I haven’t posted a blog in quite some time.  To say that life has become busy would be an understatement.  Life always throws little bumps in the road and often I do not deal with them the way I should.  Today one of my heroes passed away and I find myself simultaneously at a loss for words and so desperate to say something.

“Dan Wheldon injured in massive 15-car wreck in Sunday’s IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas”, read the text message my sister Joyce sent me around 5pm EST.  To be honest, I didn’t think much of it, until my other sister posted on Facebook that he had passed away about an hour and a half later.  I’ve grown up around racing, and this very moment is what it took to recognize why my mom made my dad quite racing so many years ago.  You see, as race fans, we assume that everything is so safe, and the cars are so much safer than when my dad was drag racing in the 1970s, but racing can still be fatal, especially in open-wheel race cars.

Last night when Jimmie Johnson hit the wall at Charlotte Motor Speedway, my boyfriend jokingly told me that Kasey Kahne was his new favorite driver.  I smiled and agreed; after all it seemed like for so long Johnson had more luck than any one person should reasonable have.  Then I saw the replay.  Just a decade ago and motorsports would have lost two great drivers in one weekend.  The physics of Johnson’s crash should have broken his neck; fortunately, his HANS device saved his life.

Racing is a big business in America, and even throughout the hard economic times most Americans are facing, we still tune in to our favorite sports.  We need something to believe in and distract us when times are tough.  Unfortunately, I am distracted tonight by the thoughts of how devastating it is to lose someone who is only 33 years old.   Dan Wheldon was only 33 years old.  He leaves a wife, two young children and his parents behind.  Yes, the whole motorsports family lost a friend a colleague this weekend, but tonight I struggle with what all this means for his family.

Before I was born, my dad gave up a successful career as an NHRA driver to move out west with my mom and sisters.  As I understand it, he had a horrific accident early in the 1973 season that would have taken him out for most of the season.  In fact, nearly 20 years later he still had a bone fragment floating around his elbow.  It wasn’t a career ending injury, but my dad never raced again.  In many ways I am so lucky that he didn’t.  I was born 10 years after my father retired from racing.  As long as I can remember, I wished my dad was still a race car driver growing up.  We even discussed me taking up motocross, which my mother refused to consent to; she insisted racing is too dangerous.

Dan Wheldon’s death is a reminder to me that even as the major racing sanctioning bodies take action to make motorsports safer, there is always an inherent risk.  If the man who won the Indy 500 five months ago can get caught up in a fatal accident, so can everyone else.  No matter how safe we make the cars, they will never be 100% safe.

It’s hard to say what Dan Wheldon meant to me.  I cried when I saw him win the Indy  500 in May.  It was emotional and he seemed like such a genuinely nice guy.  I saw him in August at the Brickyard 400 and was impressed by his jovial nature.  In some ways for me Dan Wheldon was the best that IndyCar racing had to offer.  He was articulate, charismatic and talented.  It was hard to not like him.

My heart goes out to Dan’s family and friends tonight.  Their suffering is more than I can imagine, and even though their tragedy has managed to touch my heart and wretch at my soul, it is nothing compared to the pain I am sure they are enduring.  I wish them peace and comfort over the days to come.

Goodbye Dan Wheldon. You will be missed!