This Sunday will be my 28th Indy 500.
In times like these when circumstances violently remind us that our racing heroes are in fact mortal, my thoughts seem gravitate to one inescapable truth of auto racing:
No matter how dissonant our love of the thrill, and our dislike for the inherent danger required at the highest levels, auto-racing, and more specifically, Indycar racing, is a brutal sport. Nowhere is it more glorious or more brutal than at its most hallowed ground – The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A curiosity surrounding the spectre of death seems to be an integral part of the human psyche. There are many forms of auto-racing but it seems at the grandest of “Cathedrals of Speed”, Indycars racing at Indy have a way of most-markedly forcing us to confront this dark part of our psyche.
Speed, thrills, crashes, injury, and death represent the long dark thread woven into the otherwise colorful and vibrant fabric of auto-racing. That long dark thread also serves to remind us all that despite machinations otherwise, there is a delicate fragility to life and shockingly so when juxtaposed against those brave ones who inspire the rest of us by risking life and limb. Their risk traded for mere glory and riches.
I believe I understand the need or near-fixation of many to participate in that arena, but let’s also not forget that they do it, ultimately, because we pay to watch them do it.
James Hinchcliffe is another in a very long list of those who have exhibited the appropriate skills, weighed the consequences, and assumed the risks in trade for our money and adulation.
“Hinch” is now another in a very long list of those who also have traded sinew, tissue, blood, bone, mental faculties, and life essence in trade for our money and adulation.
Culpability begins at home.
Culpability begins in the family car, the RV, the Bus, driving to the ol’ Speedway, wearing specially printed shirts and 51-weeks-pre-paid tickets in hand.
We cannot, as willing witnesses to the immense inspirations of their glory, also selfishly turn a blind eye in their darkest of moments. Drivers, crews, families, and fans are all bonded by the acceptance of these non-negotiable terms.
After all these years, I think only in the last year or two have I reconciled my feelings of immense guilt and culpability when the awful things happen with the immense satisfaction and joy when things go so very right in this sport.
This Sunday, in Speedway, Indiana, I’ll accept that I’m there to see something amazing and satisfying with the knowledge that I could also, at any point, in any turn, by any driver, see things go horribly wrong. I don’t revel in that thought, but I do accept it. Just as I am there to see amazing, so are the drivers there from a desire to produce it.
Perhaps that is why the reverence for this cathedral and those who’ve chosen to compete there grows in me with every passing year. I feel a sense of duty to return, and to toast with a drink, in celebration of the courage of these racers in their grand success and to exhibit proper reverence in their moments of pain.
May this Sunday be filled with celebration.