Justin Wilson

All photos: LAT and Mower Family

Restoration complete of Justin Wilson’s first Champ Car winner

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Earlier this year, preparation began to restore the first Champ Car Justin Wilson won in, a Lola-Ford Cosworth entry he took to victory lane for the RuSPORT team at Toronto in 2005.

The full release and details are below:

The restoration of Justin Wilson’s first Champ Car race-winning chassis is complete. Set to benefit the Wilson’s Children Fund, which was created to ensure the long-term financial security for Wilson’s daughters after he was killed in a racing accident in 2015, the immaculate, historically important Lola will be sold through auction or private acquisition in the months ahead. All proceeds will be donated to the WCF (www.wilsonchildrensfund.com).

More than a dozen key contributors made the charity project possible, starting with former PKV Champ Car team owner Dan Pettit and his wife Kelly, who owned and graciously donated the Lola B05/00 chassis Wilson used to earn his first and second Champ Car wins at Toronto and Mexico City in 2005.

The idea for the restoration, which began in January, came when Pettit and fellow PKV alumni Jimmy Vasser, who used the car as a display vehicle in one of his auto dealerships, were considering what to do with the Lola which carried a generic Champ Car livery.

On a lark, Vasser, became inspired to research the Lola’s history and soon found it was the same car that carried Wilson to his first wins in America with the RuSport team after transitioning from Formula 1 to Champ Car.

With PKV’s purchase of RuSport in 2006, Wilson’s race-winning chassis remained within Pettit’s inventory when the series folded in 2008. It eventually made its way into Vasser’s dealership where it sat until curiosity struck the 1996 CART IndyCar Series champion late last year. Once the car’s true identity was revealed, the Pettits welcomed the suggestion to restore the chassis back to its original condition and make it available for purchase to help Wilson’s family.

“It has been our dream to help Justin’s (Wilson) family in some meaningful way and to say thank you for all the joy he brought to us,” the Pettits said. “For some unknown reason we kept one of our old cars from the racing  team.  When Jimmy Vasser suggested we donate it with the proceeds going to the Wilson Children’s Fund, we thought it was brilliant.”

With the need to relocate the car from the west coast to Indianapolis for its restoration, Vasser and former KV Racing team manager Chris Mower began searching for a base to perform the Lola’s overhaul. Verizon IndyCar Series team Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, which fielded Wilson for two seasons, kindly invited the restoration project into its shop where a complete teardown, refurbishment of mechanical and electronic components, and painting and reassembly of the rolling chassis (minus engine) took place in recent months.

Finished in its immaculate Toronto livery, which featured CDW as the primary sponsor, the Pettits were understandably pleased with the outcome.

“As we researched the car and found out it was Justin’s (Wilson) car he won his first race in, then we knew the reason for keeping the car,” they said. “Thanks to everyone who has donated time and energy into getting the car ready for sale.”

Not only does the mint Lola B05/00 represent an important vehicle in the life of a beloved driver, it also carries many of the personal items Wilson used–the sculpted seat, seat belts, and molded steering wheel—that were used on the path to victory. Wilson’s race-used seat, left inside the car, will go to its eventual owner with the full blessing of Justin Wilson’s widow Julia, who also helped with the restoration in Indy.

Indebted to the many individuals and companies that donated time, materials, parts or equipment to bring Wilson’s Lola back to its original state, Mower expressed immense appreciation for the selfless acts that made the restoration possible.

“When Jimmy (Vasser) approached us with the idea, we felt very honored to be involved in restoring this car, and such an important part of Justin’s motor racing history,” said Mower, who served as Wilson’s team manager on two occasions. “More importantly, my wife Marianne and I, were graced with the titles of godparents to Justin’s daughters Jane and Jess, so to help on this project and aid our goddaughters’ future was an opportunity we can’t help but feel the big man himself may have steered our way!”

With a small army of volunteers and supporters to thank, the project leader revealed a list that speaks to the respect and admiration Wilson garnered during his 12 seasons in Champ Car and IndyCar.

“We had amazing mechanics and engineers who completed the tear down and rebuild on their time off, including Richard Howard, Tim Finley, Michael Cannon, Josh Junge, Ryan Stott, and my wife, Marianne,” Mower said. “We must thank TJ Eacret at Passport Transport for delivering the car at cost from Las Vegas, Dennis Reinbold and Chase Selman at DRR for giving this project a home, KV Racing for providing equipment and hardware for the rebuild, Alex Londe from Can Am Cars for providing all the original Lola parts we were missing for the rebuild, and Ken Kane from Sherwin Williams for donating all the paint.”

The community-based effort, which drew from numerous local race teams and businesses that support the industry, added further depth to the benevolent endeavor.

“With Sherwin Williams’ help, then the car went to Tod Weed at Indy Paint Shop who completed the awesome paint job,” Mower continued. “Justin’s dear friend and RuSport manager Jeremy Dale provided the original livery rendering and paint code numbers. Kathi Lauterbach chased down missing files for the graphics we needed, and Nick Ford and graphics crew from Chip Ganassi Racing produced and applied all the decals.

“Bill Lefeber at IS-Motorsports rebuilt the steering wheel back to original specifications, Mark Williamson at Performance Tire and Bridgestone donated and mounted the new set of Bridgestone tires, and at the very beginning, the genesis of the project, Jeremy Shaw researched and confirmed the history to validate this was indeed the chassis that Justin drove to his first Champ Car win. Every contribution, at every step, was so incredibly important, and now we’re finished.”

The next step for Wilson’s Lola, and whether it will be offered via auction or to a direct buyer, will be determined after Sunday’s Indy 500.

Bryan Clauson legacy serves as inspiration for new organ donation incentive

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While popular racer Bryan Clauson was tragically taken from us in 2016 in a racing accident, his spirit and legacy continues to grow.

A longtime resident of Indiana, Clauson is serving as the inspiration for a joint partnership between the Indiana Donor Network and Clauson-Marshall Racing to promote organ, tissue and eye donation, and transplantation through the Driven2SaveLives initiative.

Driven2SaveLives launched prior to the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, a race that Clauson competed in. The organization spawned from a partnership between Indiana Donor Network, Stefan Wilson and KV Racing Technology to honor IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who was killed in a racing incident in August 2015 at Pocono Raceway.

Justin Wilson was a registered organ donor and his death allowed five individuals to receive his organs to save their own lives.

driven2savelives-logo

Now, with its new partnership with Clauson’s old racing team, Driven2SaveLives is moving into dirt track racing.

The announcement came Tuesday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which this week is hosting the 31st annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.

Clauson-Marshall Racing will have six drivers competing in the Chili Bowl and will carry branding on cars and fire suits by Driven2SaveLives. Those drivers are Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Tyler Courtney, Shane Golobic, Jason Johnson and Donny Schatz. The sixth driver has yet to be named.

On August 7, Clauson, a four-time USAC champion, succumbed to injuries suffered in a crash the night before in a USAC race in Belleville, Kansas.

Clauson was a registered organ donor and, in death, provided organs to save the lives of five strangers who suffered from a variety of life-threatening conditions without organ exchange.

“While Bryan was known for his on-track persona, the decision he made to be an organ and tissue donor will forever be his legacy,” said Tim Clauson, Bryan’s father and co-owner of Clauson-Marshall Racing. “As a family, we are humbled to honor Bryan and his donation decision through Driven2SaveLives and the racing community we love.

“What donation did for our family – the light it provided us in our darkest hours – will stay with me for a lifetime. I will be forever grateful.”

As such, Driven2SaveLives representatives will be on hand at a number of dirt track races around the country.

Indiana Donor Network is one of nearly 60 organ procurement organizations in the U.S. and will activate Driven2SaveLives in dirt racing along with Donate Life America.

“The work we do within the donation and transplantation community is both a privilege and a responsibility – we get to make a difference,” said Kellie Hanner, president and chief executive officer at Indiana Donor Network. “Driven2SaveLives gives race fans a platform to talk about donation and transplantation. This means that everyone who helps to spread this campaign’s message not only gets to honor the donation decision but also gets to be a part of Bryan’s lasting legacy.”

Here are some facts about the importance of organ donation from Driven2SaveLives:

* More than 120,000 people nationwide are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants.

* One person is added to the transplant waiting list every 10 minutes in the U.S.

* Each day, 22 people on average in the U.S. die because a donated organ wasn’t made available in time.

* Approximately 90 percent of Americans support organ donation, yet only 50 percent are registered.

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Graham Rahal able to ‘tame the beast’ of Texas ghosts with win

(Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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FORT WORTH – Graham Rahal swears he didn’t give the final 177 laps of the Firestone 600 a single thought between June 12 and Aug. 27.

“I haven’t thought about it at all until this week,” said Rahal, who was now thinking about nothing else after winning said race by .008 seconds over James Hinchcliffe, a Texas Motor Speedway record.

Rahal and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series have been busy since June, competing in –  and actually finishing – five races since the Firestone 600 was postponed 77 days for rain after reaching Lap 71.

After visiting Road America, Iowa Speedway, Toronto, his home track of Mid-Ohio and Pocono, the 1.5-mile track in North Texas finally, surreally, came back around.

“It’s a very strange thing actually,” Rahal said, still wearing the 10-gallon Cowboy hat awarded to race winners by track president Eddie Gossage. “We came down here this morning, and I don’t know, it was just a weird day to kind of get into the groove of it. It was like, we landed so early, we had so much time to kill, then such a short practice, and then we just go racing.”

Due to what transpired over those five races – not finishing better than fourth after a Road America podium and only leading two laps – Rahal was having very specific thoughts about Saturday night’s race.

“This week I knew, again, because of the year that we’ve had, it was an opportunity,” Rahal said. “I felt like in June we had a great race car, we just didn’t get to see it through and tonight obviously from the front, we went forward, and it was a great night.”

After restarting 12th in a car Rahal described after a brief practice session as a “f—ing rocket,” the No. 15 carved its way through the pack. By the final 25 laps it one of five cars on the lead lap, led by Hinchcliffe.

“I just thought if I could get there, we’d have a good chance, and then we went fighting at the end there,” Rahal said. “I had a lot of front tire degradation. I was having to take the early laps a bit slower to try to save that outside front. You could see Kanaan and (Scott) Dixon even a little bit quicker than me but 15 laps or so into the stint I closed back up because my car, I think, was better on the tires in the long run.”

Then, unlike Hinchcliffe, Rahal’s team decided to pit late for tires under caution. That decision set up an eight-lap sprint that will likely be considered the most thrilling of the season. With three and four-wide racing, it looked like the memorable Indy Racing League races at Texas of a decade ago.

On a night where TMS honored law enforcement, Rahal’s path through the field was oversaw by spotter Steve Turner, a retired police officer from Speedway, Indiana.

“Steve does a great job. But tonight I had to keep my eyes particularly peeled at all times to my mirrors,” Rahal said. “I always trust the spotter but I want to make sure in a lot of cases that we gave ourselves a little extra room.”

In the closing laps, Rahal’s thoughts didn’t drift to those old “pack” races. They went to a more recent Texas visit in 2012. That year, Rahal led 27 laps at the climax of the race with Justin Wilson chasing him. With three laps left, Rahal bounced off the wall out of Turn 4, allowing Wilson to pass him and win.

It would be the last IndyCar win for Wilson, who died a year ago last week from injuries sustained at Pocono Raceway.

“You know what I was motivated by a little bit is I kept thinking about Justin there, because a couple years ago we had a great battle here,” Rahal said. “Quite honestly I was picturing him shooting those things off there the last couple of laps, just trying to get it done for ourselves here.”

That failure in 2012 came in the middle of seven winless seasons for the son of Bobby Rahal. Graham Rahal ended that last season with a win in another tense, hotly contested “pack race” at Auto Club Speedway.

“It’s just nice to kind of tame the beast a little bit,” said Rahal, who has made nine starts at Texas, but only finished in the top 10 three times. “This place is a tough place to win … So it feels nice. To not go through this year winless is the biggest pressure I feel off my shoulders. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to get that over because not that it would have been a dry spell like last time, but I don’t want to have to hear the questions again, so it was nice to just get that.”

Even when Rahal got the win, he was afraid he has celebrated too soon. As his car neared the finish line, he raised his right hand in a celebratory fist before quickly dropping it down right as Hinchcliffe was pulling even with him.

“I was like, ‘make sure his roll hoop says two.’ Looked over and I could see it said two, and I knew I had it,” Rahal said. “Those LED panels that IndyCar started using are awesome.”

The win also gave Honda just its second win of 2016, a year after it earned five. After two months of not thinking about a race, Rahal won’t want to stop talking about it.

“It’s special for us to get a win for Honda for sure, and be able to call corporate on Monday and have a good talk,” Rahal said.

Wilson, Clauson tributes evident throughout weekend at Pocono (PHOTOS)

Photo: IndyCar
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LONG POND, Pa. – Two drivers have been on the mind this weekend at Pocono Raceway, with Justin Wilson and Bryan Clauson in the memories of the paddock.

Wilson lost his life last August at Pocono when he was struck on the head with debris from another car. Clauson meanwhile lost his life earlier this month in a midget accident at the Belleville Midget Nationals.

Between the BC Forever signage and decals paying tribute to Clauson (Nick Yeoman wrote a great tribute here for IndyCar Radio you can listen to at this link), and the USWAGGEAR tribute socks for Wilson, signs of both have been present here this weekend. Brant James paid tribute to both in this USA Today Sports piece this weekend. The idea for the socks to be worn at Pocono this weekend came from NBCSN producer Terry Lingner.

Here’s a mere sampling of some of what we’ve seen on social media this weekend:

Updated website launched for Wilson Children’s Fund

Associated Press
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An updated website has been launched for the Wilson Children’s Fund, as the one-year anniversary of Justin Wilson’s passing occurs next week. This weekend, the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Pocono Raceway for the ABC Supply 500, where Wilson lost his life last year.

A release and more details are below:

With the one-year anniversary of Justin Wilson’s loss approaching on Aug. 24, work has been completed on a brand-new WilsonChildrensFund.com website to facilitate donations to aid his daughters in his absence.

A simple, single-page site went live this week that features images from Ashleigh Mower, and provides a secure platform for visitors to make contributions via PayPal.

unnamed (4)Established with the support of his wife Julia, WilsonChildrensFund.com serves one specific purpose: to guarantee the long-term financial needs of their daughters, Jane and Jess.

The world knew Justin as a champion driver. But within the racing community, he was known as a dedicated husband and father who readily bore the responsibility of caring for his wife and daughters. With that comforting pillar removed from their lives, WilsonChildrensFund.com stands as a fast and easy method to ensure his little girls are taken care of for years to come.

www.wilsonchildrensfund.com