(AP photo)

IndyCar world celebrates life of Justin Wilson

Leave a comment

Just over a month after he died from injuries suffered in a racing accident, IndyCar driver Justin Wilson was fondly remembered in a memorial service Tuesday in Indianapolis.

“It’s a day like today that we come together not as competitors, but as the IndyCar family,” IMS president Doug Boles said. “Justin Wilson was much more than just an elite athlete. That’s why we’re here today, to remember the person, not just the driver.

“We’re here to celebrate a husband, father, friend and role model. He left this community much better than it was when he came here.”

Wilson died August 24, one day after being struck in the head by a piece of debris that flew off the car of Sage Karam’s after it wrecked in front of Wilson.

MORE: Memorial service remembers Justin Wilson (video)

Here are some of the highlights of the service from several of those that spoke about Wilson in a celebration of his life.

* NBCSN’s Robin Miller in a video tribute: “There wasn’t a mean, selfish or phony bone in Justin Wilson’s 6-foot-4 fame. In the cutthroat, pressurized world of motorsports, he totally went against form. He didn’t cuss, didn’t throw tantrums, didn’t demand special treatment or play the blame game. He was always polite, humble, kind, way too nice for a race car driver and unfailingly positive despite never getting the big break he deserved.

“America gave him the opportunity that Formula One didn’t. … “He was the man you want your son to be or your daughter to marry. He had a goodness gene not found often in life, let alone sports.”

* Stefan Wilson, Justin’s brother, read a letter from Justin’s wife Julia that expressed her feelings of the tremendous outpouring of support she and her two daughters, Jess and Jane, as well as the rest of the extended Wilson family, have received.

“It feels like the whole world is hurting from Justin’s death and not just me. … Good people die every day. Justin was a good man, father, husband and human being. My world has been turned upside down. I miss him every hour of every day.

“… I don’t want people to be sad, but to be proud and happy to have known him. Justin was definitely my one in a million and I’m grateful with the time I had with Justin and cherish every minute.”

* Michael Shank, veteran sports car team owner, had one of the most powerful messages when he spoke of Wilson, who drove a sports car for him for 10 years, including winning the prestigious 24 Hours of Daytona:

“I’m here to talk about what honesty, integrity and loyalty look like. I’m here to talk about my friend, Justin Wilson. … I really miss him. … He made everyone on the team, including me, feel that their contribution was needed, wanted and valuable. I felt I would go to war for the guy. I’m sure many of you in this room know what I’m talking about.

“… The truth is I’m pissed that Julia, Jess, Jane, Stef and Justin’s parents will be without the best husband, father, brother and son. I’m mad that someone like Justin is ripped from all us for no explainable reason. I mean, what are the odds of what happened to him. I’m upset that Justin had to leave us in order for race car safety to be reexamined. In this crazy world, Justin had to be the one? I would really like some answers. But really, though, I’m just really sad.

“Everyone in this room and watching online, we were the lucky ones. Justin taught us to be better, more humble people. Justin showed us how patience and humility are supposed to look like. We are, actually, the lucky ones. Justin’s favorite thing to tell me was ‘no problem, no problem.’ Everything was ‘no problem. … He never let me down, never. He never, ever said ‘no’ to me.”

* AJ Allmendinger, NASCAR driver and former Champ Car teammate of Wilson’s in 2005 and 2006: “To me, he was always smiling. JWil was a guy that was just so much fun to be around. He was always smiling all the time, no matter what was going on. No matter how good or bad things were, he was always smiling. I will never say goodbye, JWil. I love you, brother, I miss you. I forbid to say goodbye. I’ll just say, ‘See you later.’”

* Scott Dixon, 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, who made a celebratory toast to Wilson’s honor and memory: “We can’t know why some things happen but we can know that love and beautiful memories can outlast the pain of grief. We don’t know why Justin was taken, but we do know there’s a place inside the heart that love lives always, and where no one as special as Justin can be forgotten. … You’ll be forever in our hearts, Justin.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

Leave a comment

Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.