Monday, October 17, 2011

The love behind the dream

Edited to add:
This post has since been syndicated by my friends at Jalopnik. You can read it over there and see the lovely responses from race fans. The title they used is not mine; I do not "let" my husband do things or deny permission to do so as I am not his mommy and he is not five years old. Regardless, as always I am extremely grateful to Ray Wert for promoting my work.

This isn't a funny blog post, or a snarky one, or one about auto shows at all. This is a blog post I composed in my head Sunday night, clinging to my husband, grateful he was there with me. Alive.

That's right, husband. There may be some more somewhat identifying information in this post, too, but today I don't care, and anyway, we're close enough that I trust we can keep this between us, right?

I grew up with a father who had a pretty dangerous job. This is the kind of job where you know that something bad could happen, but you just sort of choose to put that nasty little fact out of your head so you can actually function every day. You know, sort of like being a race car driver.

When he was doing this job there was no YouTube. The media didn't play video of action movie-esque deaths over and over and over again. It was pre-9/11 and disaster porn was at a much more tolerable level, if there's any such thing as a tolerable level of disaster porn.

Without having this stuff in our face all the time, it was a lot easier to ignore the fact that every time my dad went to work he might never come home again. I didn't think this affected me too much until I looked back and realized that I never dated a cop, a firefighter or any active member of the Armed Forces in all my years of dating, and everyone knows the young ones tend to be super hot with bangin' bods, so that's particularly shocking, all things considered.

And then one night this race car driver walked into a bar and it was all over. Bam. If there's such thing as love at first sight there it was. We went on our first date the next day and he was it for me from there on out. Seven years later, three married, my heart is completely entwined with his. I don't know where my heart stops and his begins, but I do know that if his heart stops mine will too.

So here I am, living that life again where you do your best to ignore the very real danger the man who's your everything chooses to face to pay the mortgage. But now it's a little different, because horrifying deaths play out on live TV and get replayed over and over and over and analyzed ad nauseum, and when you see it over and over it gets a lot harder to pretend it won't happen to you.

He and I watched the horrific crash that killed Dan Wheldon as it happened. He knew immediately that someone had to be gone even before the dust had settled. When he saw that helicopter running but no one loaded in for another half hour, that confirmed it for him. He didn't need to wait for the announcement to know. I was the one holding out hope. Maybe this means this, maybe, maybe, maybe. We had friends at the track giving us updates, but they didn't know any more than what the media was releasing.

When I saw Danica crying after talking to her husband the doctor, I finally knew. And I curled up around my own husband and cried.

Last night I lay in bed wrapped around him, feeling his breath on my face, memorizing the feel and slope of his shoulders, my heart breaking that Susie Wheldon will never again experience those things with her husband. I waited until I could tell by his breathing pattern that he was asleep before I let the tears come, thinking of how many long nights stretch ahead for Susie when she will desperately try to remember what it felt like to have Dan's arms around her.

And then I woke up this morning and went with him to pick up his new race suit, and pushed that fear down again so this pro driver of mine can live his dream and be happy. Because that's what we do. Because if he wasn't happy, I wouldn't be, either.


  1. I like the phrase 'disaster porn'. It has gotten to be a little much how they replay things like this over and over again. I would think that it would make the grieving process for the family that much more difficult. All in the name of ratings.
    I grew up with family working in steel mills and accidents, sometimes severe, were always hanging over head. I can only imagine how you felt with the closeness of the situation. I have not seen the footage of this incident and probably won't.

    (On a less serious note, if you sent me to a season of monster truck rallies, you would be my son's hero.)

  2. Great post! Good for you for supporting his passion for racing. Some probably won't understand that but each to their own as they say...

  3. I can empathize. I'm in my mid 40s. I used to do a lot of high performance driving events. When I met my wife, I finally put a roll bar in my car. Now that I have my kids, I don't do anything that distracts me just driving to work. (I had a sister die in a car accident.)

    My good friend does a lot of club racing, and his wife always put up a good front that she didn't worry about him. But if there was any kind of accident on the track, she's the first trying to find out what happened and where her husband is.

    All I can think of is a wife is without her husband, and kids are without their dad.

    Thanks for the post.

  4. You don't know me, I don't know you (except via this website). But I'd like to thank you for this post.

    Now I know how my wife must feel (and does not say) when I go away for 4 weeks once again to do my job which is not without its perils.

    RIP Dan Wheldon, much strength to his family.

  5. My father raced cars for 50+ years, I race cars and my son races nationally in karting. It really makes me wonder if its worth putting my son in the kart each and every weekend.

    A nice job behind the computer screen may be much better.....

    Thank you for the post, it means a great deal to me....

  6. i've been in and around racing for 30+ years. This is one of the worst moments i can remember. Dan Weldon's passing is a defining moment for IndyCar and for the sport itself. Things must change because of this tragic loss if IndyCar is to go on and it simply cannot just go on 'as is.' I don't have any real ideas yet as my emotional level is still too high for clarity of thinking. But i do know this:1-His passing must be the impetus for significant change now not later: 2-maybe Jimme Johnson is right and Indy Cars must ban ovals; 3- no one decision caused this but likely a series of marginal decisions led up to this; 4-the experienced driver's 'gut instincts' should be taken very seriously;
    5-there should be some type of significant insurance for the driver's families and the future of their children. Maybe there is. I don't know but there should be as provided by the series;6-the new design car probably does not go far enough in safer design to prevent touching wheels and overhead driver protection (look at the Red Bull designed F1 car for Gran Turismo 4 with shrouded wheels and jet fighter style cockpit shielding for the driver); 7-Graded licenses should restrict drivers without enough seat time from entering certain events much like pilots who are required to have a certain amount of 'hours logged' before they can move up to the next level.Flying a twin engined prop plane and an F-16 are not the same set of pilot aka... driver skills; 8-Develop a ratio between top speeds achcievable and track size / difficulty which determines maximum cars allowed to entered. There will be better minds than mine who learn from this and develop better suggestions. I'm anxious to hear those ideas as Indy Car needs those voices and definitive actions now. There's not a moment to lose.

  7. Sometimes I wonder...How many true human beings are still in this world capable of living with such passion?

    I applaud you miss, great writting.

  8. Thank you so much for this post.

    I wish sometimes that there was a single, concise word for the feeling that arises when a woman you know, or one whose life so closely mirrors yours, is widowed. That feeling that is a bittersweet mixture of wrenching grief for her and thanks that it was not you this time and the sudden bursts of realization that it COULD be, next time...and then eventually the swallowing of all of those fears because he would not be the man you loved if he didn't love doing this thing that puts him at such risk. There should be a word for that.

    Since there is not, or I have not found that word yet, posts like this remind me that I am not the only person searching for one.

  9. To the anonymous above point #6 regarding the car safety...

    Watch this video and dare tell me that the cars arent safe enough

    There is a reason his death is an unfortunate tradgedy, because it's a rare occurrence that you can't prevent. If they were at all dangerous, this would be a weekly thing. You cannot make cars racing at nearly 200mph in packs, engines, metals and gasoline safe, you just can't.

    No matter how hard you try shit will happen, and unfortunately this was the case here. Nasa spends billions in double checking and triple back up systems for every possible event with hundreds of engineers working on the project, yet still shit just happens. The only way to stop deaths/injuries in auto racing is to stop racing all together. I'm sure the men who are involved, when proposed with the two choices will continue racing, just as they did for the entire century even as racing got safer and safer.

    Some other points are up to discussion as well but I wanted to point out an obvious issue with #6, it doesn't work.

  10. "There is a reason his death is an unfortunate tragedy, because it's a rare occurrence that you can't prevent."

    Let kindly state, since I don't know all the facts, that I'd rather they investigate this accident and see what they can do, rather than dismiss it out of hand.

    No culture, no civilization, and no human being ever made a discovery, ever gained an insight or ever found a solution by saying can't.

  11. Thanks for sharing your struggle with your husband's pro driving career. It takes a lot of courage to deal with all of that worry. But I think you are right that trying to make him quit isn't the right answer. The odds are thankfully in your favor and most likely he will be fine.

    I lost my sister when I was a young adult and there will always be a lot of pain associated with that loss. What it has taught me is not to take your loved ones for granted.

    I worry when I don't hear from my wife when she and my son are out and about. Rationally I know that they are probably okay, but I can get panicked sometimes. So I can definitely understand your anxiety with your husband's driving career.

    Best Wishes,


  12. Very nice essay, well done. Not that I have knowledge or strength to offer, but stay strong and treasure every moment, ultimately, that's all any of us can really do. I still struggle with this, but at 52, I'm finally starting to get it. ;-)

  13. Thank you for this post. I personally knew Dan and I can tell you that I think of him every day. I miss hearing from him. People keep saying it will get easier and I know over time it will. I think more about Susie, Sabastian, and Oliver and pray that they will be strong and not let this stop them from living their lives to the fullest, for that is what Dan did. Dan loved driving Indycars. He had many opportunities offered to drive other types of race cars but he loved Indy. I know for a fact the only thing he loved more than racing was Susie, his kids, and his family. I just think how lucky I am to have met and become friends with a man like Dan and how lucky the world is to have had him here though for way too short of a time. God bless you Dan. Many of us here love and miss you.


  14. There is more than this. You can still make that stronger.


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