What makes a person so intrinsically attracted to a particular sport? Is it the thrill? Is it the entertainment? Is it the skill involved?
Motorsports has, and always will be, different from the so-called typical stick and ball sports. Jimmie Johnson said it best in that motorsports, no matter the discipline, is “like one big family.”
[media-credit name=”indycar.com” align=”alignright” width=”99″][/media-credit]This includes not just the teams and drivers, but the fans as well as the connection between motorsports and the fan is unique among sports. In many regards, drivers physically look little different than you or I. Many times they speak in the same accent or vocabulary as the typical fan as well. We identify with them because, in many ways, we could be them.
And when we lose one, like we did this past Sunday, it truly feels like losing a family member.
What makes Dan Wheldon’s passing different from past deaths in the racing community is the recent rise of social media. For the first time fans, teams, drivers and anyone else can share their grief with one another. The emotion involved is often overwhelming and, in some ways, their pain is our pain.
Few images are more powerful from Sunday than seeing drivers Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan weeping next to their cars. Few words are more heartfelt than seeing Marco Andretti’s and Graham Rahal’s distraught tweets. It’s a view inside the mind of not only drivers, but sports stars as a whole, that few have witnessed.
And as the healing process begins, we all will heal together. That bond, that “one big family” that so aptly describes motorsports will soldier on stronger than ever.
Races will carry on. Champions will be crowned. And IndyCar will recover.
Death shouldn’t be thought of as the end, but merely an avenue to a new beginning. The changes that will invariably come will better the sport in ways that Wheldon could ever imagine. Drivers are more strongly united for the first time since the initial IRL/CART split in the mid 1990s. Fans are even closer to the sport that they revere.
Because in the end none of us are truly alone mourning, the various social media outlets have helped to recognize that.
If there’s one thing many people ask of their life it is if they will be remembered. Dan Wheldon will be remembered not only for what he did in life, but for what he did in death.
And I think that is something we can all smile about.