That was in 1992. My father raced an ARCA car in Salem, Indiana, on a very fast track. While the race was going on, I played on the infield, and then it happened. A driver was involved in a serious collision, and his vehicle was halved. “Wow, did you see that?” I asked, knowing it was huge. Then I returned to my game.
My mom and dad talked on the drive home, and I heard them say how sad they were that a man had been killed.
“Who was killed?” did I ask. They said it was the driver who caused the accident. (I would never find out his name.)
The rest of the ride gave me chills. I started thinking about my father. How did he manage to keep his heart beating for something like that? What would he do if something similar happened to him? What would I do in the situation?
For the next seven or eight years, it stayed with me. I used to get worried when I saw my father compete because it made me feel sick to my stomach.
Dustin Long, a senior writer for the Motor Racing Network, recently asked me about the 20th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death (which is this week) and what I remembered about that day. My mind was flooded with different thoughts as I began to respond to them, far too many to express during a media session.
I was ten years old on May 1, 1994, the day Ayrton died. My father was a Formula 1 enthusiast. Every Sunday, he got up early to watch the races, and he woke my brother Brian and me to go with him. I did not wake up that day, but my brother did, and I remember hearing that Ayrton had died.
The information spread quickly. It was the morning of a NASCAR race in Talladega, which is about where we are at this point in the season. After winning the race, I remember Dale Earnhardt getting out of his car and expressing his condolences to Ayrton’s family. Dale would have celebrated his 63rd birthday this week, April 29.
“There are only three sports: bullfighting, car racing, and rock climbing; the others are just games,” said Ernest Hemingway. We may argue about what a sport is, but as a racing driver, I think the remark contains a lot of truth. We almost always risk dying when we sit behind the wheel, which distinguishes racing from most other sports.
“How do you overcome the fear of death as a driver?” fans often ask.
That’s an excellent question. My personal experiences of death and loss provide the solution, which is also a big part of what motivates me to compete.