A Racer’s Requiem

20 Oct

This decal that will be on all cars and trucks racing at Talladega this weekend. According to NASCAR, the Lionheart Knight image is one that was included on the back of every one of Dan’s helmets.

The sudden death of two-time IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon on Sunday shocked everyone in the racing. A husband and father of two small children, the 33-year-old Wheldon perished of blunt head trauma after an explosive 15-car wreck in the series’ season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

As awful as this is, it reminds of us the nature of the sport and the character of the people who participate in it.

The unpleasant reality is that car accidents are a very common cause of death – and that’s just in everyday life. In IndyCar, NASCAR and other racing series, you add the elements of competition, extremely high speeds and walls. Certainly, those who participate find the sport challenging, engaging, exhilarating, and addictive. Drivers generally live and breath to be in those cars … but none of that makes it safe.

Drivers recognize all this. They know something like what happened to Dan Wheldon or Dale Earnhardt could happen to them. In a split second, it could all be over. They could be gone, leaving their families and friends behind forever. Obviously, having the knowledge that this could happen is different than dwelling on that knowledge. Those in the profession do not – cannot – dwell on those possibilities.

Risk is an unalienable party to racing. Part of the sport is physically defying the possibility of death. Many times the drivers succeed in that. Sometimes, whether through their own error or someone else’s, they cannot.

Here’s the beauty of it, though. Race car drivers get to do what they love for a living. For those who are killed on the track, their families and fans know they went out guns blazing, doing what they absolutely had in their hearts to do, what they loved to do more than anything.

I think that if most people had a choice, that’s how they would want a loved one to go.

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