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.
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.”