The month of October is great for so many reasons: the crisp fall air, the return of pumpkin spice lattes, apples, my birthday, the start of hockey season, the baseball playoffs, Halloween and so much more. However, the month of October downright stinks for many other reasons.
If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a racing fan. The month of October has just been a brutal month for the racing community. Last weekend, reigning Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon perished in a spectacularly violent crash during a race in Las Vegas. (I’m not going to link the crash footage here because it’s been all over the mainstream media. If you’re so inclined to watch the wreck, it’s easily available on YouTube.) This weekend also saw the passing of a MotoGP (motorcycle) racer during a race in Malaysia. In addition, the 6-year old son of a IndyCar team staffer lost his fight with leukemia. It’s impressive that some of these racers haven’t gone completely cuckoo for coco puffs after this past week.
And that just scratches the surface of the brutality of the month of October. Seven years ago today, 10 members of the Hendrick racing family were killed in a plane crash in Virginia. Twelve years ago, racer Greg Moore was killed in a wreck at California Speedway. As a race fan, you start to dread seeing the month of October show up on your calendar just because there have been so many horrible, terrible, no good, very bad events that happened during this month.
The loss of Wheldon was particularly brutal because it was such a violent wreck that happened on live network television. For the drivers, he was everyone’s younger brother that they never asked for. For the fans, he was that nice, charming British guy with the adorable children who always stopped and made time for everyone. He was also a talented, experienced driver, not this naive, inexperienced racer that some postmortem articles tried to portray him as.
For many of the drivers on the track with Wheldon last Sunday, this was the second time they’ve lost a friend on the track, as they were competing the same day Greg Moore passed in 1999. (Unlike this past Sunday, when Moore passed, the race continued on. The drivers were not told of the death until they exited the cars at the end of the race. The fans at home and at the track were made aware of his death. The team owners wanted the drivers to finish the race.) I feel like this death hit many of these guys harder than Moore’s in 1999. With age comes wisdom, families, kids and whatever else that makes these drivers turn inward and wonder if the need for speed is really what it’s all about.
It was also tough watching the broadcasters cover the waiting period between the wreck and the official announcement of Wheldon’s passing. Just listening to their voices, you could tell that they knew the worst was coming and were trying to manage their own emotions while keeping a stoic face for the public. This is one time where media detachment and impartiality went right out the window and it was completely warranted.
During yesterday’s NASCAR pre-race show, ESPN paid tribute to Wheldon. The tribute was led by ESPN anchor Nicole Briscoe, whose husband Ryan was one of the drivers on track with Wheldon last week. While Mrs.Briscoe was clearly emotional during the segment, her professionalism compelled her to finish paying tribute to her friend. No one would have blamed her for handing off that segment to one of the other people in the booth, but she chose to continue on and carried herself with class & dignity.
Speaking of class and dignity…One thing that happened in the immediate aftermath of Wheldon’s passing was the tremendous outpouring of support for Wheldon’s two young sons, Sebastian and Oliver. Fellow driver Graham Rahal announced he was going to auction off his race worn shoes, helmet and gloves. That snowballed into the rest of the Indycar community throwing items into the auction pot. Then the NASCAR drivers started contributing memorabilia. Then the NFL teams showed up to the party. Then Hollywood came a’calling with their donations. As of Saturday, quite the list of memorabilia had been accumulated with more coming in every day. (I’m totes in love with the Paul Newman signed “Winning” movie poster.) I’m really impressed that Rahal has continued to manage this whole fundraiser even as it takes on a life of it’s own. His parents did a quality job raising him into a fine young man.
Thank you for bearing with my rambling tonight. I promise there will be some hockey talk around here again. I have tickets for Thursday’s game, so there will be some thoughts on that at some point.