guess his choice? I’m glad he made that choice because he was fun to watch.

I hate that my friends Dion Parish and Terry Gibson were killed in supermodified accidents. While I didn’t know him personally, I was upset when we lost Randy Witkum at Jennerstown. I still struggle with being an eye-witness to my friend Jeff Russell being critically injured in a supermodified in an SMRA event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2010. Jeff lived but his life was changed forever as he still fights the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury. Frankly, that incident helped me to understand how grave Justin Wilson’s injuries probably were and that it would be an uphill battle if he could survive them.

I’ve called for slower speeds, restraint from running tracks over 5/8ths of a mile, no rear-engine cars, and safer supermodifieds repeatedly. What has changed?

A Change in Tune

Maybe it’s my age, but it’s more likely something two supermodified drivers told me that really made me start to change my line of thinking. The first, and it took a while to sink in, was Scott Martel saying to me on the phone after Dion was killed, “Bob, I want you to know that he died doing what he loved and when he came out of turn four and the car was right he was probably smiling. We all love that feeling, we all know something could happen, but we do it because we love it.”

That wasn’t an easy pill to swallow just hours after hearing that Dion was gone, but as time has worn on, I’ve come to understand what Scotty meant.

The second was something Gene Lee Gibson told me just recently when talking about his brother Terry being killed in a supermodified crash at Toledo Speedway. Over a beer in a hot garage this July he said, “Bobby, we all know. We all accept that risk every time we crawl into one, (a racecar), that we may not climb out. We don’t think about it, if we do then we shouldn’t be doing it.”

Then Tony Kanaan put out this Tweet-

Those comments, and a real belief that we’ve all become, (pardon my vernacular),  “pussified,” in the last 15 years is enough to change my way of thinking. People’s memories are shorter than they’ve ever been and they forget that racing of any kind is a lot more dangerous than most other kinds of sports. They forget how treacherous the 50s, 60s, 70s or even the 80s and 90s were. They forget that we lose drivers more often than is talked about in the national media scene or outside of their social media circles.

Faith

Everyone, everywhere always seems shocked. The first words out of many people’s mouths are “thoughts and prayers” but I wonder how many actually mean that. Do they really stop and think about the gravity of the situation as opposed to thinking about what they are going to say about their own personal emotions in social media? Do they really fall to their knees, or even just stop what they are doing and actually ask for God’s grace for a grieving family? For most, I doubt it. I think a lot of people are just riding the bandwagon of clicks and likes and re-tweets.

I’m not, in any shape or form, saying that we shouldn’t be saddened or that we shouldn’t look for ways to keep drivers as safe as can be. In no way am I saying that I’m not glad that we have made incredible strides in motorsports safety since the glory years of the 50s through the 90s, in IndyCar AND supermodified racing.

I’m simply saying that my willingness to believe that God’s will is sovereign, and understand that we ultimately have no control, especially in situations like this, is enough for me to be sad over losing another good driver, but not distraught or ready to make wholesale, knee-jerk changes to our beloved IndyCar or supermodified racing.

I say, stop wondering about how or why it happened. Leave that to the scientists and physicists that will be left to decide if it can be prevented.  Don’t draw lines trying to connect the dots between Dan Wheldon, Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson. We should all accept the fact that all of those men were exemplary examples of athletes and something that we are not. Believe that, just like our supermodified racers, they were capable of doing things we are too scared to do, and died doing what they loved. We should all be so lucky.

Rest in Peace Justin and may the Father give your family comfort and the ability to move forward following your passing.


There has been a trust fund has been set up for Justin’s children.

If when you type or utter “thoughts & prayers” you mean it, you can give:

Wilson Children’s Fund,
C/O INDYCAR,
4551 West 16th Street,
Indianapolis, IN 46222

Still wondering what kind of guy Justin Wilson was? READ THIS story about how he was an organ donor and his generosity will save six lives.

What others have to say about Justin Wilson-

Indianapolis Star reporterCurt Cavin

Robin Miller on Racer.com

IndyCar blogger Mark Wilkerson on New Track Record

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