Thursday, 20 October 2011
Daddy. Why's that man crying?
Over the intervening years a number of my motor racing 'heroes' have died in motor racing accidents. Ronnie Peterson, Gilles Villeneuve, Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger on one fateful weekend at Imola, Greg Moore, Dale Earnhardt and more recently the freak crash that took 18 year old Henry Surtees at Brands Hatch when the loose wheel from another car landed in his cockpit. It's always shocking and sad when these fatalties happen but happen they do so part of my growing up experience was to understand that time is precious and every moment should really be enjoyed to the full.
Last Sunday I spent two hours watching a motor race where nothing happened. Not, before you go for the easy gag, the Formula 1 race from Korea but I'm referring to the Indycar season finale from Las Vegas and sadly the reason for the inaction was because everyone at the track and at home was waiting for news on the condition of Dan Wheldon who been the most seriously injured participant in a 15 car crash on lap 12 of the race. It turned out that the concern was entirely justified as it was announced after the long delay that Dan had succumbed to "unsurvivable injuries" and as a result the race was abandoned and the remaining drivers staged a slow 5-lap tribute to Dan as a mark of respect.
Much has and will be said by people far more qualified than me about whether the race should have taken place with 34 cars on that particular circuit, whether the 5 million dollar prize money promoted unnecessary risks and whether cars or tracks can be altered to minimise the chances of this kind of incident happening again but one thing seems certain, it won't stop people racing. Tony Kanaan, a team-mate and close friend of Dan Wheldon has pulled out of a race next week in Australia but has stated his intention to race again in Indycars and going further back racer Alex Zanardi lost both legs in an horrific Indycar accident but came back to race touring cars using a specially adapted car. I sat down with a racing driver for half an hour on Monday morning and we talked about the accident, the risks and whether he'd be racing again next week, to which his immediate and unblinking answer was "of course".
What is it with some men and women, four of Sunday's 34 drivers were women, and racing cars or danger in general? I've thrown myself out of an aeroplane attached to a parachute before and a large part of me would love to be in the position of dicing wheel to wheel, focusing on a single goal and understanding the physics of how the components of the car interact with each other, with the track and with the airflow of the cars around them but I suspect that feeling isn't likely to be mine so instead I anaesthetise the urge by watching it happen on TV or spending time around racing cars and their drivers.
The fact that motor racing is a dangerous sport I can tell you because it says so on the back of every ticket when you attend a race but while we love to see our heroes walk away from their crashes and disappointments it doesn't always work out that way so while striving for safety there is an underlying acceptance that bad, and sometimes fatal, things do happen in our beloved sport. I have a recollection of once reading that the two reasons to have pets are firstly for companionship and secondly to teach children about death, which is morbid but arguably true having myself grown up with a house full of cats.
So what's my point? I'm not sure I have one other than trying to join together the threads of a thousand recollections into a coherent tapestry. In his 33 years Dan Wheldon accomplished things that many other people can only dream of and I think that I would have to side with the Roman philosopher Seneca when he said "Life, if lived well, is long enough" or to quote the recently departed Steve Jobs:
"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new."
RIP Dan Wheldon, a life lived well.