Race car drivers never know if they’ll return home to their family after each race. Despite the risk, however, they continue to race, while at the same time remembering, but not dwelling on, those who weren’t so fortunate.
These are some pictures taken of fallen drivers the day we lost them, or in some cases, the day before.
JUSTIN WILSON (1978-2015)
Accomplished Indycar longrunner Justin Wilson was fatally injured on August 23rd, 2015 when the nosecone of the crashed car of Sage Karam flew into the air and struck him on the head during a race at Pocono. He died the next day. Justin Wilson had managed to get the backmarker Jaguar Formula One team points in 2003 (he finished eighth at Indianapolis, which at the time was the last points paying spot), and left the series for Champ Car in 2004. He won four Champ Car races, and three Indycar races after the IRL merged with Champ Car in 2008. Wilson was famous for his ability to get small teams good results, and was the driver that netted Dale Coyne Racing, a small family-run operation that had competed in the series for 25 years, its very first win in 2009. At the time of his death, Wilson was thirty seven. It was declared to be a freak accident.
This picture is a screencap of a video filmed by Kirsten Shae Johnson on Youtube. It was taken August 22nd, 2015. In it, Justin is seen packing up his helmet, having just finished up qualifying for his final race.
DAN WHELDON (1978-2011)
On October 16th, 2011, Indycar made the massive mistake of running the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track the open wheel cars were not well suited for. The race went on, with a massive 34 car grid in a series where 25 cars is the norm. Dan Wheldon, the 2005 and 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner, agreed to start last as part of a promotion: If he won the race, he would get a $5 million dollar bonus, which he would split with a lucky fan. The fan was selected on the 13th, and was ID’d as Ann Babenco of New Jersey. Dan flew over to meet with Babenco, and they took this picture.
Dan had worked his way up through the field when, on lap 11/200, two cars collided and a pileup began. Dan launched over the back of another car and struck the catchfence top first. He died almost instantly. Dan Wheldon was thirty three. The race was called off when his death was confirmed, leaving a stunned racing community behind. It also left the Indycar officials reeling at how something intended to lure in new fans had ended in such tragedy.
This is usually considered to be the very last picture ever taken of Dan Wheldon. It was snapped during driver intros, about thirty minutes before his fatal crash, by a Getty Images photographer.
JULES BIANCHI (1989-2015)
On October 5th, 2014, Jules Bianchi, a rising star who had managed to net the extremely underpowered Marussia team a ninth place points paying finish at Monaco that same year, aquaplaned in monsoon conditions during the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka and ran off the course. Bianchi struck a mobile crane that was tending to the crashed car of Adrian Sutil. The crash registered 254Gs, and Bianchi was very seriously injured. He looked to be recovering well despite not regaining consciousness, and while his career was for sure over, Bianchi had a fair shot of at least surviving. Unfortunately, he succumbed on July 17th, 2015, aged twenty five. Bianchi was such a talented driver that Ferrari’s F1 team later revealed that they were planning on signing him within the next two years.
The above picture is Bianchi, cleaning his helmet during a red flag period early in his last race. Drivers would later say that the conditions were incredibly unraceworthy, and the race should have been postponed.
JOHN DELPHUS McDUFFIE (1938-1991)
John Delphus ‘J.D.’ McDuffie was fatally injured on August 11th, 1991 when his car threw a wheel in a fast right hander at Watkins Glen International and struck a wall. The longrunner in the NASCAR Cup Series, who had raced in the series since 1963, was 53.
This photo was taken the day of his death. It shows J.D. tightening a loose part on his car. J.D. was a journeyman. He still did a lot of work on his cars himself, and he did not have major sponsors. While the other competitors were signing STP or Budweiser as sponsors, J.D. was still going around to local businesses to see who was interested in getting some exposure. The sponsor in his last race was a local paving company with a couple locations around New York State and Pennsylvania. J.D. holds the record for most races without a win, totalling in at 653.