Legions of racing fans in Fresno and all over the country are in morning today as well liked and respected IndyCar racer Justin Wilson passed away on Monday after being struck by piece of debris that had broken off of another car during Sunday’s race.
As reported by ABC News, IndyCar made the announcement at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, after Wilson, a British driver who lived outside Denver in Longmont, Colorado, was swiftly taken by helicopter to a hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
His younger brother, an IndyCar driver himself, tweeted: “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!” Stefan Wilson said his brother’s organs would be donated.
This marks the second death to occur in IndyCar in four years,, the last tragedy being 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 wasn’t any surprise: as previously said, the 6-foot-4 Wilson, easily the tallest in the series, was well liked. According to Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent company 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.”
Wilson won seven times over 12 seasons 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 also 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 created a program in 2003 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 was a native of Sheffield, England who 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. 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.”
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. 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.”
Incidentally. Wilson broke a bone in his back at Mid-Ohio 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. As he told The Associated Press upon his return to racing in 2012, “You’ve got to know the risks and work out if those risks are acceptable. 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.”
Wilson is survived by his widow Julia and their two daughters, ages 7 and 5. The family asked for donations to a trust fund for his daughters in lieu of flowers.
Wilson will be dearly missed by family, friends and fans alike. May he rest in peace.