Update: Yesterday, we told you about the horrific injury suffered by Justin Wilson, a Longmont based driver, during an IndyCar race at the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania over the weekend; see our previous coverage below.
Last night, Wilson died — and as many of the biggest stars in racing responded with grief and thoughts for Wilson's family (he was married and had two young daughters), his passing has reignited the debate about whether the days of open-cockpit cars should be over.
As we've reported, Wilson was struck by a piece of debris following a crash by fellow driver Sage Karam. He did nothing wrong — and there was nothing he could have done.
After news broke about his passing, his family shared a post on his website featuring this photo....
...and the following statement:
24 August 2015
With deep sadness, the parents of Justin Wilson, Keith and Lynne, his wife Julia, and his brother Stefan share the news that Justin passed away today after succumbing to injuries suffered during the Verizon IndyCar event at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, August 23.
Justin was a loving father and devoted husband, as well as a highly competitive racing driver who was respected by his peers.
The family would like to thank the staff at the Lehigh Valley Health Network Cedar Crest Hospital, Pocono Raceway, Andretti Autosport, and the Verizon IndyCar Series as well as the entire racing community for the amazing outpouring of support from fans around the world.
The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Wilson Children’s Fund care of INDYCAR.
Wilson Children’s Fund
4551 West 16th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46222
In the meantime, social media erupted with Wilson salutes. Marco Andretti, grandson of Mario Andretti, namesake of Wilson's racing team, Adretti Autosport, put up a photo of him and Wilson alongside a caption of eloquent simplicity: "No words."
On Twitter, meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., whose NASCAR-legend father famously died while racing, weighed in with this:
Also sharing their thoughts were Jeff Gordon....
So sad to hear that we lost Justin Wilson today. Thoughts & prayers to his family and friends.— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) August 25, 2015
Wow, what a sad day. @justin_wilson was a good man. A great man. I had the pleasure of knowing him and pray for his family.— Danica Patrick (@DanicaPatrick) August 25, 2015
Terrible and tragic news. Prayers to his family and friends. We are all family. #RIPJustin— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) August 25, 2015
...and Tony Kanaan, who followed a tweet about Wilson....
Oh man, my heart is aching another friend gone. Godspeed to one of racing's truest gentlemen. #justinwilson— Tony Kanaan (@TonyKanaan) August 25, 2015
...with one addressing the profession that they shared:
Why do we do this? Because we love it, don't want to be anywhere else but a race car. We will keep your legacy my friend. Racers race.— Tony Kanaan (@TonyKanaan) August 25, 2015
Autoweek points out that Wilson was known by his peers as a safety advocate — one reason he was voted to serve as a driver representative in communication with IndyCar's sanctioning body. So, too, was Kanaan.
The British-born Wilson "pushed for safety at every turn," the publication continues, "and he recently offered a detailed explanation of why oval-track spectators should be positioned on the inside of dangerous corners the way rally fans are. He acknowledged the cost it would take to pull off such a radical change to the sport’s viewing habits, but he wasn’t afraid to offer a smart opinion."
Others are now taking on the question of IndyCar's open cockpits — and while there will almost certainly be significant push-back to a change that would alter the iconic look of the vehicles around which the sport is built, the mere fact that the conversation is taking place suggests that Wilson's influence will continue to live on.
We offer our sincere condolences to Wilson's friends, family and loved ones. Continue for our previous coverage.
Original post, 6:36 a.m. August 24: Longmont resident Justin Wilson is a big-time IndyCar series driver — a member of the Andretti Autosport team who's been making his mark on open-wheel racing for well over a decade.
And right now, he's fighting for his life.
Wilson, a native of Sheffield, England, was critically injured during a competition at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania yesterday, after being struck in the head by a piece of debris from a crash involving another driver.
At last report, Wilson was in a coma.
The following screen capture from Wilson's website speaks volumes:
The text accompanying this shot describes him as a "racer's racer" and notes that he "has shown on tracks around the world that the British-born racer ranks among the elite racing drivers. Victories in IndyCar and IMSA United SportsCar competition speak to his incredible versatility, with Wilson having adapted to oval competition from his Formula 1 background."
According to his Wikipedia page, Wilson took part in the Champ Car series from 2004 to 2007, winning four times, and took the 2001 International Formula 3000 championship. From 2012-2014, he was a member of the Dale Coyne Racing team and racked up a sixth-place finish among all IndyCar series drivers in 2013. He joined Andretti Autosport this year.
His website notes that for the race in Pocono, he started "seventh on the grid with an average speed of 219.685 mph on his two flying laps in the Andretti machine."
But during the race, nationally broadcast by NBC, another driver, Sage Karam, hit the wall, and debris struck Wilson. Here's a video of the crash:
Emergency personnel rushed to Wilson's aid, with the IndyCar Series Twitter account offering an update a short time later:
Justin Wilson is being airlifted to Lehigh Valley Health Network Cedar Crest Hospital. No additional information is available at this time.— IndyCar Series (@IndyCar) August 23, 2015
This news was followed by a tweeted press release:
We, too, offer our hopes for a quick recovery to Justin Wilson. Here's an interview with him from earlier this season.