If you demand blind joviality from your INDYCAR commentary, you might want to take a pass on this one.
(Who am I kidding? If you required blind joviality from your INDYCAR commentary, you would have stopped paying attention to the entire INDYCAR online community at large a long time ago. But I digress.)
I’m not normally one to be a Debbie Downer, and I’ve been kicking this one around for a while trying to decide whether it’s of enough value to warrant inserting a steaming pile of negativity into the INDYCAR conversation. But I’ve concluded that there’s merit in giving a voice to a feeling that it’s possible others share but are loathe to express – because let’s face it: this sentiment can get you excommunicated in certain circles.
I just can’t get into the whole “hip hip hooray, it’s May, it’s May” song and dance. Not this year.
It may surprise some people to learn that this has nothing to do with the whole 32-car field crisis. Reports are surfacing that Jean Alesi has worked out a deal to participate in this year’s 500 after all and that the field is therefore expected to be filled. And even if someone bins it before Pole Day and isn’t able to qualify, I have no worries at all about another entry showing up. For all the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing that’s been going on, getting to 33 entries has never struck me as being a serious concern. Everyone with the power to do something about this knows how important that number is, and a couple of extra entries are historically not that hard to come by.
One niggling worry I have is the DW12. No one knows for certain how this thing is going to perform with the power down yet. More importantly, no one knows for certain how it’s going to react when it meets the SAFER Barrier at oval speeds, and Indianapolis is a horrible choice as a first place to test that out. Maybe this unsettled feeling is exacerbated by too many years of the comfort that comes with repetition – there was certainly once a time when this unknown existed every single year. The advancements in safety over the last couple of decades have probably made some of us soft. It could very well be that such fears will be completely unfounded and the DW12 will be the safest Indy car of all time. But we don’t know that yet, and it’s been weighing on me a bit.
But that’s really only a small point relative to the larger reason for my inability to play along this year.
The real reason is Dan.
I’m still not over Vegas. I’m far from being over Vegas. I haven’t been able to watch a replay of the accident yet. Every time I come across a photo of it leading into a news story, I get irrationally angry at the media outlet for forcing me to think about it again.
(Stupid, I know. But I have a history of being poor at dealing with these things. The 10th anniversary of Greg Moore’s passing was the second time I watched footage of the crash that took his life, and it was the first time that I fully processed all of the emotions that came with it. What can I say? I’m a bottler. I figure that if I’ve got this one tucked away by year two or three that I’m showing signs of improvement. But… I digress.)
The Vegas incident was different, though. In most other crashes that take a racer’s life – Greg’s included – it’s relatively easy to be objective and say that as much as we may hate it, racing is not a safe sport and these things happen.
I don’t feel that way about Vegas.
No matter how many times I get fed the “perfect storm” line, I still feel strongly that there were warning signs that were ignored and that Dan’s death is something that could have and should have been prevented. Because of that, I’m still deeply in mourning, and I’m still angry – and I’m having a hard time reconciling those feelings with a love of the sport that continues to pervade in spite of it all.
(And I barely knew the guy. I can only imagine how those who were closest to him must feel.)
I’ll never in my life forget sitting in the Paddock holding my five-month-old daughter and watching with my own disbelieving eyes as Dan Wheldon blazed first across the yard of bricks. I’ll never forget the confusion as the fans in my section tried to piece together what had happened since none of us had a clear view of turn 4 and the track PA was impossible to make out through the din. I’ll never forget watching Dan pull into victory lane, climb out of his car, and frolic around like a kid high on sugar, clearly still in disbelief himself.
There was no hiding the fact that Indianapolis meant everything to Dan Wheldon.
There will be a great many tributes to Dan and to that win this month, and I’ll be taking them in with a heart heavy not with resigned sadness but with smouldering bitterness. To my mind, he should still be here and preparing to defend that win.
I’ll still be at the track on May 27th come hell or high water, and it’s entirely possible that by the time the green flag falls this will be behind me and I’ll be ready to enjoy the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for everything it is.
But for now, I’m just not feeling the May celebratory vibe. Not this year.