In the week heading into the final race of the 2012 IndyCar season, young British driver Mike Conway told his team he no longer wanted to race on ovals. His team replaced him, rightly so, and Mike is without a ride.
Last weekend, at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr suffered a possible second concussion of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. After discussion with doctors, and his team owner, Dale is set to sit out two races, or however many it takes for him to recover.
Both of those drivers have something in common: They were both attacked, mocked and insulted by racing fans for their decision.
I first met Mike in 2009 when I still worked for iRacing. He came to the office to test at Long Beach on the simulators. I got him up and running with the software, gave him what little advice I could about the circuit, and he spent hours in there by himself, doing lap after lap.
My next meeting with Mike was again with iRacing, just before the 2010 Indy 500. He ran a multiplayer race in the IMS media center with Justin Wilson and Tomas Scheckter, which ended in contact and a crash for Tomas and Mike. He hasn’t had any luck on ovals in real life, either.
Through my dealings, I know that Mike is a very committed person, who wants to race, wants to do well for his team, and wants to win. I was delighted when in 2011 he won the Long Beach Grand Prix, not that I think I had anything to do with it!
So let us flash back one year and to the final race of the 2011 IndyCar season. Mike, having won at Long Beach earlier in the season, saw fellow Brit Dan Wheldon pass away in a horrific crash on a high speed oval. The drivers and the fans united in saying that the sport was too dangerous for some ovals, and many of the drivers stated openly that they should have said how unsafe they felt, and done something about it. Now, back in 2012, we have a driver saying something, doing something, and being attacked for doing so by the same fans. How quickly they forget.
If a human being, which is what these people are – don’t forget that, begins to be aware of their mortality, begins to see patterns, or begins to see that they seem to get involved in accidents in a certain type of racing, they would be stupid not to consider doing something about it. Mike has been in really bad crashes in his IndyCar career, the 2010 Indy 500 giving him a broken leg along with back and neck injuries.
I think it’s quite telling that Mike’s breaking point came right before the final race of the season, what was supposed to be a big event, deciding the championship, on a very fast track. If he was sensing patterns, like I am, he didn’t want to be part of a repeat.
It is hugely insensitive of any fan to attack any figure in motorsports for wanting to protect themselves from death or serious injury, whether it is immediate or would affect them in later life. In fact, it’s not just insensitive, it shows a lack of humanity and respect. The worst thing though, is that it shows you aren’t a fan of racing at all.