IndyCar driver Justin Wil­son dies of head in­jury sus­tained in race at age 37

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY JENNA FRYER

IndyCar driver Justin Wil­son died Mon­day night from a head in­jury suf­fered when a piece of de­bris struck him at Po­cono Race­way. He was 37.

IndyCar made the an­nounce­ment at In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way.

Wil­son, a Bri­tish driver who lived out­side Den­ver in Long­mont, Colorado, was hit in the head dur­ing Sun­day’s race by piece of de­bris that had bro­ken off another car. Wil­son’s car veered into an in­te­rior wall at the track, and he was swiftly taken by he­li­copter to a hos­pi­tal in Al­len­town, Penn­syl­va­nia.

“Can’t even be­gin to de­scribe the loss I feel right now. He was my Brother, my best friend, my role model and men­tor. He was a cham­pion!” his younger brother, Ste­fan, also an IndyCar driver, tweeted. Ste­fan Wil­son said his brother’s or­gans would be do­nated.

The last IndyCar driver to die from an on-track in­ci­dent was In­di­anapo­lis 500 cham­pion Dan Whel­don, who was killed in the 2011 sea­son fi­nale at Las Ve­gas af­ter his head hit a post in the fence when his car went air­borne.

Af­ter Whel­don’s death, Wil­son be­came one of three driver rep­re­sen­ta­tives to serve as a li­ai­son be­tween the com­peti­tors and IndyCar. It was no sur­prise: The 6-foot-4 Wil­son, easily the tallest in the se­ries, was well liked.

“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,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hul­man & Co., the par­ent com­pany of IndyCar and In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way.

Wil­son won seven times over 12 sea- sons in open-wheel rac­ing and fin­ished as high as fifth in the In­di­anapo­lis 500. An ac­claimed sports car racer, Wil­son won the pres­ti­gious 24 Hours of Day­tona with Michael Shank Rac­ing, and he com­peted in 20 For­mula One races in 2003 be­fore mov­ing to the U.S. to join Champ Car.

He fin­ished third in the Champ Car stand­ings in 2005, and was run­ner-up in both 2006 and 2007. To sup­port his ca­reer, his man­age­ment team in 2003 cre­ated a pro­gram that al­lowed fans to in­vest in the driver. Hun­dreds of peo­ple bought shares in Wil­son, who was dyslexic and a strong sup­porter of foun­da­tions re­lated to the dis­or­der.

Wil­son, a na­tive of Sheffield, Eng­land, en­tered this sea­son with­out a full-time ride. He latched on with An­dretti Au­tosport and was in the sixth of seven sched­uled races with the team. The agree­ment be­gan as a two-race deal for events at In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way, and then was in­creased to the fi­nal five races of the year. The IndyCar sea­son con­cludes Sun­day in Sonoma, Cal­i­for­nia.

An­dretti Au­tosport called Wil­son “a tremen­dous racer, a valu­able mem­ber of the team and re­spected rep­re­sen­ta­tive to our sport.”

“While Justin was only part of the An­dretti lineup for a short time, it only took a sec­ond for him to for­ever be­come part of the An­dretti fam­ily,” the team said. “His life and rac­ing ca­reer is a story of class and pas­sion sur­passed by none. Our thoughts and prayers re­main with the Wil­son fam­ily and fans world­wide. Godspeed, JW.”

Wil­son fin­ished a sea­son-best sec­ond at Mid-Ohio in early Au­gust. He said af­ter the race that he raced clean and did not take any risks that would have jeop­ar­dized even­tual race-win­ner Graham Ra­hal be- cause Ra­hal was part of the cham­pi­onship race and Wil­son was not.

“Any­one who fol­lows our sport knows Justin was one of the most well-re­spected, highly re­garded and loved peo­ple in the en­tire pad­dock,” said Miles, who passed on the Wil­sons’ grat­i­tude to the IndyCar safety team and med­i­cal staffs of the se­ries, Po­cono Race­way and the hos­pi­tal in Al­len­town.

The fam­ily also was grate­ful to the en­tire mo­tor­sports in­dus­try.

“Par­tic­u­larly the Wil­son fam­ily wishes to thank Justin’s fel­low driv­ers, and their fam­i­lies, who have been so thought­ful, and kind, and sup­port­ive,” Miles said.

Ed Car­pen­ter, the only driver/owner in IndyCar and the step­son of IndyCar founder Tony Ge­orge Jr., at­tended the an­nounce­ment and spoke of the re­spect Wil­son had through­out the pad­dock.

“Days like this are ex­tremely hard on all of us,” Car­pen­ter said. “Justin was a great pro­fes­sional driver and ex­tremely good at his craft. Be­yond that, he was a great guy. One of the few, if only, guys who re­ally was a friend of ev­ery­one in the pad­dock. Ev­ery­one re­spected him for the way he car­ried him­self.”

Wil­son broke a bone in his back at Mi­dO­hio in 2011. He missed the fi­nal six races of the sea­son and wore a back brace for more than two months while he was re­stricted from any phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. The in­jury kept him out of the sea­son fi­nale at Las Ve­gas, the race where Whel­don died. He also broke his pelvis and suf­fered a bruised lung in the 2013 sea­son fi­nale at Fon­tana.

Wil­son once said that his in­juries and Whel­don’s death did noth­ing to change his per­spec­tive or make him ques­tion his ca­reer choice.

“You’ve got to know the risks and work out if those risks are ac­cept­able,” Wil­son told The As­so­ci­ated Press upon his re­turn to rac­ing in 2012. “To me, it’s ac­cept­able. But I’m not go­ing to stop try­ing to im­prove it. All the driv­ers, this IndyCar, we’re al­ways try­ing to make it safer, but at the end of the day, it’s a race car. We’re rac­ing hard, we’re rac­ing Indy­Cars and it’s fast. When it goes wrong, it can get messy.”

In ad­di­tion to his wife, Ju­lia, Wil­son is sur­vived by two daugh­ters, 7 and 5. The fam­ily asked for do­na­tions to a trust fund for his daugh­ters in lieu of flow­ers.

AP

This June 12, 2012 file photo shows Justin Wil­son, of the UK, look­ing on dur­ing test laps for the Iowa Corn Indy 250 auto race at Iowa Speed­way in New­ton, Iowa.

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